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Environmentalists cry ‘foul’ over new rules on Irish planning challenges

Words: Roger Milne
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Ireland’s leading environmental coalition has cried foul over proposed planning legislation, claiming that it will make it far more difficult to challenge decisions in the courts and hold public authorities and the government to account.

The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of national environmental organisations – has warned that measures in a draft planning bill being prepared by planning and housing minister Eoghan Murphy will make it hard for ordinary citizens and environmental NGOs to achieve the necessary legal “standing” to initiate cases.

The changes proposed in the draft legislation would also add to the complexity of the court process and increase the risk of exposure to significant costs for those seeking to challenge bad planning decisions.

The environmental groups complain that the drafting of the Housing and Planning and Development Bill 2019 rows back on major changes introduced just a few years ago to enable ordinary people, their organisations, and environmental NGOs to challenge bad environmental decisions.

Attracta Ui Bhroin, environmental law officer at the Irish Environmental Network, said: “The Irish Government is proposing a Frankenstein-like monster approach to killing off access to justice in Ireland, drawing from the worst practices elsewhere and putting them all together in a bid to obstruct the rights of citizens and concerned NGOs to challenge bad and unlawful planning decisions.

“This legislation would row back on major changes introduced just a few years ago to enable ordinary people and small but committed environmental NGOs to legally challenge bad environmental decisions, without fear of incurring eye-watering costs and extensive obstacles to accessing justice.

“The explanation for the bill is blatant about making it harder to challenge decisions, with the Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government arguing that challenges cause delays. It is bad decisions, and flawed legislation, however, that are the real issue driving litigation in this country and this bill does nothing to address that.”

The government is known to be concerned that development is held up by appeals and litigation, some of which it argues is “spurious” and vexatious.

Murphy is on the record as saying: “In light of the level of proposed investment under the National Development Plan, it is considered that there is a need to safeguard the timely delivery of projects and value for public money while simultaneously maintaining the rights of citizens to challenge decisions that do not comply with EU environmental law.”

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