In the midst of the ongoing crisis of public confidence in An Bord Pleanala, the independence of the Board is set to be severely compromised in the Planning and Development and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill 2022 coming before the Seanad this week. 

The Bill would hand the Minister for Housing untrammelled power and complete discretion in determining the process for appointing Board members to the State’s top planning body, with a removal of existing oversight mechanisms. In introducing these new provisions, the Bill scraps the existing Board appointments system which, while in need of some reforms, does provide for significant input from civil society, something which is crucial for the independence of the Board. The new Bill provides no safeguards or provisions for Oireachtas oversight of this new appointments process, concentrating power in the hands of one Minister. 

This is yet another eleventh-hour planning bill being rushed through the Oireachtas by the Government immediately before a recess. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing was in the midst of pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill, but the Government is now rushing the Bill to the Seanad this week, effectively circumventing the rest of the scrutiny process. In keeping with a highly disturbing pattern of rushed planning legislation in recent months and years, there has been no public consultation on the proposed changes and the Bill’s progress through the Oireachtas will be expedited, once again curtailing opportunity for scrutiny and debate.

The Bill also proposes changes to the foreshore legislation and the regulation of marine surveying, with potentially significant consequences for the interests of various marine users, including fishers and the public. It has also been reported that Government amendments will be added regarding social and affordable housing, but these have not yet been published, despite the Bill being rushed through the Seanad this week.

Phoebe Duvall, Planning and Environmental Policy Officer with An Taisce, says:

“This Bill would appear to be a power grab by the Minister, giving him unchecked influence over the An Bord Pleanála appointments process and ultimately who is appointed to the Board. It is an entirely inappropriate response to the various crises facing An Bord Pleanála right now.

“For the public to regain confidence in An Bord Pleanála, the appointments process needs to be transparent and rigorous, and it must allow for thorough Oireachtas oversight and the inclusion of civil society. Instead the Minister is trying to implement the very opposite of that.”

Introducing extremely consequential planning legislation yet again without adequate time for scrutiny is in no way acceptable, particularly given that this Bill will so seriously erode the independence of one the most crucial bodies in our planning system.

   Contact: Phoebe Duvall, Planning and Environmental Policy Officer, An Taisce, [email protected]