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Paul Melia: Internal report falls woefully short of addressing problems

IT doesn't take a genius to tell us that our planning system is a mess. The bitter legacy of ghost estates and unoccupied shops and offices in every county is proof enough.

But what the Planning Review published yesterday doesn't tell us is who is to blame. It doesn't give an independent assessment of how the system works, and whether root and branch reforms are needed to make sure the mistakes of the past are never repeated.

It's a disappointing report, but not a surprise.

Internal reports don't tend to damn those making them, and this review was completed by officials from the Department of the Environment, which is responsible for drafting planning laws and issuing directions to local authorities on how to enforce the rules.

There was a good reason why independent probes into planning were first ordered by former environment minister John Gormley in June 2010 -- more than 2,800 ghost estates across the country.

Since then, the Mahon Tribunal has identified planning corruption in every aspect of Irish public life.

Allowing department officials to investigate colleagues and the councils answerable to them was always going to leave them open to allegations of a cover-up.

By appointing outsiders to do the job, the Government could have avoided this, and all for a modest amount of money.

This report doesn't address why, despite a plethora of guidelines, officials in the Custom House sat back and allowed local authorities to ride roughshod over the rules, allowing tens of thousands of planning decisions to be rubber-stamped every year.

Instead, it tells us that there's no evidence of corruption in the system, but that it is riddled with "maladministration" and an inconsistent application of the rules. Changes are needed to make it fit for purpose.

Now, just one person will be asked to examine planning practices in every local authority, and oversee the implementation of the 12 recommend- ations outlined yesterday.

It's a huge task. Not only will they have to oversee the changes being proposed, they will also have to suggest further improvements -- and all before the end of the year.

It's not a lot of time to direct a radical overhaul of a system which has served the Irish public so badly.

Irish Independent