Broadcaster, Pat Kenny says there is no question that An Bord Pleanala must pay all of the costs incurred by Dalkey residents in challenging a contentious decision in the High Court.
Mr Kenny was one of hundreds of locals in and around Dalkey to contribute financially to a fund organised by the Bullock Harbour Preservation Association to challenge a decision in the courts by An Bord Pleanala, giving the green light to a mixed use development by Bartra Property Ltd abutting Bullock Harbour.
In recent days, An Bord Pleanala has written to solicitors for the Bullock Harbour Preservation Association confirming it proposes to concede their Judicial Review challenge of the Bartra plan.
When ratified by the High Court, the move effectively quashes the planning permission granted by the planning board and the application could then be remitted back to the appeals board for a fresh adjudication.
Mr Kenny commented that High Court “judicial review is outlandishly expensive”.
In an interview where he fires a number of broadsides at the workings of An Bord Pleanala, Mr Kenny said: “I am delighted at the decision of An Bord Pleanala to withdraw from the judicial review of their Bullock Harbour decision.”
The former RTE Late Late Show host said the appeals board decision to grant planning permission for the development “was wrong from the very outset and defied common sense”.
“The council had rejected the development, the Board’s own inspector rejected the development. And yet, the Board saw fit to disregard the advice of their own “boots-on-the-ground”, the An Bord Pleanala inspector, and give the go-ahead for a development,” he said.
The Newstalk presenter said videos and photographs were available to all, taken during the storms at the harbour “which should have put a huge question mark over the application”.
“There is no question that the Board must pay all expenses incurred by the residents’ group in the preparation of their application for judicial review of the decision.
“But this gives rise to a fundamental question to be answered by the board: is this a responsible way to spend taxpayers’ money?
“This is the second development in just a few weeks where the Board has conceded that it was wrong and abandoned its defence of its decision in judicial review.”
Mr Kenny said while these admissions may be welcomed by the objectors and their communities, “they have had to pay a heavy price,” and not just in financial terms.
“The stress and aggravation caused to communities by decisions which overrule the advice of the Board’s own inspectors, cannot be overstated.”
Last year, the appeals board gave the green light to Bartra for an apartment complex on lands beside the Kenny home in Dalkey after over-ruling its own inspector who recommended refusal.
“These decisions are often made by just two members of the Board, with a third signing the decision,” Mr Kenny said.
The sheer volume of decisions made by a handful of people demonstrates how little time they spend on each one.
“And yet they can, with the stroke of a pen, change the lives of people forever.”
Mr Kenny said he believes that “there should be the creation of an independent planning ombudsman, which would be a relatively inexpensive course of last resort”.
“The terms of reference could be tightly drafted to avoid mischief makers. Judicial review is outlandishly expensive. Currently the planning process favours only those with deep pockets. This is a fundamental denial of people’s right to be heard.”
He added: “The new Ministers for Housing and the Environment may not have the appetite for pursuing this, but I think that all decisions, where the Board has overruled its own inspectors, must now be reviewed, and if necessary quashed.”
Mr Kenny claimed one possible answer why the appeals board withdrew from the Judicial Review Bullock Harbour “is that they wanted to avoid the scrutiny of the court as to how the decision was arrived at”.
“The Board has an obligation to explain its decisions. Normally this takes the form of “consistent with the Planning Act”, or “consistent with public policy”… This is an unacceptable smokescreen and one that has been used by consecutive versions of An Bord Pleanala for years.
“The time has come for that to change: we live in an era of transparency. The Board must now explain in detail its decisions, most particularly where it overrules the advice of its own inspector, who is the only person who actually examines the proposals in detail, looks at the drawings’, walks the site and surrounding lands.”
Mr Kenny said “the future development of the harbour – which is a busy working harbour - should focus on leisure and the marine”.
He said: “There has got to be an involvement by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in ensuring its preservation.
He said: “The value of the amenity was amply demonstrated during this pandemic period by the numbers using the harbour for boating, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving and swimming.”
A spokesman for An Bord Pleanala declined to comment on Mr Kenny’s comments.