Irish Times - 21-03-05
Madam, - Frank McDonald's article "The burning issue", in your edition of February 26th, raised some vital planning issues. Public consultation and truly democratic decision-making are fundamental to our Constitution. It is essential that national policy be decided through debate and discussion and be drafted into law by those we elect for the greater good of the community at large.
However, as a member of a community which has followed the democratic process to the letter and engaged at every level whole-heartedly, I now realise this is not how business gets done.
Our organisation, CHASE, has participated in an oral planning hearing and an EPA oral hearing regarding the proposed toxic waste incinerator in Ringaskiddy, where on behalf of the community we presented our case, brought forward expert witnesses, cross-examined those on the other side and debated the issues that concerned.
In his report on the first hearing, the chief planning inspector gave 14 reasons why this facility should not get planning permission, one of them being that he could not guarantee that it did not pose a threat to public safety.
The proposal is also contrary to national policies such as the National Spatial Strategy, the National Hazardous Waste Management Plan, the proximity principle and the precautionary principle. It is also in breach of international policies to which the Government by way of international agreements is a consenting party. These include the Stockholm Convention on the reduction and elimination of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), the Rio Convention on biodiversity and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
Yet despite this, on the nod of 10 political appointees (the board of an Bord Pleanála ) the board overruled the recommendation of its own inspector.
If you or I were applying for planning for a house and the shape of the windows was wrong, we could be turned down. Why, then, shouldn't a community which has won the argument on the planning issues at every stage not feel frustrated and disenfranchised?
We know there are better ways forward in waste management. There are many new technologies and approaches that will allow us to deal with our waste in the 21st century, using 21st-century solutions.
Communities do not want to set national policies; they want to see them being implemented - rather than being ignored in the interest of "Government policy" as opposed to national policy.
We have now been through a second oral hearing with the EPA at which the community again looked for answers to questions we were told would be addressed at this stage of the process. Yet when we as a community asked these questions at this stage, they were not answered. The curious division between the respective roles of the planning authority and the EPA has not helped in the process, as both seem to function as if in a vacuum. This cannot lead to sound planning decisions. Is it any wonder communities are frustrated when they witness such inconsistency and lack of transparency? - Yours, etc.,
MARY O'LEARY, Chairperson, CHASE, Spy Hill,
Cobh, Co Cork.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment