Significant reforms will see planning powers of councillors curtailed
IN WHAT HAS been described as a long-overdue overhaul of Ireland’s local governance system, Minister Phil Hogan has included measures which will see the power held by councillors in relation to planning matters curtailed significantly.
“We have seen enough problems in relation to planning as articulated in the Mahon Tribunal,” the Minister told RTÉ News at One today. “Also, that power tends to be abused in a small way,” he added, referring to a councillor’s power to overturn management’s decisions or direct the executive.
Hogan said his department’s intention to “accept in full” the recommendation made by the Mahon Tribunal in relation to section 140 of the Local Government Act 2001 which granted certain powers to councillors.
Hogan said these powers will no longer apply. The reforms will see section 140 resolutions limited even further as they will not apply or extend to any other approval or decision which would see an individual or specific organisation benefit financially or otherwise. Legislation will be brought forward on this matter “at the earliest available opportunity”.
The Mahon Tribunal – an inquiry into planning and payments to various parties – had recommended that the “power of the elected members to direct the Manager to grant planning permission in a specific case should be subject to increased restrictions” in order to combat political corruption.
Fianna Fáil has criticised the coalition’s plans for not going far enough. Spokesperson Barry Cowen said he is concerned that some of the “key recommendations” from recent tribunals “appear to have been ignored”.
“There appears to be nothing about enhanced transparency around planning decisions,” he added. “Critically, [Hogan] specifically refuses to create a Planning Regulator as recommended by Judge Mahon to oversee the system and act as a check on the Minister or new more powerful officials.”
Hogan said the major reforms will allow for more democratic accountability and staff accountability to the democratically-elected member. It will give local councillors more influence and power on policy decisions and take control away from the management system in most other areas.
“The whole tenet of my policy is to make sure there is a rebalancing of power to the democratically elected local councillor,” he told RTÉ News at One.
“The city or county manager will now be a chief executive officer and he or she will have to report to councillors – as any business does to a board of directors.”