THE SIX local authority areas that face reviews of their planning systems have been the subject of “substantial complaints”, according to Minister for the Environment John Gormley.
Mr Gormley yesterday announced a two-phase review of how four named county councils – Galway, Cork, Meath and Carlow – and two named city councils – Dublin and Cork – have implemented planning laws and policies. One other local authority, Donegal County Council, is already the subject of a similar process.
The first phase of the review will require each council to provide information about its planning system within four weeks, and to answer specific questions about complaints and allegations that have been made.
These will cover areas like zoning, the scale and height of certain structures and concerns raised in local government audit reports. The review will call on Dublin City Council to address concerns that decisions on high-rise buildings in its area did not adhere to the development plan.
Galway County Council faces questions on the percentage of permissions that have been overturned on appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Meath has been asked to confirm it followed its own development plan. The issues for the two councils in Cork relate to processes and transparency, while Carlow has been asked to address concerns about governance.
The review is being carried out in the context of the new Planning Bill, which is expected to become law by the summer and concerns expressed by Mr Gormley that the legislation will be ineffective unless all 34 local authorities can fully implement its measures.
Mr Gormley said some 8,000 complaints, representations and submissions on various planning issues had been received by his department from An Taisce, NGOs and the public last year. He said this correspondence would be used to shape the work of the review group and to help prepare future development plans.
He said there were specific and major complaints about decisions made by the authorities that were to be examined but that they also offered a good geographic spread.
Mr Gormley said the purpose of the review was not to examine particular planning decisions but to assess the processes that allow for such decisions. He said he was precluded from getting involved in individual planning cases.
Mr Gormley said if impropriety was uncovered in the course of the investigation it would be treated very seriously. However, he said “corruption” and “breaches of the law” were loaded terms and should be used carefully in the context of the review.
“We have to be very careful not to in any way prejudice the outcome of these inquiries. We have to look at why exactly they made these decisions and there could be legitimate reasons for that.”
Planning experts from here and abroad are to examine the decisions made by the local authorities in question and look at processes in detail. They will also assess if the local authorities have the correct powers and tools in place to deliver on their responsibilities.
The format of the review has not been decided, nor has the identity of those on the panel, a department spokesman said.
Labour’s environment spokeswoman Joanna Tuffy said yesterday that the purpose of the review was not apparent.
“There is no clear notion as to what he hopes to achieve out of this exercise . . . the whole process lacks transparency.” She said she had serious doubts as to whether the councils would be in a position to provide insight or analysis, to the level of detail that the Minister appears to expect, in four weeks.