A SUGGESTION OF possible corruption in An Bord Pleanála has been made in the Dáil by a Fine Gael TD. Kerry South deputy Tom Sheahan questioned the logic of members of the board rejecting an inspector's report to either recommend or refuse planning permission when they themselves "have not visited the site".
"Some people say to me - but I would not be that narrow-minded - that maybe there are members of the board who are taking money. Perhaps there are members of An Bord Pleanála who are taking money because they have never visited the site".
Mr Sheahan also hit out at what he called "serial objectors", who he believed should have to pay €200, rather than €20 to object to a planning application. He said he knew of one such objector who "took €25,000 in cash to withdraw an objection to planning permission for two family members on a holding". And he claimed "a lot of these people are aligned and associated with An Taisce and the Green Party".
He was speaking during the second stage debate of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009, which amends planning laws and aims to promote sustainable development.
Ceann Comhairle Séamus Kirk warned him that he had made a serious allegation against members of An Bord Pleanála. Mr Kirk noted Mr Sheahan had not made an allegation against an individual member but "it is inappropriate to make such an allegation under the protection of the House unless the deputy is in a position to substantiate it". Mr Sheahan said "I have said what I said and I stand by it".
He also said it was "ironic that a Green Minister is bringing this Bill before us because he is centralising power to himself". But Minister for the Environment John Gormley who replied to the debate, rejected this and said "that's just not the way we see it. It's the exact opposite in fact."
The Fine Gael TD said "when a planning file is appealed to An Bord Pleanála, an inspector will come to inspect on behalf of the board and write up recommendations".
The recommendation "goes before An Bord Pleanála and those sitting around the table, who have not visited the site, will refuse the inspector's report. How many times have deputies seen that happen? Is that logical and does it make sense?"
Mr Sheahan said "there are 22 ghost estates in Kerry". Planning "is a function of the executive and those involved made executive decisions to grant planning permission for those estates, yet the person seeking planning permission for a one-off rural house receives a blank 'No'. It's a shambles."
David Stanton (FG, Cork East) said that the houses in ghost estates could be used "to put a roof over the heads of people who have no houses, or are living in overcrowded conditions".
Michael D'Arcy (FG, Wexford) said it was "planning madness" that An Bord Pleanála for Dublin "has stipulated in certain cases that buildings cannot have more than 13 storeys . . . Yet there are small towns with populations of less than 50,000 where such applications have been granted."