Bord Pleanála to concede High Court challenge due to conflict of interest claim

Judicial review of planning decision grounded on allegation of ‘objective bias’

An Bord Pleanála is to concede in a High Court challenge to a planning decision about which concerns were raised regarding a potential undeclared conflict of interest by its deputy chairperson Paul Hyde.

Eichsfeld Ltd was refused permission in March for a fast-track apartment scheme in Blackpool, Cork City, on a site near property owned by a company in which Mr Hyde had a 25 per cent share.

Mr Hyde’s stake in H20 Property Holdings Ltd, which is controlled by his father Stephen Hyde, was not declared in his declarations of interest to An Bord Pleanála.

He has insisted there was no need to because the company was dormant and not carrying on any trade, in effect. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The developer’s judicial review aimed at overturning the refusal for 191 build-to-rent apartments is understood to have been grounded on an allegation of “objective bias” in that Mr Hyde had allegedly failed to declare a conflict of interest in the decision.

The matter came before Mr Justice Richard Humphreys on Monday.

Barrister Kieran Kelly, for Eichsfeld, said the board had indicated it would not be opposing the substantive relief sought.

Counsel for the board, Jonathan Newman SC, asked that the leave application would be adjourned for a fortnight so the parties could agree on the court orders that will be sought.

Mr Justice Humphreys adjourned the case for two weeks.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has appointed barrister Remy Farrell to examine this and two other planning decisions. A six-week deadline has been set for the inquiry.

Mr Hyde has temporarily stepped aside from his role “without prejudice”. In a letter to the An Bord Pleanála’s board on April 19th, Mr Hyde said the H20 family firm was dormant with a “zero balance sheet” and “no monetary assets or liabilities” and did not fall within the definition of interests he was required to declare.

“I do not believe any offence was committed in not declaring this company and these lands,” he said. The 0.8 hectare lands were managed and maintained by an owners management company “independent of and unconnected with” the H2O company.

He said his share in the firm “did not and could not materially influence” him in the performance of his duties and “would have no beneficial or pecuniary interest in the outcome of any decision in this area, including the recently decided strategic housing development application at Blackpool, Cork”.