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Irish Times - 01-06-05
Government announces reform of planning body
By David Labanyi

The Government has revealed plans to reform An Bord Pleanála and extend its role to include responsibility for planning approval for major transport, environmental and energy projects.

In a statement the Minister for Environment Dick Roche said the Planning Act 2000 would also be amended in an effort to make the planning process for major infrastructure projects more efficient.

The changes confirm the abandonment of the proposed Critical Infrastructure Bill, which led to disagreement in Cabinet over the inclusion of waste infrastructure and incinerators in this bill.

The Minister said An Bord Pleanála would be restructured to include a Strategic Infrastructure Division to make decisions on all major infrastructure projects.

According to Mr Roche major projects proposed by the private sector in the areas covered will be referred directly to the board by the local manager and will not need local planning permission.

He said the board will become involved earlier in the planning process to ensure Environmental Impact Statements deal with all key planning issues.

"My proposals are designed to ensure the correct balance between individual rights and the national interest. We will also be in full compliance with Ireland's EU and international legal obligations in relation to consideration of environmental and heritage impacts and consultation with the public," the Minister said.

"The Government has also decided to make parallel changes to procedures for judicial review of decisions on infrastructure, to ensure that protracted delays cannot happen in the courts," he continued. .

"Every delay in taking a decision or arising from excessive delay in dealing with a court challenge to a decision adds to the costs of providing that infrastructure," he said.

The Minister for Justice Mr McDowell is looking a ways to speed up the passage of legal challenges to infrastructure proposals in the courts.

"What we need are mechanisms to ensure that cases are heard and decided as soon as possible so that everybody knows whether the infrastructure project can proceed or not," said Minister Roche.

The Government is to legislate for these changes before the Dail "in a matter of months".

© 2005


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