THE CHAIRMAN of An Bord Pleanála, John O’Connor, has suggested to an Oireachtas committee that a High Court judge “made a wrong assumption” in a recent case.
Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey, a member of the Oireachtas environment committee, quoted Mr Justice John MacMenamin’s remarks in the case of Usk and District Residents’ Association Ltd versus An Bord Pleanála.
The judge concluded that a decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for an engineered landfill would give rise to a reasonable apprehension that there had not been an impartial decision-making process. The board’s decision was irrational and in excess of its jurisdiction, and should be quashed, he ruled.
Senator Coffey said: “The judgment at the end of July stated, and I quote: ‘Remarkably, there is no evidence that the board moved to obtain legal advice at all prior to embarking on the course of action . . . ’
“So it’s clear from that judgment that there was a problem with regard to the board.”
Mr O’Connor said: “It’s not clear. The judge made a wrong assumption.”
Mr Coffey asked Mr O’Connor if he was saying the judge was wrong and Mr O’Connor replied: “He made a wrong assumption.”
A spokesman for An Bord Pleanála later said that although the judge had no evidence on the appeal file that the board had taken legal advice, the board had in fact obtained advice. He said the board had already indicated to the court that it would not be appealing the judgment.
On a separate issue, the committee heard the outstanding amount for An Bord Pleanála’s recoverable legal costs at the end of the financial year 2008 was more than €3.3 million.
Mr O’Connor said the figure of €3,319,416 represented an accumulated outstanding total of costs owed to the board and not written off going back to 1999.
Mr O’Connor said the board was facing a very challenging financial environment in 2009 and 2010, “and costs are being pared to the bone in every part of the organisation”.
Committee member James Bannon of Fine Gael said planning decisions taken in many towns and villages had resulted in very serious social problems.
“Some estates have become slums because of bad planning decisions. I pity some people forced to raise families in such estates,” Mr Bannon said.