Publication of planning investigations of six Local Authorities by Department of Environment Community and Local Government

18th December 2015
Press Release

This week's publication of the investigations carried out by the Department of Environment Community and Local Government on the planning functions of six local authorities Carlow, Cork City and County, Dublin City, Galway County and Meath found that all of the complaints made raised legitimate public interest concerns.

In its response the DOECLG stated:

“The report found that all the complainants raised issues of public interest and as such have served the common good in raising these matters. It also highlighted that the planning authorities reviewed have, by and large, and over a period of time, responded positively in addressing the issues identified."

The findings of the review and the recommendations made fully vindicates the complaints made by An Taisce and our vital role in independently monitoring the Irish planning system. In the absence of An Taisce’s important prescribed status, we would have been unable to gather all of the evidence to mount these complaints in the public interest. The independent review concludes that:

“that certain systems and procedures need to be reviewed and enhanced to achieve the standards of transparency, consistency and accountability that a modern society expects and that is what the Government will focus on. By and large these can be addressed through circulars and guidance rather than legislation, albeit there are some legislative proposals upon which the Minister will advance following consultation with the Attorney General.”

As highlighted in the recent RTE Investigates programme, corruption, cronyism and poor practices are major corrosive factors in the Irish planning systems and we are satisfied that, if implemented, the recommendations made on foot of the review will make a significant contribution to restoring public confidence in the planning system.

An Taisce calls on the government to implement all recommendations as a matter of urgency and, in particular, to immediately legislate for the recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal report and to establish an independent regulator for the planning system, as the Minister has initiated.

ENDS

For further information, please call:
Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce. Tel +353 1 454 1786
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.org

Notes:

The Independent Planning Review is here http://www.environ.ie/en/Publications/DevelopmentandHousing/Planning/FileDownLoad,43873,en.pdf

The complaints were made by a number of parties including An Taisce which raised issues on a number of decisions made by Cork and Galway Counties and Dublin City.

The Minister for Environment Community and Local Government commissioned planning consultants McCabe Durney Barnes to carry out the investigations. Their report now published makes a range of findings in relation to each local authority and specific recommendations in each case.

An important overlapping recommendation was made in relation to what is the current loose provision only Requiring a Planning Authority only to “have regard” to its Development Plan in making decisions

“Examine the wording in Section 34(2) of the Planning and Development Act and consider whether the words ‘regard being had’ are too permissive (in the light of the High Court’s interpretation of similar phraseology) with reference to the provisions of the development plan. This could be achieved by amending Section 34(2) (a) requiring decisions to be ‘consistent with’ the provisions of the development plan.”

In relation to the three local authorities on which An Taisce had made complaint the findings and recommendations were as follows:

CORK COUNTY

The complaint made was in relation to the role of a Cork Co staff member acting as a “Liason Officer” operating outside the provisions set out in the Planning Regulations having undocumented communications with persons or agent lodging planning applications and local authority members, and influencing the outcome of panning decisions.

The investigation concluded that:

“There was a lack of transparency in relation to meetings and/other contacts between the Liaison Officer and applicants and/or their agents and public representatives during the period under examination”

And recommended that the Minister

“Advise Cork County Council that the Department considers that the Liaison Officer role is not appropriate within the planning system.”

DUBLIN CITY

The Dublin City Council area complaint related to the significance and extent of decisions refused or significantly varied by An Bord Pleanála in relation to decision determinations by the Council for large scale or sensitively located developments in the city centre

The findings for this category of development stated:

“the percentage of cases reversed or varied on appeal and the reasons for those reversals/variations appears to indicate a poorly balanced application of all Dublin City Development Plan 2005-2011 policies and objectives…”

In relation to zoning:

“Having regard to An Bord Pleanála decisions in a very limited number of cases, the Planning Authority erroneously interpreted the zoning provisions of the Dublin City Development Plan 2005- 2011 and, as a consequence, did not initiate the procedures required for a material contravention prior to granting permission.”

In relation to pre planning consultations:

“Dublin City Council did not properly categorise all consultations under Section 247 of the Act or maintain appropriate records of these 247 consultations during the period 2005-2011.”

On use of further information requests:

“Examination of relevant cited cases indicates a level of incorrect use of Article 33 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (as amended), which allows planning authorities to seek further information in order to determine a planning application. Dublin City Council has used Article 33 to seek modified plans, when it should have used Article 34.“

On the templates for planners reports:

“There are weaknesses in the standard planner’s report template in that it does not ensure a systematic and comprehensive consideration of all the main provisions of the Development Plan.“

A range of recommendations was made including examination of the Planning Act provision only to “ have regard “ to Development Plans , on pre planning consultation ,the use of further information requests and to “revise planner report templates”

GALWAY COUNTY

The complaint on Galway Country related to the quality on of decision on ecologically and landscape sensitive sites, and development affecting National Roads

In relation to development affecting European protected sites the findings were

“There was evidence of an uneven application of requirements in terms of Appropriate Assessment in relation to designated sites in the cases cited”. The Planning Authority did not always demonstrate comprehensive systematic assessment of impacts arising from development on or near sites designated under the Habitats and Birds Directives. Furthermore, it did not always show in its reports that it adequately assessed the submissions of the NPWS during the period referred to in the complaints.” and “Conditions designed to rectify problems associated with developments proposed on designated sites were attached in some cases contrary to the contents of the Department’s letter PD 2/07.”

NATIONAL ROADS AUTHORITY

In relation to National Roads the findings stated:

“There was an absence of consideration in written form of submissions made to the Planning Authority by the NRA in some planning reports which may have led to the pattern of a favourable weighting of local considerations in relation to developments on or near National Roads.”

In cases where the planners report recommendation was varied in the decision issued by Management

“Notifications of Decisions in relation to relevant planning applications did not include an explanation stating the main reasons why the decision maker did not accept the recommendation in the planning report.”

A range of recommendations was made including examination of the Planning Act provision only to “have regard to” Development Plans, assessment of impact on European Sites and Ministerial Guidelines

CONCLUSION

The outcome of the investigations are an important vindication of An Taisce’s public interest role as consultee in the planning process. The active implementation of the range of legislative and procedural recommendations set out must now be a priority

DONEGAL

The Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has just appointed Rory Mulcahy (Senior Counsel) to prepare a review into certain planning decisions by Donegal County Council.