As the independent oversight body for Ireland’s planning process, the primary focus of the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) is to uphold public confidence in the system.
This focus is pursued across all of our operations, including in particular the ongoing programme of reviews of the systems and procedures used by local authorities in performing their statutory planning functions, and in the near future in relation to An Bord Pleanála (ABP).
In this regard, the OPR has been monitoring concerns raised in relation to certain processes followed by ABP in the delivery of its functions. Initially, concerns were raised in relation to conflict of interest declarations, following which the OPR sought details to confirm that ABP has procedures in place to ensure that the appropriate declarations and disclosures are made by Board members of An Bord Pleanála (the Board). Subsequently, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD, appointed senior counsel to report on the matters raised in relation to conflicts of interest and related matters associated with the Deputy Chairperson of the Board.
Subsequent to the appointment above, a range of wider concerns have been raised including patterns of decision-making and amendments to Inspectors reports submitted to the Board in its decision making process.
The OPR recently announced that ABP would shortly be included in our reviews programme, with a stakeholder exercise planned for later this year, which would be followed by various functional areas of ABP being reviewed in modules on a rolling basis from 2023 onward.
Given the role the OPR plays in in ensuring confidence in the planning system, and in the context of the current public concern regarding the application of fair and sound administrative practice in relation to decision-making processes, the OPR will continue to monitor matters arising while awaiting the senior counsel’s report.
The OPR looks forward to the publication of this report and will put a formal process in place to ensure that any remaining matters of public confidence in the Board’s role will be addressed.
The OPR is therefore making initial preparatory arrangements to bring forward a new and focused element of its review work in relation to the Board to address the matters raised. Details of this approach will be published following the finalisation of the report to the Minister.