An Bord Pleanála officials ‘restive’ over move to rename planning body

Plan to rebrand body An Coimisiún Pleanála is part of effort to restore confidence in planning system

Officials at An Bord Pleanála are pushing to retain the body’s name in a pending overhaul of planning law, hitting out at a move by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien to rename the crisis-struck authority as An Coimisiún Pleanála.

After prolonged turmoil set off by controversy over the work of former deputy chairman Paul Hyde, staff in An Bord Pleanála are said to be “restive” about the change of name and a lack of consultation over looming governance changes.

The proposal to scrap the An Bord Pleanála name is part of an effort to restore public confidence in the planning system.

The homepage of the body’s website links to an apology for a large backlog of cases, which has delayed decisions on housing and other development projects.


Draft laws from Mr O’Brien aim to streamline planning, setting limits on legal challenges and changing how the appeals authority does its work.

Although the Minister has indicated he will attend a townhall meeting with staff at An Bord Pleanála in early December, the Fórsa union now plans to write to all TDs and Senators urging them to keep the original name.

“While there are very serious concerns among Fórsa members in An Bord Pleanála about the name change – not least because they feel strongly the name still has integrity – there is a much bigger problem arising from the lack of meaningful engagement with the department on the legislation and its operational and resource implications,” Fórsa said.

Hyde resigned in July 2022 and was convicted last June of failing to declare certain property interests. He pleaded guilty to two charges but has appealed a two-month prison sentence, with a court hearing scheduled this week in Cork.

Four months after Hyde left An Bord Pleanála, the then chairman Dave Walsh took early retirement for “personal and family reasons”.

A new investigation this year into “matters of concern” in An Bord Pleanála by Lorna Lynch is nearing completion. The body has said the barrister’s final report is expected this month, after she delivered an initial report in early October to the authority’s interim chairman Peter Mullan.

There was no comment from An Bord Pleanála on the work of Ms Lynch or the findings of her interim report. She was asked to examine 300 case files for any “conflicts of interest and objective or actual bias” and also the allocation of board files to board members and inspectors.

Her terms of reference include an examination of statutory declarations by officials, the use of two-person boards, amendments to inspectors’ reports and communications with external parties outside formal channels.

The new name for an An Bord Pleanála comes in legislation that will separate the corporate, decision-making and governance functions of the authority.

After engagements behind the scenes with the Department of Housing, staff believe Mr O’Brien has ruled out reversing his decision to impose the An Coimisiún Pleanála title on the organisation.

Fórsa, the main union for planning officials, said it was compiling a response to the legislation through a survey of members.

“Fórsa is planning to contact all Oireachtas members on behalf of the union’s ABP branch, outlining opposition to some of the proposed changes slated for enactment in the Planning and Development Act,” the union said.

“The union is also putting together a series of questions and proposals for an upcoming meeting with An Bord Pleanála senior management.”

The new planning legislation, approved last month by the Cabinet, is the third-largest Bill to go before the Dáil and Seanad.

Planning commissioners with the renamed An Coimisiún Pleanála will be responsible for decision-making on appeals and applications, overseen by a new the office of chief planning commissioner.

Mr O’Brien’s spokeswoman said: “The Minister has always recognised the important role An Bord Pleanála plays in our planning system and how the decisions made have an impact across the breadth of planning in Ireland, from rural family homes, to strategic infrastructure programmes, to large-scale residential builds.”

She added: “He is confident that the measures provided for in the Planning and Development Bill will assure the public of the Government’s commitment to our planning system both now, and into the future.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times