Department seeks expert to examine planning report


THE DEPARTMENT of the Environment is seeking an independent planning expert to examine its internal review of alleged planning irregularities published last June.

The review of complaints about planning in seven local authority areas found “deficiencies” but no evidence of corruption or abuse of public office by officials.

The internal review was criticised as a “whitewash” by Opposition parties who claimed it was an attempt to cover up bad planning decisions.

Former minister for the environment John Gormley in 2010 announced he would appoint independent planning experts to examine how planning laws were being implemented, following complaints received about a number of local authorities.

This independent review was later downgraded to an internal department review by minister for planning Willie Penrose, who resigned last year.

The Minister with responsibility for planning, Jan O’Sullivan, said her decision to appoint an independent expert was not a reflection on the quality of the report delivered by her department.

“While I have accepted fully the review completed by my department, I am ensuring that the process, the report and its findings stand up to independent scrutiny by ensuring that all actions and recommendations and the full review on which they are based are to be considered by an independent planning expert,” she said.

The expert is to be appointed in September and must report by the end of the year. They will be tasked with reviewing the recommendations and findings of the report and may also make additional recommendations.

They will be permitted to engage with the original complainants and the relevant local authority but will not be allowed re-examine the complaints.

The local authorities at the centre of the inquiry were Dublin and Cork city councils and Carlow, Cork, Meath, Galway and Donegal county councils. The review found no evidence of criminality or corruption but found poor administration and weaknesses in the implementation of planning law.

The report recommended 12 steps to tackle weaknesses in the planning system, including legislative changes and policy reforms.

The expert will be asked to consider issues such as communication of planning policy; the keeping of pre-planning application records; the submission of draft local area plans by individuals and groups; the role of structured dialogue between planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála; the means by which socioeconomic considerations can be central to the decision-making process in relation to a planning application; and any remaining gaps or inconsistencies in the existing package of statutory guidelines.