Source Article: Irish Examiner Sat, 28 May, 2022
The deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála voted to override his own planning inspectors in the vast majority of applications for telecommunications masts over the past two years.
Paul Hyde, who has stepped aside from his role at the planning body pending the outcome of two investigations into his voting record, voted to overturn refusal recommendations by planning inspectors in 31 of 36 mast applications since September 2020.
Mr Hyde provided the final planning authorisation for 30 of them.
In contrast, other members of the nine-strong board voted to overturn the recommendation of planning inspectors on three out of nine occasions over the same timeframe.
While it is not unusual for An Bord Pleanála to overrule its own inspectors, sources familiar with the process have indicated that such overrulings occur in roughly 10% of cases, which would make Mr Hyde’s rate of overturning his own inspectors roughly eight times the average.
At least 100 applications to build telecommunications masts or antennae were lodged in the 20-month period under investigation, with 88 approved, 34 of them against the recommendation of An Bord Pleanála’s own inspectors.
Of those 100 applications, Mr Hyde voted on 75, second only to fellow board member Michelle Fagan, who voted on at least 78 of them, and some distance ahead of any other members of the board.
Mr Hyde made 71 of those decisions in collaboration with Ms Fagan. Just one of those 71 decisions involved a third board member.
In one application by Eir — for a 15m high communications pole in Kells, Co Kilkenny — the planning inspector stated that the applicant “has not provided a sufficient examination of alternative sites”, adding that the build would be “contrary… to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.
Overruling the inspector, Mr Hyde said: “The proposed development would not seriously injure the visual or residential amenities of the area.”
Mr Hyde granted permission for five communications structures in Cork against the opinions of his own inspectors. In one of those, an application by Vodafone for an 18m monopole in Innishannon, the inspector recommended refusal, stating the build would “seriously injure the visual amenities of the area” — an opinion flatly contradicted by Mr Hyde in his decision.
All told, Mr Hyde voted to grant permission for 70 out of 75 of the decisions he was involved in, a pass rate of over 93%.
He voted on 42 of the 49 applications made by communications firm Eir over the same period, all bar one were granted.
Of the 20 applications made by Eir across the country for which a recommendation of refusal was made by the planning inspector, Mr Hyde was involved in 19, every one of which was approved.
In fact, the only application made by Eir that wasn’t granted during that time was one of just seven in which Mr Hyde had no involvement.
The 100 applications predominantly involve micropoles, or masts designed to boost blackspots for mobile phone coverage around the country and to aid in large-scale data downloading.
Neither Eir nor Mr Hyde had commented on this matter at the time of publication.
A spokesperson for An Bord Pleanála said it was “conscious of the need” to maintain public confidence and an internal audit of certain files is expected to conclude within the next four weeks.
Meanwhile, Ian Lumley, head of advocacy with heritage body An Taisce, said the trends for mast applications “raise further major questions that need to be added to the investigation of An Bord Pleanála decisions commissioned by the Department of Housing”.