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Irish Times - 01-06-05
New planning regulations will 'centralise power'
By Paul Anderson Last

The Government's plan to fast-track major infrastructure projects by giving new powers to an Bord Pleannála is designed to dilute the public's role in the planning process, Opposition parties claimed this evening.

Labour environment spokesperson Eamon Gilmore, said the proposals for restructuring of An Bord Pleanala announced by Minister Dick Roche this afternoon will "fundamentally change the role of An Bord Pleanala and will not address the real causes of the delays in infrastructure development".

He said delays in major infrastructure projects could not be blamed on public objections, especially as many complaints could be averted if consultation procedures were better in the first place.

Delays also occurred in the acquisition of land as well as at design stage and during construction. He also the Government must take responsibility for delays because of its "lack of management and leadership on the National Development Plan".

He said the expansion of An Bord Pleanala's role had serious implications in relation to it original ambit when it was set up in the 1970s as an appeals body.

"Minister Roche is now changing An Bord Pleanala from an appeals body to a planning authority of first instance. The question that arises, therefore, is if An Bord Pleanala is making the planning decision in the first place, to whom can the public now appeal," Mr Gilmore.

Green Party spokesman Ciaran Cuffe said expressed similar concerns saying the changes would "undermine the rights of communities to have a democratic input into planning decisions at a local level".

The changes come instead of the Critical Infrastructure Bill which Mr Roche scrapped today. Cabinet wrangling over the past two years led to The Bill was intended to speed up construction of projects deemed to be of particular national importance but was abandoned amid Cabinet wrangling.

Mr Cuffe said that in the last three years the Government has reduced the powers of local communities and councils in the planning process.

"The changes that Minister Roche is proposing today are part of a disturbing trend to further centralise power into the hands of an elite."

© 2005


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