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ABP controversy has potential to erode public confidence in planning system, says professional body

THE REVIEW INTO the processes and procedures at An Bord Pleanála by the Office of the Planning Regulator “must be completed thoroughly and without any undue delay”, Dr Conor Norton, President of the Irish Planning Institute (IPI) has said.

In a statement, Norton welcomed the review by the regulator, stating that the IPI believes that these 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”. 

Deputy chair of ABP Paul Hyde has temporarily stepped back from his role as two separate probes into his decisions on the board continue.

Hyde, who has been in the role since 2019, has denied all allegations made against him of potential conflicts of interest.

Reviews 

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has appointed Senior Counsel Remy Farrell to carry out a report for him on the matters concerned. The planning regulator is also carrying out its own review. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin previously said in the Dáil that there cannot be “any perception of any potential inappropriate behavior” or “failure to disclose”, he said.

Regarding recent events and media reports in relation to ABP, Norton said in his statement today: 

“The Irish Planning Institute notes 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 in Ireland.”

He states that since 1977, the board has played a critical and confidence-building role in the Irish planning system by providing affordable, impartial and transparent reviews of local planning decisions.

“Its success in delivering on its original, core role inevitably led to an expectation that its mission could be expanded into new areas.

“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,” said Norton.

Strategic Housing Developments 

One of the decisions being probed relates to a decision of ABP made in relation to a proposed Strategic Housing Development (SHD) at Distillery Quarter, North City Link Road, Blackpool, Co Cork. 

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ABP was the decision-maker for SHDs, however the initiative is currently being phased out. 

Under fast-track planning laws introduced in late-2016, proposed developments of over 100 units could bypass city planners and go straight to ABP for a decision.

The statement from Norton went on to stated that the Institute does not wish to comment on any ongoing investigations but welcomes the intention of the Office of the Planning Regulator to initiate its own review.

“In all of this it is important to appreciate the many years of service to society provided by current and former Board members.

“And it is vital to recognise and protect the expertise, independence and integrity of the highly-skilled professional planners of the Board’s inspectorate and the contribution they have made to a fair and transparent planning system and a more sustainable Ireland.

“It is imperative that public confidence in the Board and its critical role in Irish society is restored and reinforced,” concludes the statement.

The Irish Planning Institute is the largest professional body for spatial planners, with a membership of 1,000 professional planners.