Report clears council over planning allegations

A review into planning practices in Donegal County Council has dismissed allegations of misconduct by officials made by a former council planner.

A review into planning practices in Donegal County Council has dismissed allegations of misconduct by officials made by a former council planner.

The report by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government investigated followed a review of planning in seven local authorities including Donegal. While the report did not find any evidence of misconduct in the local authorities it did find that greater clarity, consistency and transparency are needed in the planning system.

“The Department’s rigorous analysis finds that the allegations do not relate to systemic corruption in the planning system,” the report said. “Nonetheless, they raise serious matters ranging from maladministration to inconsistency in application of planning policy or non-adherence to forward plans such as development plans.

“A key issue arising in respect of several of the cases reviewed is the fact that the development management process involves, of necessity, an element of interpretation or discretion on the part of the final decision maker. Decisions on planning applications – and particularly so in the case of complex applications – involve the weighing up of various factors, which may sometimes be conflicting. It may be simplistic to assume that there is always a right or wrong answer in the development management process. It is therefore important that allegations which compare the decisions of a planning authority and of An Bord Pleanála are considered in their proper context.”

The review came about after former environment minister John Gormley ordered a full external investigation into seven local authorities in June 2010.

Dublin and Cork City councils, as well as county councils in Carlow, Galway, Cork and Meath were investigated along with Donegal after complaints were made by individuals and the heritage body An Taisce.

The report has made a total of 12 recommendations and the government will appoint an independent inspector to examine planning practices in city and county councils. Six recommendations were made with reference to all the local authorities and six were made with specific references to particular councils. No specific recommendations were made to Donegal County Council. The recommendations are that all proposed grants of permission by a planning authority which contravenes their own development plan would automatically go to An Bord Pleanála. There is also new guidelines on the role that developers can play in planning.

The allegations in Donegal were made by a former senior planner with 20years service who was removed from his post in 1999. As part of an out of court agreement following a judicial review of the decision to remove him from office, the council acknowledged that there was no allegation of corruption or criminal activity against the former staff member.