An Taisce’s recent planning report that branded Galway County Council as among the worst in the country “displays an inadequate understanding, appreciation or weighting of context”, according to the local authority.
Galway County Council had been given a Grade F in the report, which graded all 34 local authorities in the country according to criteria such as the percentage of planning decisions appealed to An Bord Pleanála that were reversed.
An Taisce has since admitted that there was an error in the matrix used to calculate the score and ranking for individual councils, resulting in Galway County Council’s ranking improving slightly to Grade E. Galway City Council also rose from Grade C to Grade B in the re-issued report.
Explaining the error, the watchdog said that, in its original calculations, they had discounted the ‘overzoning’ indicator as they felt it gave “unfair advantage” to city councils, but failed to explain this omission in the final report.
Highlighting this error, a spokesperson for Galway County Council said that it is important that the conclusions of any quality research project can stand up to robust scrutiny, and that the integrity of the data and objectivity are maintained.
“A selective approach as utilised by An Taisce distorts the outcome where, for example, urban areas with little or no capacity for one-off rural housing, are compared to large rural counties with dispersed rural settlement patterns.
“This displays an inadequate understanding, appreciation or weighting of context. The report alleges causal relationships between indicators and outcomes which are not proven. The report is also peppered with sweeping generalisations,” he said.
Noting that An Taisce is only one of very many organisations, both public and private, which has an involvement in the planning process, he added that “many others would hold alternative views.”
The spokesperson also said that Galway County Council takes its responsibilities as a planning authority “very seriously”.
“The council is carrying out a quasi-judicial function and must comply with the law as it is. The council is satisfied with the integrity of the system which is operated by Galway County Council in a competent, professional and ethical manner,” he said.
Responding to this, a spokesperson for An Taisce said the organisation had endeavoured to make its criteria as rural/urban neutral as possible. “The criteria may differ from those Galway County would like us to use, but it is our report,” he said.
He added that two of the criteria used are objective, have no urban/rural bias and reflect the authorities adherence to existing legislation and guidelines, namely the percentage of appeals upheld by An Bord Pleanala and the percentage overturned by the planning authority.
“They are the appointed body to adjudicate appeals and, in doing so, they use the very same legislation and guidelines. Unfortunately, Galway County performed below their grade in these criteria,” he said, adding, however, that Galway County Council did perform “well above their grade” in the criteria used to measure enforcement.