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Cian O'Callaghan TD

Criticism of ABP should not allow this government, and previous governments, to escape censure for this debacle

The upbeat appraisal of An Bord Pleanála to a devastating critique from the Office of the Planning Regulator is bizarre and concerning, according to Social Democrats Housing Spokesperson Cian O’Callaghan.

“The report from the Office of the Planning Regulator has clearly stated that An Bord Pleanála requires “urgent reform” and the immediate implementation of a “new, demonstrably incontrovertible, ethical framework”.

“The report also detailed the many areas which need that urgent reform – the appointment of board members; the operation of two-person quorums of the board; the code of conduct and conflict of interest matters; and crucial changes to the decision-making process.

“In response, An Bord Pleanála has welcomed the fact that the report “does not contain specific criticisms of the board’s practices but rather is aimed at further strengthening the robustness and documentation of its systems and procedures”.

“One would have thought that the OPR bluntly stating that ABP needed urgent reform would have elicited a more reflective response from the planning authority. The upbeat tone of its appraisal of this devastating critique is bizarre and concerning.

“It should also be noted that the report expressly highlights the considerable increase in the Board’s legal costs as it latterly became embroiled in an ever-increasing amount of damaging litigation in the High Court.

“The report states that the Board has faced “high levels of successful legal challenges to its decisions and associated costs – approximately €8m, or 45% of its budget, in 2021 – which has raised (a) concerns in relation to the manner in which the decisions have been made and (b) questions as to why such successful legal challenges have now arisen.”.

“This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the way in which the Board has been operating in recent years. It should further be highlighted that this report did not deal with any of the allegations of serious conflicts of interest that have been publicised in recent months. The report into those matters has not yet been published, but is with the DPP and the Gardaí awaiting a decision on whether criminal prosecutions will arise.

“Criticism of ABP should not allow this government, and previous governments, to escape censure for this debacle. The workload of the Board was increased drastically in recent years, particularly with the advent of Strategic Housing Developments, and the Board was not provided with the requisite increase in resources to allow it to better manage its workload. Damningly, it was never even provided with its own in-house lawyer.

“This report is the first of two separate reports into ABP from the planning regulator, with one to follow. It is now up to the government to ensure that these urgent recommendations are immediately acted on so that public confidence can be restored in this hugely important public body that plays such a critical role in our panning system.”

4 October, 2022


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