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New board to curb planners and speed up vital projects

THE Government is to strip local authorities and An Bord Pleanála of their powers to give planning permission for major infrastructural projects, including roads and gas pipelines.

These functions will be carried out by an all-powerful National Infrastructure Board, which will be established under legislation in The autumn Oireachtas session.  It will have authority to decide whether or not developments such as airports, ports, water, waste and energy projects should go ahead, according to a report in the publication Public Affairs Ireland.

The Cabinet is to proceed with the new board after it has become frustrated by the slow progress of major infrastructural projects as a result of planning delays. A number of ministers have publicly expressed disappointment with the decision by An Bord Pleanála to refuse permission for the Corrib Gas development by Shell off the Co Mayo coast. It is understood that projects listed in the legislation will now apply for planning to the new board.

It will examine plans by developers, consider concerns raised by objectors and mediate on solutions to ally residents' fears.  The move will be enormously controversial because it aims to fast track plans which the Government believes are crucial to economic development like Dublin's M50 motorway, the completion of which has been delayed by concerns it would damage the ruins of Carrickmines Castle. The proposal for the new board was brought to Cabinet in recent weeks by Environment Minister Martin Cullen.

The issue was also referred to by Junior Finance Minister Tom Parlon Last month when he addressed a seminar on Public Private Partnerships. He told the audience that new legislation would be introduced to make sure infrastructural projects are not delayed for years by objections and legal challenges.

A sensitive point for the Government will be projects such as incinerators, which have been continually fought by residents' groups and played havoc with strategies to deal with waste. Unlike the old process, the grounds for a successful legal challenge would be much narrower. Objectors would only be able to challenge a legal decision in the High Court.

David Murphy

Deputy Business Editor

© Irish Independent

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