Planning appeals board cut to four members


AN BORD Pleanála, the planning appeals board, has been reduced to just four members, none of whom is an architect, and there is no indication when further appointments will be made by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

The Minister declined to reappoint two architects – former deputy chairman Karl Kent and ordinary board member Angela Tunney – and one former senior planner, Jane Coyle, when their terms of office came to an end late last year.

In all three cases, it is understood the board had requested that they be reappointed for a further two years. The only members to be granted a two-year extension were former planning consultant Mary MacMahon and engineer Conall Boland.

The other two surviving members are chairwoman Dr Mary Kelly, who has a PhD in chemistry and was previously director general of the Environmental Protection Agency, and another engineer, Fiona O’Regan, who was first appointed last February.

John Graby, director of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), wrote to the Minister before Christmas pointing out that there was no longer an architect on the board for the first time in 30 years and calling for this to be rectified as soon as possible. “Given the nature of the board’s work, an architect should be among those appointed,” he said yesterday. “But there seems to be no hurry about it, and we’re not aware of any nominating procedure under way to fill the vacancies.”

Under the Planning Acts, the Minister may appoint eight board members from nominations made by organisations such as the RIAI, the Irish Planning Institute; business, farming, environmental and local government sectors, and those concerned with disabilities.

However, it has been learned that two nominating panels were “activated” last month – one including commercial bodies and the other disabled interests.

“Is the Minister trying to exercise control over it?” asked one source.

Another source said there had “always been at least one architect on the board” and, at one stage during the boom, four of the 10 board members were architects.

Since its inception in 1977, a civil servant was also a member, but this ceased in 2009.

One former board member said: “The concern is palpable. There is not just no architectural or urban design expertise, there isn’t even conservation expertise. And with the departure of long-serving board members, there has been a loss of corporate memory.”

When it came to replacing former chairman John O’Connor, who had previously been assistant secretary in the Department of the Environment’s planning division, the Minister chose Dr Kelly, who has no qualifications in architecture, planning or urban design.

It is known that the list of candidates recommended by a statutory board chaired by president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns included former board member Michael Wall, a qualified architect, planner and barrister who also holds an MBA degree.

The Department of the Environment said it was the prerogative of the Minister to appoint members to the board of An Bord Pleanála and he had decided not to reappoint a number of the members whose terms were due to expire.

“It should be noted that each of the outgoing members had already served multiple terms on the board,” the department said.

The board’s website says members “normally hold office for a term of five years and may be reappointed for a second or subsequent term”.

It also notes that the Minister has “initiated the process of seeking nominations for appointment” of new members.