An Bord Pleanála board will increase to 15 members under new Draft Bill

New Bill will also extend range of skills and expertise of board members

Board membership of An Bord Pleanála (ABP) is to be increased from ten to 15 under proposals in draft legislation to reform the planning appeals body.

Substantial changes in the governance of the Board has been included in the Heads of the Development and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill 2022, published this week by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.

The new Bill sets out to rectify some of the flaws that came to light following serious allegations of conflict of interest against former deputy chairman, Paul Hyde. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has confirmed that proceedings have been instituted in relation to matters concerning Mr Hyde.

A fortnight ago, the chairman of ABP, Dave Walsh, decided to take early retirement. His resignation has left only four active board members.


The draft Bill proposes to increase the number of ordinary members of the board to 14, in addition to a chairperson. It also provides that the numbers may rise if the workload increases. Unlike other State bodies, board members of ABP work in a full-time capacity, and cannot hold any other employment.

At present the quorum for a decision of the Board can be reduced to only two people but that would be raised to a minimum of three in the new law to ensure fairness and transparency.

The Oireachtas Committee on Housing, chaired by Green Party TD Steven Matthews, began its pre-legislative scrutiny of the legislation on Wednesday.

Maria Graham, assistant secretary of the Department of Housing, told the committee that the Minister is beginning the process of appointing a new chair and will also shortly appoint a deputy chair. The chair is appointed by the Government from a list of candidates selected by an independent committee chaired by the President of the High Court.

To address the shortage of personnel currently on the board, Ms Graham said the current Act also facilitated “the appointment of established civil servants to serve on the board of An Bord Pleanála in a temporary capacity for up to a year”.

She said temporary replacements would be made until new board members were recruited.

In response to questions from Paul McAuliffe, a Fianna Fáil TD, Ms Graham said the Minister’s action plan for ABP would result in stronger governance, and a wider range of expertise and skillsets on the board and among senior management.

She said there would be a new ethics and corporate unit, a new director of planning for marine and climate matters, a director of legal affairs, and a director of corporate governance. She said up to 30 additional staff would be recruited.

Attracta Uí Bhroin, environmental law officer of the Irish Environmental Network, argued the Bill’s proposals to change the appointment of Board members was a retrograde step. The current system provides for four different groups of organisations nominating suitable persons.

The Bill envisages replacing that system with a committee of experts that would select panels of persons to be appointed by the Minister. She said this would be a “reversion to the extraordinary ministerial discretion” that existed before ABP was established in 1976.

In exchanges with Eoin Ó Broin and Thomas Gould of Sinn Féin and Cian O’Callaghan of the Social Democrats, she said she considered the proposals in the Bill not fit for purpose on those grounds.

The draft Bill has recommended that the board should have a mix of skills in infrastructure delivery, housing, physical planning, sustainable development, architecture, heritage, community and social affairs and corporate governance.

Gavin Lawlor, vice-president of the Irish Planning Institute, said the Board should have, among its members, additional expertise in the areas of law, ecology, built heritage, the marine environment, climate change and the Irish language.

“We note that the term ‘heritage’ is not particular enough to ensure that both natural and built heritage are addressed, as these elements require completely different skill sets,” he said.

Mr Lawlor also said that there was need for more inspectors on the marine side of ABP. That sector will increase substantially over the next decade with plans for hundreds of offshore wind energy turbines, including floating turbines, in the seas around Ireland.

Mr Ó Broin also suggested that people should stop calling ABP a ‘board’ as it was really a planning authority. “If we want to restore public confidence in it, a rebranding would be a good idea,” he said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times