Taxpayers hit for €500,000 as Department of the Environment drags its heels on Planning Regulator

19th June 2013
Press Release

More than €500,000 and 25 months have been wasted as the Department of the Environment drags its heels on the only measure that can restore credibility to the planning system, namely, the appointment of an independent regulator with full investigative powers.

That’s according to An Taisce, which said today that the ongoing failure to seize this clear and simple solution has resulted in a chronic litany of waste costing taxpayers in excess of €500,000 and a series of reports issued over two years that have been shown not to be worth the paper they are written on.

The recommendation of the Chair of the Planning Tribunal, Mr Justice Mahon, advising government to appoint an independent planning regulator is crystal clear, An Taisce said, asking “what is the Department waiting for?”

An Taisce’s statement follows the unprecedented development late last week in which High Court partly quashed the “Internal Planning Review” published by the Department of the Environment in June 2012.

The Internal Planning Review, which has become known as the ‘Whitewash Report’ for its casual dismissal of complaints against 6 local authorities without ever properly investigating any of them, now needs to be withdrawn in full, according to An Taisce.

“The Department's 2012 internal review doesn’t have a shred of credibility left”, said An Taisce Policy Director James Nix; “and its withdrawal is the logical first step here”, he added.

Summarising what has occurred to date, Mr Nix said: in 2011 the Department rejected the option of proper investigation in favour of a hopelessly shallow in-house exercise. The result was a report with no credibility issued in mid 2012. The Department then retained an external consultant (Mr Henk van der Kamp) in late 2012 to undertake further study but with no more investigation than the original internal review. And with just as little credibility behind it, the van der Kamp report must now also be withdrawn.

"Again and again it is taxpayers that have to pay for this sad and sorry waste of time and public money", said Mr Nix, detailing the bill:

€325,000 – approx. bill faced by taxpayers after the State lost the Convie case (see note 1)

€150,000 – approx. bill for writing the compromised 2012 internal review

€25,000 – approx. bill for the van der Kamp report, which like the 2012 internal review is now not worth the paper it’s written on

The above yields a total cost of €500,000 – and this omits the time of civil servants which had no involvement in the discredited internal review but have since been drawn in.

According to Nix of An Taisce, “the era of half measures and soothing, half-hearted investigations must give way to an independent properly-resourced planning regulator without delay. The planning regulator must have full investigative powers including the capacity to compel witness and gain the discovery of documents. Until the regulator is in place the litany of waste will continue while the credibility of what is a very important Department risks further decline. Even in the short term, an independent planning regulator will be much more cost-effective”.

Concluding An Taisce’s James Nix said: “we desperately need a planning system in which the public can have confidence, something the Department cannot achieve with internal investigations, or external examinations which clearly fall short before they even begin. The Department got itself into this mess, but can also get itself out: withdrawing its discredited reports and establishing an independent planning regulator are the logical next steps.”

ENDS

For further information, please call:

James Nix, Policy Director, An Taisce Tel: +353 86 8394129

Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce +353 87 2411995

Email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

www.antaisce.ie

Notes:

The cost estimate for the Convie case is based on the presence of three legal teams in the High Court case, all having at least two senior counsel representing the three main parties - Donegal Co Co, the Department of the Environment and Gerard Convie. In 2009/2010 An Taisce requested that the Department of Environment conduct investigations into planning practices in three councils - County Cork, Dublin City and County Galway. Taking An Taisce's material together with other complaints, the then Minister John Gormley sanctioned independent investigations into 6 councils in early 2011: Dublin and Cork city councils as well as Cork, Carlow, Galway and Meath county councils.

However, former Minister of State Willie Penrose later downgraded this into an "internal review". After his resignation Penrose was replaced by Minister Jan O'Sullivan.

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