Paul Hyde’s failure to declare a key conflict of interest will be scrutinised in a barrister’s inquiry into allegations made against him in his role as An Bord Pleanála deputy chairman.
Hyde has denied any wrongdoing and insists there is a simple explanation for the lack of disclosure when he signed off a decision in his sister-in-law’s planning appeal. But that admission has undermined his standing in official circles. “There’s a certain sense of elastic being stretched here,” said a senior planner.
Hyde is no minor figure, and his leadership of An Bord Pleanála’s strategic housing developments division put him in a pivotal role at a time of high pressure to deliver new housing projects to tackle surging demand and a supply shortage. Applications to avail of fast-track rules for large projects have been rising before special laws expire.
Hyde temporarily stepped aside from his role on Monday “without prejudice” pending an examination of the claims by Remy Farrell SC for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. He also faces an internal An Bord Pleanála examination of hundreds of his planning decisions. His case files have been assigned to someone else, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil on Tuesday.
Farrell’s terms of reference are due soon, possibly on Wednesday. But already is there doubt and scepticism at Hyde’s explanations for not declaring any conflict in his sister-in-law’s appeal about a Dublin 4 house she owns with her husband, Stefan Hyde, Paul’s brother. The board minute from the case noted the house number at Gilford Park in Sandymount but Hyde said it was not An Bord Pleanála’s practice to identify appellants or the exact address for such decisions.
“He’s leaving himself wide open,” said one politician, adding that such an explanation from a person of Hyde’s rank in a quasi-judicial body was bound to attract criticism.
“Not a good look,” said the senior planner, adding that conflicts of interest are highly sensitive for An Bord Pleanála because decisions the body makes can lead to a big uplift in the valuation of land and real estate.
At this point, it appears Farrell’s examination will deal only with the allegations made against Hyde, not with any implications for An Bord Pleanála or planning decisions arising from any findings made.
Property in Cork
One of the nine properties Hyde previously owned was a dwelling at Pope’s Hill in Blackrock, Cork. It is now used for social housing after it was acquired by the Housing Agency, a State body, for Cork City Council. While that raises questions about who the vendor was, little is clear.
One source said Hyde himself did not sell the property. But the Housing Agency declined to say whether it bought from him, a receiver or his lender Promontoria (Oyster), a unit of US fund Cerberus. “Unfortunately, we can’t comment because of the confidentiality clauses contained in this type of contract,” the agency said. An Bord Pleanála said Hyde never disclosed the sale terms and it had no knowledge of the vendor. Promontoria declined to comment.
Other claims centre on Hyde’s undeclared quarter share in a company withCork property near proposed apartments that were refused permission by An Bord Pleanála. Hyde claimed there was no need to declare shares in H20 Property Holdings because it was dormant. This entity was struck off the companies register in 2016 for failing to file returns on time but successfully applied to be restored to it in 2017.
Hyde may yet be asked how he squares the need to restore the company to the register with the argument that it was not trading.