Bord Pleanála auditing planning decisions made by deputy chairman

Audit of hundreds of decisions follows allegations of impropriety in declarations

An Bord Pleanála is carrying out a look-back audit on hundreds of planning decisions made by its deputy chairman after allegations of impropriety in his personal declarations to the organisation.

The detailed audit of work by Paul Hyde, a board member of the planning appeals body since 2014 and deputy chairman since 2019, is separate to a senior counsel’s examination of the allegations that was ordered this week by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.

Mr Hyde has denied any impropriety, telling An Bord Pleanála (ABP) and Mr O’Brien that allegations against him were groundless after his conduct was questioned by the Ditch, an online news outlet, and Village magazine. The claims centre on his statutory declarations of interest to ABP, a quasi-judicial body.

An architect and planner, Mr Hyde was appointed to ABP eight years ago by then minister for the environment Phil Hogan. He once co-owned a yacht with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who previously appointed him to the board of the Irish Marine Institute.


The ABP audit is examining decisions Mr Hyde made in his years with the body, his declarations of interest, each of the claims made against him and whether any legal recommendations are required. ABP declined to comment on this work.

The ABP board sought the audit in the last fortnight, as Mr O’Brien separately asked Remy Farrell SC for a report to inform the Minister’s “consideration of the matter”. Mr Farrell’s terms of reference “are not finalised yet”, said Mr O’Brien’s spokeswoman.

Mr Hyde has acknowledged not declaring to ABP his 25 per cent share in a company – H20 Property Holdings Ltd – and certain lands but said there was no need to. The company has property near the site of proposed apartment development in Blackpool, Cork, that was refused permission by ABP last month under fast-track planning rules.

In a letter on April 19th to the ABP board, Mr Hyde said the company 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 – comprising common or public open-space areas and internal roads serving a privately-owned apartment development – were managed and maintained by an owners management company “independent of and unconnected with” the H2O company.

“I am satisfied that the share in H2O Property Holdings Ltd did not and could not materially influence me in the performance of my duties, as the company does not engage in any commercial activities and does not have any monetary assets or liabilities 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.”

Letter to Minister

In a letter four days previously to the Minister, Mr Hyde referred to reporting on “alleged criminal offences” in respect of his declarations under the Planning and Development Act. “I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight and confirm to you and your department that I have committed no such offence,” he said.

“I have not and would not participate or influence any case before the board where I have a conflict of interest or a beneficial or pecuniary interest in the outcome of the decision.”

He remains in situ at the planning body, no disciplinary procedures have been initiated and no action has been required of him by ABP.

Asked whether Mr Hyde was carrying out his normal duties, an ABP spokesman said: “The answer is yes.” Asked whether the ABP chairman Dave Walsh had interviewed Mr Hyde under a disciplinary process set out in law, the spokesman said: “The answer is no.” It is understood Mr Hyde’s letter of April 19th to ABP was submitted voluntarily.

In his letter to the Minister, Mr Hyde said he was initiating defamation proceedings in relation to claims made in Village and in a formal complaint that its editor Michael Smith submitted to ABP and copied to the Minister. Mr Smith said he stood over the article and the complaint.

The Office of the Planning Regulator, which oversees planning matters, said it did not have a role examining the detail of declarations by ABP members, describing that as a matter for the body itself. “The OPR has been in contact with An Bord Pleanála to confirm that procedures are in place with regard to the making of the relevant returns by board members,” it said.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times