We’ve posted a couple of times (here and here) about the six planning investigations started by John Gormley but then discontinued with the change in government.  The debate concerning them has reignited in the past few days in the wake of the Mahon Report. Minister Jan O’Sullivan has been trying to insist on a technicality that no investigation was started and that no grounds for such investigations had been established by her department in the first place (the present internal review would establish such grounds).  In relation to her first point, her argument seems to be that no formal process had started as the panels selected did not actually start their work.  In relation to the second, the process initiated by John Gormley and her department were clearly started for a reason as the Quinlivan Report hightlighted in Carlow’s case, and the counties involved clearly engaged in the initial process by providing DECLG written responses to issues of concern ahead of the formal outside investigations being initiated.

As for Minister’s O’Sullivan’s argument that calls for the planning investigations “is a smokescreen created by the unholy alliance of a thoroughly discredited Fianna Fail party and the man mercifully released by the Irish electorate from his “asylum” into the political wilderness – John Gormley” doesn’t really wash.  That might be the case in the Dail, but An Taisce and IAN are not part of any such unholy alliance, and nor are most of the people in this country who would like to see an end of clientelist and cronyist planning.

Alice Charles below (in a comment we reproduce with her permission and published on thejournal.ie) provides a response to Minister O’Sullivan outlining in detail the rationale and process for the six planning investigations.  We think it’s worth reproducing it in full on IAN.

Minister O’Sullivan that is simply incorrect. As a private sector planner involved in the procurement process here is what actually happened.

After Minister Gormley called in a series of Development Plans due to excessive and unsustainable zonings, he set about amending the Planning & Development Act and the amended legislation was enacted in 2010. In parallel the Minister had commenced an investigation process under 255(4) of the Planning & Development Act  to review the planning function of a series of planning authorities namely Carlow, Dublin, Cork City, Cork County, Meath and Galway on foot of a series of complaints he had received from the public and An Taisce. Normally these complaints would be referred back to the planning authority. However, the Minister asked the Department to examine the complaints and given their findings he determined that further independent investigation was required.

In June 2010 Minister Gormley announces the commencement of the reviews and using powers under section 255 of the Planning and Development Acts, he requested that Carlow, Dublin, Cork City, Cork County, Galway and Meath provide him with a formal report responding to the issues raised. The responses were received in July and in September 2010 a invitation to tender was issued inviting planning consultants to tender to be appointed to a panel of planning consultants charged with independently reviewing the complaints.  

My former company, a planning consultancy, amongst many others invested a significant amount of time in developing our tender proposal, which was submitted in late October. Thereafter we received correspondence advising that the tenders were being reviewed. We followed up with phone calls and prior to the Minister leaving office in January 2011, we had been advised that the panel of planners had been agreed by the Minister and the Department would be issuing letters confirming consultants appointments imminently.

Then the Government fell and the next we know is that Minister Phil Hogan has scrapped in the independent investigations to be undertaken by planning consultants and instead is going to undertake an internal review, which wouldn’t be published and this is meant to be ongoing. However, the internal investigation was done before and this demonstrated that independent investigation was necessary. So Ministers O’Sullivan and Hogan, if there is nothing to hide have the independent investigation!

If anyone seems to be making a smokescreen at the minute it seems to be the government.  My personal view is that given that these internal reviews seem to have been happening that they are published in full in no more than two months time.  Based on their findings either action is taken or further independent investigations are undertaken.  In the meantime stop with the rewriting of history.

Rob Kitchin