Review finds no evidence of corruption in planning
THE Government is to appoint an independent inspector to examine planning practices in city and county councils.
The inspector will have powers to investigate individual local authorities and the Department of the Environment if he or she believes that problems exist in how planning applications are dealt with.
The move comes after a review of planning in seven councils, compiled by the department, found no evidence of corruption or wrongdoing in how decisions were made.
However, the review failed to give the planning system a clean bill of health. Among the problems identified were a lack of clear guidelines on how rules should be enforced and how the system is administered.
"The department's rigorous analysis finds that the allegations do not relate to systemic corruption in the planning system," the review found.
"Nonetheless, they raise serious matters, ranging from maladministration to inconsistency in application of planning policy or non-adherence to forward plans, such as development plans."
Former environment minister John Gormley ordered a full external investigation into issues in seven local authority areas in June 2010.
Probes were ordered into Dublin City and Cork City councils, as well as county councils in Carlow, Galway, Cork, Meath and Donegal, after complaints were made by individuals and the heritage body An Taisce about how planning rules were being enforced.
But last year the Government downgraded this review, saying that in order to help save money, an internal report by departmental officials would examine the issues raised.
The most damning findings were against Carlow County Council, which is in Environment Minister Phil Hogan's Dail constituency.
"Significant irregular practices" were found, it said, but added that an independent report completed in October 2010 had made 120 recommendations which were being implemented.
"In the absence of the report, it is likely that this review would conclude that an investigation would be required in the case of Carlow," it found.
Yesterday, planning minister Jan O'Sullivan published the review, which makes 12 recommendations. They include:
• Consolidating the planning acts and regulations to make them easier to enforce.
• Requiring An Bord Pleanala to rubber-stamp any decision by a council to grant permission for a development not allowed under development plans.
• New rules on the role that developers can play in planning.
• A requirement by local authorities to review decisions subsequently overturned by An Bord Pleanala.
Ms O'Sullivan said: "This is a detailed and thorough report. It involves significant reform to ensure our planning system is fit for purpose and serves communities, not developers.
"If there are allegations of corruption, I would urge anyone with information to bring them to the attention of gardai."
But An Taisce said the proposed changes were "far short" from a number of recommendations in the Mahon Tribunal report, including appointing an independent regulator of the planning system.