A former member of An Bord Pleanála (ABP) said the current “difficulties” could have been avoided if the recommendations of a 2016 review of the organization chaired by Gregory Jones QC had been implemented.
Ichael Leahy said it was “a great pity” they hadn’t, as they “would undoubtedly have streamlined the way the board works, brought it closer to the public and helped it evolve into a more open and accountable corporate culture.”
The current review “may not have been necessary,” he said, “and certain of the current difficulties could have been avoided.”
Mr Leahy, who is leader of the Irish Freedom Party – a minority party that is campaigning for Ireland’s exit from the EU – is the first former member of the planning authority to publicly comment on ABP since allegations of improper conduct at the authority.
As a board member between 2012 and 2017, Mr. Leahy said he spoke in his capacity as an architect and planner who submitted a contribution to the organization’s 2016 review. ABP members are prohibited from commenting on board positions.
He welcomed the overhaul of the organization announced by Housing Secretary Darragh O’Brien, which included an immediate end to the practice of allowing two board members to make planning decisions instead of three, after two board members, including former deputy chairman Paul Hyde, were revealed to be making planning decisions to telecommunications masts.
Mr Hyde resigned last month after three months of controversy over alleged conflicts of interest.
Mr Leahy said the decision to ditch two-person panels was “welcome”, albeit overdue. The ability to use two-person boards “should have been used very rarely and only for very minor types of development,” he said.
“In a three-person board situation, if one board member is unhappy with the decision made by his two colleagues, he has the opportunity to bring the matter before a full board meeting to ensure a controversial or difficult decision is made with a full hearing and.” has adequate ventilation. Normally, such an important form of check and balance cannot work within a two-person board format.”
Oral hearings, once an important element of public participation in the planning process, “have now become a rarity,” he said.
A return to oral hearings, recommended in the 2016 review, “would fulfill the very important function of bringing the planning system back to the people and allowing for a far more transparent operation of the system”.
The review also recommended that extensive map databases of previous planning decisions should be made available to the public. “Such a simple action would dramatically improve the quality of planning practice and provide clarity to both practitioners and local authorities as to the board’s likely position on specific developments,” he said.
Mr Leahy defended aspects of the nomination method for ABP – which is also to be revised – whereby the community and other organizations are asked to nominate members.
Mr Leahy was nominated by the Chambers of Commerce and the Irish Rural Dwellers Association, the latter of the same organization that nominated Mr Hyde.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/an-bord-pleanala-debacle-could-have-been-avoided-if-review-advice-had-been-taken-says-ex-member-41925905.html A Bord Pleanála debacle “could have been avoided” if review advice had been followed, says a former member