An Bord Pleanála chairman says the planning board relies largely on trust to ensure board members disclose conflicts of interest

An Bord Pleanála chairman said the scandal-hit planning body relies largely on trust to ensure board members disclose conflicts of interest in the cases they specify.

Ave Walsh said it was very difficult in circumstances where board members each handle up to 700 cases a year to know all about their potential connections to planning projects and the developers behind them.

He said there is a code of conduct by which they should disclose all interests, but he conceded: “It requires trust and accountability.”

Mr. Walsh’s statements about the inner workings of the board were heavily criticized by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), where he was grilled over the ongoing investigations into alleged conflicts of interest by board members in the planning decisions they made.

“I’m very dissatisfied with what I’m hearing. It doesn’t give me confidence that there is a system,” said Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy.

Independent TD Verona Murphy added: “They don’t have any checks and balances.”

An Bord Pleanála Vice-Chairman Paul Hyde resigned from his post last week. He resigned from his position in May after a series of media articles prompted Housing Secretary Darragh O’Brien to appoint a senior lawyer to conduct an inquiry.

Mr. Walsh is concurrently conducting an internal investigation and the Planning Board is also preparing an investigation.

In a at times heated PAC meeting, Mr. Walsh was repeatedly asked why he had failed to heed warning signs that there were problems with board oversight.

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Labor TD Alan Kelly wanted to know why recommendations were not implemented. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

He said he believed the board was generally abiding by all codes of conduct and would say no more until he saw the results of the various reviews.

At that point, if matters arose that needed to be addressed, he would take care of them.

Labor TD Alan Kelly wanted to know why the recommendations of an organizational review he ordered, which was completed in 2016, were not implemented.

Five of the recommendations concerned the manner in which members were appointed to the Board.

One of the recommendations highlighted the fact that nominating bodies for members were outdated.

It has since emerged that Mr Hyde was appointed by a local authority which dissolved before his nomination.

Mr Walsh said the recommendations required legislative change and would now be considered part of a broader review of planning laws being carried out by the Attorney General.

Deputy Verona Murphy said there was no transparency in the way the board did its business, as minutes of meetings were not kept and little information about decision-making was made public.

“So don’t pat yourself on the back, Mr. Walsh. They have a lot of work to do and they want to start doing it,” she said.

Sinn Fein’s TDs, Matt Carty and Brian Stanley, questioned why it was not obvious that there was a serious anomaly in decision-making in cases involving telecom tower construction.

On average, the board overruled the inspectors’ recommendation in about 10 percent of planning cases, but the rejection rate was as high as 90 percent for poles.

Mr Walsh reiterated that he would address such issues if the reviews detected them.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/chair-of-an-bord-pleanala-says-planning-body-relies-largely-on-trust-to-ensure-board-members-disclose-conflicts-of-interest-41840302.html An Bord Pleanála chairman says the planning board relies largely on trust to ensure board members disclose conflicts of interest

Fry Electronics Team

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