October 2, 2022

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The planning regulator has started a statutory review of An Bord Pleanála (ABP), with two Scottish officials sent into the appeals body to examine the allocation of case files to board members.

The formal review by the regulator, Niall Cussen, comes on top of work in the office of Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda to examine a senior barrister’s report for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on the former ABP deputy chairman Paul Hyde.

Mr Hyde resigned last month during the investigation by senior counsel Remy Farrell. He has faced claims of impropriety and conflicts of interest, but has always denied any wronging.

Mr Cussen said the review started on Wednesday, “taking account of the urgent need to progress measures aimed at restoring public confidence in An Bord Pleanála”.

The regulator’s reviewers have been given wide powers to talk directly to any ABP employee or board member or “any other individual”. They must provide an initial draft report within one month, with the aim being to complete two phases of review by the end of November.

This work will be led by senior counsel Conleth Bradley, working with Paul Cackette, former head of the Scottish government’s legal directorate, and John McNairney, former chief planner with the Scottish government.

Mr Cussen’s office previously said “a range of wider concerns” had been raised in relation to the planning body, including patterns of decision-making and amendments to inspectors’ report submitted to the ABP board.

Appropriate arrangements

“The [Office of the Planning Regulator] has engaged with An Bord Pleanála officials, who will put in place appropriate arrangements at strategic operational and high management levels to support the timely production of both parts of the review in line with the stated timetable,” it said on Wednesday.

The review, signalled previously by Mr Cussen, comes amid growing political disquiet over ABP’s work after the resignation of Mr Hyde.

The Irish Times revealed last weekend that Mr O’Brien told ABP to cut off Mr Hyde’s phone and email three days before he stood aside temporarily from his post in May, without prejudice to Mr Farrell’s findings.

The Minister’s move to cut Mr Hyde’s phone late one Friday night in May came after the ABP chairman Dave Walsh told him that the deputy chairman was still rostered to consider planning cases. This was despite Mr Hyde telling the board of his undeclared conflict of interest in an appeal taken by his sister-in-law.

ABP acknowledged Mr Hyde was never formally interviewed by Mr Walsh under specific legal procedures for cases in which the chair believes a board member’s conduct “has been such as to bring the board into disrepute”. According to ABP, Mr Hyde resigned before that process under planning law was completed.

An Bord Pleanála has for months been carrying out a separate internal review of decisions handed down by Mr Hyde and “further allegations of wrongdoing”. The authority has signalled that this work will conclude by the end of August,

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