Two brothers filing environmental planning appeals against housing developments have been withdrawing them for financial gain, an RTÉ Investigates programme has claimed.
The report, focusing on the activities of Micheál and John Callaghan, has brought attention to a planning process in which such appeals are possible but delay construction and housing delivery.
It outlined several cases in which they filed objections but, during secretly filmed meetings with the developers, sought “proposals” that might encourage them to change course.
The Callaghans filed appeals under the name of an environmental group, in one documented case called An Lucht Inbhuanaithe. They have, according to the programme which aired on Monday night, objected to residential and commercial developments countrywide.
There are no claims or suggestions of illegality. In a one-line statement to the programme, John Callaghan said: “Please be aware that neither of the parties referred to in your letters has done anything unlawful.”
Developer David Hogan had been attempting to expand his Watergrasshill development in Cork but was delayed on foot of an appeal to An Bord Pleanála by the Callaghans who live in counties Meath and Mayo.
At a meeting with Micheál Callaghan, Mr Hogan said he was asked what his “proposal” was for the planning appeal to be withdrawn.
“I said, ‘well my proposal is, that with respect, that you withdraw your appeal’. And he says, ‘yes, but what’s your proposal in relation to that?’,” Mr Hogan told RTÉ Investigates.
“And I said, ‘I’m sorry I don’t know what you mean’, ‘cause I didn’t know what he meant. And he said, ‘well … you’re kind of putting me in an awkward position here now and I have to be very careful what I say but in the event of the appeal being withdrawn, what about my costs?’”
Mr Hogan claimed that while Mr Callaghan declined to “reflect” on what those costs were, he was amenable to listening to any proposal.
In a subsequent, recorded meeting, John Callaghan explained to Mr Hogan that a section 140 withdrawal with An Bord Pleanála would mean it “dies … it just evaporates”.
“In this particular individual’s case the environmental concerns seem to be negotiable,” Gabriel Dennison, a barrister and former member of An Bord Pleanála told the programme.
The Callaghans are not recorded initiating discussions about money directly. When asked what happens next John Callaghan tells Mr Hogan, “we don’t have any proposals for you. You’re the man that has to come with proposals.”
Mr Hogan, on grounds of principle, said he did not make a payment.
Another developer who did, Richard Hoare, told RTÉ Investigates he felt he had no option as a planning appeal would have derailed his multimillion housing plans in Drogheda. He said he paid €10,000 via a service agreement in which John Callaghan would ostensibly act as a consultant.
In a third case, in which the developer requested anonymity, the Callaghans allegedly sought a payment of €100,000 to withdraw an appeal. When this proved impossible, they allegedly received some cash and an agreement to purchase two sites on the development they had intended to appeal against, for just €1,000 apiece, RTÉ reported.
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