Loopholes in Planning Regulations – Using a Deceased Man’s Identity to Report

Kerry County Council accepted a report of an alleged planning breach from a man who died 10 months previously. 

The local authority accepted and proceeded to investigate a claim there was an unauthorised development, despite being notified the man had passed away and couldn’t have made the report.   

How did this all come about?

On the 8th of October of last year, a letter was posted to John Murphy in Lispole. His daughter received the correspondence from Kerry County Council, which we now have. It went as follows:

 

I understand that Mr Murphy’s daughter received a follow up letter the very next day. What did this say?

Yes, she received a letter on the 9th October, addressed to John Murphy, her father. It went as follows.

 

Both letters were addressed to John Murphy, a Lispole man. However, John Murphy had died in December 2018, ten months before these letters were sent. Mr Murphy’s daughter Caroline received the letter.

As way of verification without being insensitive, you’ve details of Mr Murphy’s funeral arrangements from our website and elsewhere.

We have notices both from the Radio Kerry death notice section and RIP.ie with details of his death from December 2018.

I spoke to a member of John Murphy’s family, who wishes to remain nameless. I first asked what happened.

 

That was a member of John Murphy’s family. Have you spoken to the recipient of the warning letter who, it was alleged, breached planning laws? 

Yes, I did. He told me he received a warning letter in relation to a farm shed, which was allowed to be constructed a few years previously under exempted developments.

Additionally, he says the shed – which was alleged to have been built without correct planning – was shown on documents submitted to the council in subsequent planning applications. In one instance, a finished floor level of the shed was cited in planning consultations, meaning the shed wasn’t unknown to the council.

The recipient of the warning letter told me he didn’t receive any site visit from council officials. I couldn’t get any response from the council in relation to this point, as it doesn’t comment on individual cases.

Speaking of the council, did you get in contact with them about this?

Yes, I did. Before I elaborate, I need to distinguish between a planning submission or objection and a report of an alleged unauthorised development. This story we’re discussing is in relation to an alleged breach of planning laws through an alleged unauthorised development.

For example, Jerry, say I’m in Kenmare and I see a building on your land which I believe doesn’t have planning permission or has not abided by the planning guidelines or conditions, then I’d make a report of an alleged planning breach saying I think that’s an alleged unauthorised development.

However, if I saw that you’d a planning notice in the paper or on the side of your property seeking planning permission, I could make a planning objection or submission.

So, I asked the council does it verify the identities of anyone who submits an objection or submission to a planning application or a report of an unauthorised building?

KCC said submissions and objections on a planning application cannot be anonymous (see the picture below). In relation to complaints on alleged unauthorised developments, it is somewhat different. As well as dealing with complaints from individuals who identify themselves, the council also accept anonymous complaints in relation to alleged unauthorised development/s from members of the public.

I believe you also asked if there was an outcome in this case, along with the council’s action when it was informed Mr Murphy had passed away?

Yes, I asked the following: Was there any outcome in this case? Did KCC disregard the report of the alleged planning breach when notified by the alleged sender’s daughter that he had died ten months previously and couldn’t have submitted the report?

Kerry County Council said it cannot comment on individual planning enforcement files. However, this matter is currently being investigated.

Kerry County Council says it does not verify – nor is it required to verify – the identity or authenticity of a complainant and it also accepts anonymous complaints. If it is made aware of alleged unauthorised development, it is required to investigate the matter.

It adds the issue at hand here is the alleged use of a deceased person’s name on a complaint, which is not a matter for Kerry County Council in this context.

Did you ask Kerry County Council if it has any procedures in place to address – or discard – objections, submissions or reports when the claimed sender is shown to have not been the actual origin of the objection, submission or report? e.g. if a person’s identity had been used by another.

The council said criteria in respect of making a submission/observation on a planning application are outlined in the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 – 2019. If a submission/observation complies with these criteria, then a planning authority has to accept it as a valid submission. These criteria include the person’s name and address, an address to which correspondence is to be sent, and for the submission to be received within the time frame.

To summarise, a report of an alleged unauthorised development can be anonymous, while a planning objection or submission must include the name of the person or body submitting and indicate the address to which any correspondence relating to the application. While we know the council has to abide by the planning laws, you’ve an issue with this?

Yes. Because while there are criteria to be fulfilled by anyone making an objection or submission, they can be easily bypassed. We’ve proven this here in Radio Kerry. Last year, we looked into planning objections to the redevelopment of Cable O’Leary’s in Ballinskelligs. Two objections made it through the council planning department and onto An Bord Pleanála, which subsequently refused permission. One of those planning objections was attributed to a person whom we couldn’t prove even existed.

While Kerry County Council has to abide by Planning and Development Regulations, it’s clear that the criteria are easily bypassed. People are allowed to object, report or give submissions on any development within the state – and rightly so. However, there are no checks to make sure a person is who they claim to be.

Eamonn Hickson – 12 June 2020