Concerns raised about the handling of cases by An Bord Pleanála have “a factual substance” and have caused “unprecedented harm to the reputation and standing” of the organisation, an internal report states.
The October report by three senior managers at An Bord Pleanála was published on Wednesday evening by The Ditch website after the planning authority had ruled out releasing the document itself for legal reasons.
The planning authority has been in turmoil for months from a controversy that led to the resignation last summer of the former deputy chairman Paul Hyde and the November departure of former chairman Dave Walsh.
Mr Hyde, who has denied any wrongdoing, faces criminal prosecution over allegations he gave false particulars to the authority. Mr Walsh took early retirement for “personal and family reasons”.
The controversies have delayed planning decisions on applications for thousands of new homes and prompted Government moves to overhaul and rename An Bord Pleanála.
In their internal report the three managers said the concerns raised across a range of areas were matters of a serious nature and had caused “unprecedented harm to the reputation and standing” of the organisation.
Citing an examination of hundreds of planning files, the report said they had identified “approximately 30 cases being allocated to and handled by board members where the case ought to have raised queries regarding that member’s exclusions list”.
At issue were questions over the geographical location of the sites or “connection” with planning applicants or advisers to applicants or with a party to an application.
The managers raised concerns about the handling of telecommunication mast appeal cases, following an examination of the files which showed that 111 out of 147 cases over four years were dealt with by just two people.
“There is a very significant statistical irregularity in the incidence of departures from inspector’s recommendations to grant or refuse permission in these cases with the board departing from the inspector’s recommendation in 26 per cent of these 111 cases,” the report said.
“This is far beyond the prevailing general statistical normal rate of departure from recommendations being 10-12 per cent generally.”
The managers also expressed concern about the allocation and determination of “approximately 40 cases” involving proposed alterations to fast-track strategic housing development permissions being handled by two-person boards where the statutory framework requires a board quorum of at least three members. The same concerns were expressed about “certain other cases”, although the nature of number of such cases was not set out.
The report also set out a “statistical irregularity” in the frequency of attendance of two board members where cases involving a “common applicant” were decided. Eleven board members were involved in 26 such decisions analysed out of a total of 75 individual board member involvements, two made up 39 per cent of such cases.
Asked last night about the report’s publication, the spokeswoman for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said: “On October 4th, following Government approval, Minister O’Brien published an Action Plan for An Bord Pleanála. The Action Plan outlines several measures relating to the board appointment process, structure, capacity and operations within An Bord Pleanála. The various actions in the plan are now being progressed.”
The report said the planning authority’s culture has traditionally tended towards a “precautionary approach” to disclosures, declarations and avoidance of any perception of a conflict of interest.
“All personnel and members of the board are, and should continue to be, encouraged to act with an abundance of caution, demonstrating awareness of the sensitivity of the organisation to situations which could give rise to actual or perceived conflicts.
“The normalisation of a culture of any deviation from this is not acceptable. In the first instance, this team recommends full acknowledgement of the serious nature of the issues raised and that full analysis of a number of matters is warranted.”