THE CARLOW county manager has denied any planning irregularities at the council after it emerged that it is to be investigated by the Department of the Environment.
It is one of a number of councils where planning issues will be examined in a review process being set up by the department in the coming weeks.
The move was sparked by an official audit of the council by the Department of the Environment’s local government audit service as well as complaints received by the department about planning at the council.
Among the issues raised by the 2008 audit which was given to the county manager last month were: corporate governance issues within the planning department; the use of special development contributions; planning time being extended at quarries; planning enforcement and safeguarding assets.
It also looked at planning issues relating to the main drainage scheme in Carlow.
County manager Tom Barry yesterday said he was “quite comfortable” with the contents of the audit. Mr Barry also denied that there were planning irregularities at the council.
He accepted that the council needed to pay attention to the corporate governance concerns. The council had responded by completely reviewing best practice and compliance of corporate governance standards, he said.
A settled High Court action which has caused financial difficulties for the council was one of the main issues examined by the audit report, he said.
Mr Barry accepted that the case had caused cash-flow problems but said they were ones the council could manage.
The 2008 case concerned a tiny parcel of land which was not owned by the council but was needed to finish the Carlow eastern bypass.
The settlement was more than €11 million, according to the audit. This left the council €3.5 million out of pocket with the rest being made up by future development agreements.
Mr Barry said he was “aware of” complaints to the Department of the Environment concerning planning at the county.
Carlow Green TD and Minister for Equality Mary White said that when she was a councillor, she had been contacted by constituents who had concerns about planning irregularities, such as planning guidelines not being enforced and planning permission being granted on flood-plains.
Mr Barry said he was aware of the observations as referred to by Ms White but was “satisfied that decisions complied with policies”.
Ms White said she was “relieved” that the investigation was being launched. She wanted to see an “open, fair and transparent” planning system in her country. The review was “in the best interest” of the Carlow people and in the interests of Carlow County Council’s integrity. Ms White was a member of Carlow County Council up until 2007.
The audit report is due to be discussed at a meeting of the county council in two weeks’ time.