Monday 19 September 2011

Day-to-day oversight of planning 'unrealistic'

MEATH COUNTY manager Tom Dowling yesterday told the elected councillors it would be “totally unrealistic” for him to actively manage the day-to-day management of the planning department.

He was responding to such a recommendation, contained in an independent review he commissioned this year.

The same review recommended the council planning department be restructured.

In a statement to the county councillors yesterday, Mr Dowling said the review “makes difficult reading for all of us”, and that he “accepted the findings”.

The review followed on the decision of the High Court to make a €4 million award against the council after legal action was taken by Darlington Properties Ltd relating to a site it purchased from the council in 2006 for €4.5 million.

The review team was asked to examine all the circumstances leading up to the court action, and the review was carried out by Gerry Kearney, a former secretary general and former assistant secretary with the Revenue Commissioners, and John Quinlivan, who is a member of the Local Government Efficiency Review Group and former Louth county manager.

The review found the council planning department should be “restructured” and the county manager “should assume direct executive responsibility for all planning matters”.

Yesterday, Mr Dowling said he intended to “take direct executive responsibility for implementing the recommendations contained in the report and retain that responsibility for as long as it takes to deliver the change required”.

He added that he understood “the intent” of the recommendation that he assume direct executive responsibility but, he added: “As county manager I have high-level executive responsibility for delivery of all of this local authority’s services.

“I believe it would be totally unrealistic for me, in a county of this size, to actively day-to-day manage this busy department without damaging my input into the council’s other areas of responsibility, of which there are many.”

He said he would “restructure” the remit of the director of services for planning “so as to allow him to focus 100 per cent on the delivery of this change programme and actively manage the department, unburdened by other responsibilities”.

Among the changes to be made, which Mr Dowling said people would be made “personally accountable” for, were restructuring of the planning department, a full audit of unaudited planning processes and procedures, new procedures so all major contracts involving disposal of council assets had to be signed off by senior management, and performance-related measures in the department.

Mr Dowling said he was conscious that changes must “strike the correct balance between appropriate levels of control and governance and the requirement to deliver a good and efficient service”.

He said he knew the planning department had played a significant role in the development of the county. In relation to planning staff, he said: “I want to reiterate my commitment as manager to supporting them and working with them to implement the changes necessary to instil confidence and improve morale.”

All of the 25 recommendations will be implemented, and Mr Dowling said he has asked the team to return in a year’s time “to measure the progress made”.

Irish Times

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