The Government has approved an action plan for An Bord Pleanála (ABP) that includes measures to improve corporate governance, increase the number of board members, and strengthen systems that are aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest.
The plan follows the first phase of a review by the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR).
The planning regulator’s review looked at certain systems and procedures at ABP, which decides on planning applications.
Earlier this year, Darragh O’Brien (Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage) referred a report on certain decisions made by ABP to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), an Garda Síochána (AGS) and the Standards in Public Office (SIPO).
This followed allegations of conflicts of interest in certain decisions taken by the planning body.
Code of conduct
The plan published today (4 October) contains a number of measures aimed at ensuring that systems and procedures for raising conflicts of interest are “robust”.
These include an update of ABP’s code of conduct by mid-November to provide “unambiguous guidance” on this issue, and a system to ensure that all board members are informed of the key details of cases in advance.
The plan also includes a proposal to increase the number of ABP board members to 15, with a minimum quorum of three for decisions. It says that two-person boards “should no longer be a feature of the decision-making process”.
There is to be a new system for board appointments, replacing the current nomination process. Legislation will provide for a panel of experts established by the minister that can be supported by the Public Appointments Service.
New legal-affairs post
As an interim measure, a board member with environmental expertise is to be recruited, while a number of temporary appointments will also be made, until new board members are recruited under the new arrangements.
A number of new posts will also be created – including a director of legal affairs, and a new post to be responsible for corporate governance.
Funding is also being provided in Budget 2023 for the recruitment of around 30 new ABP staff.
Darragh O’Brien (Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage) said that the plan would underpin confidence in ABP’s capacity to make planning decisions in a fair manner.
He stated that the planned “fundamental” changes would affect the board’s appointment process, structure, capacity, and operations.
The full OPR review is due to be completed in November.