Thursday, 3 March 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
223. Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has satisfied himself that corruption has ended in the planning process; his views on the increase in the number of cases of builders receiving retentions for planning breaches; and his proposals to safeguard the planning system. [7467/05]
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Roche): The Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments was established in 1997 to investigate acts of planning corruption, and is continuing its work. To date, it has issued four interim reports. While the tribunal has, to date, not issued recommendations for legislative change, the Government has already introduced various new measures to prevent acts of corruption in the planning process.
The Planning and Development Act 2000 extended the existing rules relating to ethics for planning authority staff. Part 15 of the Local Government Act 2001 introduced a comprehensive ethics regime for councillors and local government employees, which came into effect on 1 January 2003. This regime includes an annual declaration of interests, disclosure of interests as a matter arises, and a public register of interests. This regime was further enhanced by the national codes of conduct for councillors and employees, which issued last year.
The Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 also introduced measures in the areas of disclosure of interests and conduct of public officials. Under the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001, corruption is presumed where there is proof that certain persons in public office have received money or other benefits from a person who has an interest in the outcome of decisions, including planning decisions.
The decision as to whether a person obtains permission to retain an unauthorised development rests with the planning authority and An Bord Pleanála on appeal. My Department has no function in this area, other than potentially to offer advice in any relevant case regarding the protection of the built and natural heritage.
Decisions on enforcement in particular cases are a matter for the planning authorities in question. Part VIII of the Planning and Development Act 2000 greatly simplified the existing statutory provisions to make it easier for planning authorities to take enforcement action in cases of breaches in the planning code.
The enforcement provisions in the Planning Act were commenced on 11 March 2002. While it is early to gauge the impact on the overall level of enforcement activity by planning authorities, figures on enforcement actions by planning authorities in 2003 indicate that there has been an increase in the level of convictions, as compared to 2002.
I am satisfied that the planning legislation gives planning authorities sufficient powers to enforce planning and development control. However, I will continue to keep the implementation of the enforcement provisions of the 2000 Act under review.
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