Future of An Bord Pleanála in critical state, report warns

ireland
Future Of An Bord Pleanála In Critical State, Report Warns Future Of An Bord Pleanála In Critical State, Report Warns
The Office of the Planning Regulator said the challenges around the restructuring of the body will require strong leadership. Photo: PA Images
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Cate McCurry and Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

The future of An Bord Pleanála is in a “critical state”, with a backlog of cases, reduced staff morale and a need for governance reform, a report has warned.

The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) said the challenges around the restructuring of An Bord Pleanála will require strong leadership to help it through the “difficult period”.

Following a review of An Bord Pleanála, the OPR said there is an “urgent need” for a complete reset of the organisation.

In its final report, the OPR set out 23 recommendations made following its review.

The report is one of several probes carried out into allegations of conflicts of interest raised this year about Ireland’s planning appeals body.

In August, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien referred an independent report by barrister Remy Farrell into decisions at An Bord Pleanála to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the gardaí, and the Standards in Public Office (SIPO).

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The planning regulator’s report said An Bord Pleanála’s future “is in a critical state”, and board and staff members had raised issues that need “a significant degree of consideration”.

It said: “With a backlog of cases on hand, reduced staff morale, a necessity for governance reform and the challenges of restructuring ahead, strong leadership will be required to guide the organisation through this difficult period.

“Furthermore, it is clear from our engagement with board and staff members of An Bord Pleanála that there are internal relations matters that require a significant degree of consideration and attention.”

The offices of An Bord Pleanála in Dublin (PA)

The OPR said it is “critically important” that the current and newly appointed leaders of An Bord Pleanála apply themselves “swiftly and thoroughly” to gain the goodwill and trust of all staff.

It also recommended that over the next year, an objective assessment of the capacity of all management roles should be carried out.

It said there is a need “considerably” to reshape and strengthen its corporate and management structure.

It said its engagement with staff revealed the organisation is also suffering an “internal crisis”, which must be managed and overcome alongside the operational challenges and while trying to rebuild public confidence.

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“The interviews and staff survey suggest a demoralised workforce, impacted not just by the public commentary regarding the organisation in recent months but some staff interviewed also raised significant concerns about weaknesses in management systems and practices,” it added.

In its recommendations, the report said that in order to reinforce public confidence, inspectors should include a statement with their reports to the board to confirm it is based on their professional judgement alone.

The report also said an annual survey should be carried out within the organisation to measure “the overall morale and sense of the organisation’s staff”.

It added: “The survey should be developed in conjunction with staff and, applying best practice, should ensure that trends in experiential behaviours can be ascertained, analysed and responded to.”

 

It said an updated protected disclosures policy should be in place and circulated to all staff so all workers “feel supported in their roles and in raising concerns related to possible wrongdoing in the workplace”.

It added: “In tandem, An Bord Pleanála should ensure its grievance procedures are up-to-date and will also advise staff how these procedures operate.

“Ongoing consideration should be given to how staff can be kept advised and supported in raising workplace concerns through updates to internal guidance documents.”

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In order to encourage oversight, the report said An Bord Pleanála “must significantly improve the capability and quality of its data collation and monitoring processes”.

It further recommended that the organisation should put new procedures in place in relation to the process of the compositions of board members.

It said this will ensure transparency in the identity of decision-making board members.

It has also recommended that the organisation should prepare a transparent process for the escalation of case files.

It has called for all board members, or commissioners, to sign a declaration that they will fulfil their duties faithfully, honestly, impartially, without respect to person and to the best of their ability and understanding.

It has also called for it to ensure accurate recording of business and decisions taken at all board meetings and that there should be a recording of any actual or potential conflicts of interest raised in relation to a case file.

It said that where a board meeting departs from an inspector’s recommendation, An Bord Pleanála must set out a statement of reasons.

The planning regulator said a plan and schedule on implementing the report’s recommendations will be prepared for the end of January.

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