I'd be interested in hearing reviews/experiences of how An Bord Pleanala conducts itself, its procedures in terms of assessing planning applications. Sometimes when ABP makes a procedural error, human error there is no means by which this matter can be dealt with. You might suggest that a judicial review would look after that but with precedent and the cost involved - access to this is simply outside the reach of most people.
I am looking for other people's examples and here are three examples to kick off the performance review of ABP:
A planning appeal for a mobile phone mast was granted ( the local athority had refused it). An observation was made by a local resident. When she rang up to get a copy of the Inspector's Report she was told its not available online yet and so she waited and waited. Numerous phonecalls to ABP eventually one helpful official checked to see if such a report existed on the internal system and informed her that it had been deleted. In fact she was told that ABP don't have to engage an Inspector to carry out such a report nor do they have to do a site inspection. In this case no site inspection had taken place - this staggered the resident as it was within metres of a school. She was told that ABP can make their decision based on previous planning records only. She also noticed that some of the issues that she had raised were not even addressed (totally ignored as in bypassed) and yet in other decisions these were used as reasons to adjudicate on and as reasons to refuse by other inspectors. So there doesn't seem to be consistency or quality standards for inspectors. Are newly appointed inspectors being supervised (adequately upskilled or just told get on with it)?
Another case: the Inspector stated that the subject site of a planning application under appeal was not in a LAP (not within the boundary of that Local Area Plan). Yet the LAP official documentation from the Local Authority had a map that clearly identified that the site was within that LAP area - blatent error. The Board did not pick up on this either despite the fact that the Inspector had asked the Board for its direction - no direction was given. In the same case the Developer made an appeal and so did the local residents association make an appeal. Obviously ABP gave copies of the other parties appeal document to the other side for comment and/or rebuttal. Yet in the Inspector's Report only the Developer's rebuttal of the residents association appeal document was recorded and considered - another error. ABP had received it but yet it was not in the file for the Inspector to consider. Again the Board did not pick up on this error.
I think that ABP is under strain with its workload to such an extent that even simple procedural errors (that would have been picked up heretofore) are being made with massive ramifications. The danger is that the judicial review (with all its precedents) cannot cater for average residents with limited means to use it as a mechanism to ensure that ABP follows procedures. If ABP is going to hire inspectors - does anyone know of the training programme that they go through? There appears to me to be such a discrepancy in the quality of the inspector's reports - having read quite a few!
Finally, in another case, ABP is supposed to be an adjudicater, listening to both sides. Yet recently ABP issued a letter to the developer requesting him to submit drawings based on alterations that they, ABP had outlined in the same letter. ABP asked the developer to submit these drawings by a certain date. When the Res Assoc (one of the appellants) received a copy of this letter - essentially they perceived that rather than adjudicating on what was in front of ABP - that ABP were telling the developer make these considerable changes and we'll give you the nod of approval. Such were the extent of the changes, requested by ABP, it seriously affects the nature of the development and so one would have thought that the appellants would have been given a copy of these drawings for their comment. Apparently ABP don't even have to advise the parties that they have received these documents let alone give them the opportuntiy to make a comment/obsvervation. [/U][/U] A new application may or may not be on the table for a decision by ABP and yet Apellants are in the dark about it. These new changes may or may not affect other residents ( a knock-on effect) and we have no way of knowing. The decision is pending!