First off: you can download the report here
An Bord Pleanála (ABP) and housing minister Darragh O’Brien don’t want you to see an internal report that suggests planning corruption in the state planning body.
Yesterday the Irish Times reported that ABP had “ruled out” publishing the report. Instead – for the third time – a senior counsel was appointed to investigate what ABP describes as “matters of concern”.
ABP can rule out publishing the report all it likes. The Ditch is going to do it anyway.
We’ve got a copy of the internal report and we’re publishing it here, unredacted, because it’s in the public interest and because we’re like that. The public deserves to know what’s been going on at the state planning body.
The October 2022 report analyses allegations made in more than 30 stories broken by The Ditch since April 2022 and subsequent pieces published in the Irish Examiner.
But the report, conducted by three senior ABP staff members, goes further than just considering matters already in the public domain.
The report says while The Ditch was publishing allegations of wrongdoing at the planning body – which culminated in the resignation of strategic housing development (SHD) division chairperson Paul Hyde – property developers were withdrawing applications they had submitted to ABP.
“It has come to the attention of the team that the timing of withdrawal of certain applications in certain circumstances raises concerns and may require further examination” says the report signed by ABP’s director of corporate affairs, chief officer and head of human resources.
In other words the report, titled Examination of Certain Matters, suggests that property developers could no longer rely on getting the outcomes they had expected.
‘Statistical irregularity,’ they say
Dozens of controversial telecommunication mast permissions granted by the same two board members feature in the report.
“A notably high proportion of telecommunication mast appeal cases being allocated to a two-person board composed of the same two individual board members” noted the report’s authors.
The report raised concerns about the “very significant statistical irregularity in the incidence of departures from inspectors’ recommendations to grant or refuse permission in these (telecommunications masts) cases”.
One of the duo involved in the masts decisions, Michelle Fagan, is still on ABP’s board despite a series of stories concerning her conduct published by The Ditch.
The report also accepted the veracity of allegations that ABP unlawfully determined dozens of SHD applications first reported by The Ditch.
The report found that “40 cases involving proposed alterations to SHD permissions, and certain other cases, (were) allocated to and handled by two-person boards where the statutory framework requires a deciding board quorum of at least three members”.
‘Breach of trust and transparency’
Last year The Ditch reported on a number of instances where ABP’s board had instructed planning inspectors to make material changes to their reports to the benefit of property developers.
The internal report uncovered a more sinister practice.
It found that certain board members had made “requests to reverse the inspectors’ substantive recommendations to grant or refuse permission”.
Where once inspectors considered their independence from the board as important a professional principle there was, now inspectors were allowing certain board members to tell them what to advise.
The report found that these actions “breached the trust and transparency between the organisation and the public”.
In its report dated October 19, 2022 the internal team found that allegations published by The Ditch and others were accurate.
“Certain media outlets, journalists, and individuals (both within and outside the organisation) have raised concerns across a range of areas which, on examination of a significant number of files by this team, have generally been found to have factual substance,” concluded the report.
The long descent
The internal report criticised the erosion of “cultural norms” at ABP, highlighting the organisation’s descent.
“Examinations suggest here may be a concerted attempt to shift certain cultural norms in An Bord Pleanála away from those which have been in place, monitored and guarded by multiple past and present board members and staff, upon whose efforts the reputation and good standing of the organisation has been built and maintained over 45 years of operation” according to the report.
The report also said board members should “act with an abundance of caution, demonstrating awareness of the sensitivity of the organisation to situations which could give rise to actual or perceived conflicts”, adding that “the normalisation of a culture of any deviation from this is not acceptable”.
These excerpts are just some of the findings in the 38-page report.
Download it here.