APPOINTMENTS of board members to An Bord Pleanála must be scrutinised as part of the reviews into alleged conflict of interest at the planning authority, the professional body for planners has said.
he Irish Planning Institute said the reviews must be completed “thoroughly and without any undue delay” as public confidence in the planning system was at stake.
The institute has around 1,000 members who are professional planners in local authorities, Government and semi-state bodies, the private sector and An Bord Pleanála.
This is its first public comment since a senior counsel was assigned to investigate claims about decisions made in cases handled by the authority’s deputy chairman, Paul Hyde.
Mr Hyde has denied allegations that he failed to disclose conflicts of interest while handling cases involving people and companies known to him.
An Bord Pleanála is carrying out its own internal review and the Office of the Planning Regulator is also conducting an inquiry.
Dr. Conor Norton, institute president, said the institute noted with concern “recent events and media coverage regarding An Bord Pleanála, which have the potential to damage the reputation of planning and planners and erode the public’s confidence in the planning system”.
He said the authority for more than 40 years had provided “affordable, impartial and transparent reviews of local planning decisions”.
But he said its role had been stretched in recent years and he was particularly critical of the fast-track system for large-scale residential schemes placed under its remit by the last government.
“While some new roles have been successfully absorbed, others such as Strategic Housing Developments, have compromised the integrity and robustness of the processes and decision-making in the board, and undermined a fundamental aspect of the Irish planning system,” he said.
Dr Norton, who lectures in planning at Technological University Dublin, said he would not comment directly on the issues at An Bord Pleanála, first reported by online publication, The Ditch.
But he said: “The reviews must also consider the procedures of appointment of board members, the independence of the inspectorate in its decision-making and any conflicts of interest in governance protocols.”
Housing minister Darragh O’Brien appointed barrister Remy Farrell to investigate the issues raised in the media reports, with a six-week deadline for a preliminary report.
Mr Farrell has just over two weeks left.