Thursday, 1 January 2009

Gormley denies planning decisions invalid

ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley has dismissed suggestions that more than 1,000 planning appeal decisions made four years ago are legally invalid.

His reaction came after it emerged a member of the board retired in October 2004 and was not replaced until late January 2005.

Under the legislation governing An Bord Pleanála in 2004 it had to be properly formed, representative of various social interests and consisting of seven members and a chairman.

Mr Gormley acknowledged while the board of An Bord Pleanála was without its full number for almost four months it was still entitled to rule on planning appeals.

Late last month the lack of personnel in late 2004 was brought to the attention of Mr Gormley by Fine Gael deputy Phil Hogan.

His department has since issued a statement saying it believed the legislation gave the board enough wriggle room even when it was short a representative.

“The minister has been advised and he is satisfied that the board was properly constituted and was entitled to carry out its functions when the vacancy existed,” his spokesman said.

While the vacancy existed the depleted board made at least 990 decisions. Questions on the validity of these were first raised in an anonymous letter recently sent to a number of local authorities. This was forwarded to An Bord Pleanála and Fine Gael.

An Bord Pleanála said appointments to its board were a matter for the minister.

The letter pointed to a vacancy which existed on the board in 2004. It suggested while this remained unfilled all decisions on planning appeals were invalid.

Under the planning legislation the board had to have seven members and a chairman. It was the minister for the environment’s responsibility to ensure six of these members were drawn from various social partners. All vacancies were to be filled as soon as possible by the minister of the day.

The planning act was changed in 2006 to make the representation more broad and less rigid.

However in a reply to Mr Hogan the minister said in the event of a resignation the board could have operated even if all the relevant social bodies were not represented.

“If a vacancy occurred on the board following the retirement, resignation or removal from office of a nominated ordinary member, it may follow that, pending the filling of that vacancy, there would be no nominee of the panel concerned on the board.

“However, the 2000 act provides that the board may act, notwithstanding a vacancy in the office of chairperson or among the ordinary members, as long as there is a minimum of three members to form a quorum for a meeting of the board,” he said.

Mr Gormley said he is satisfied the legality of the board was not undermined during the period.

Irish Examiner

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