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Irish Times - 02-06-05
Roche outlines planning reform proposals

The High Court will be able to seek indemnities or financial guarantees from people seeking judicial reviews of planning decisions, under a package of planning reforms announced by Minister for the Environment Dick Roche yesterday. The proposal is one of a series of measures, including the establishment of a new strategic infrastructure division of An Bord Pleanála, aimed at reducing the amount of time major projects, including roads, landfills and incinerators, take to get through the planning process.

The division will have increased powers to adjudicate on a series of projects, including rail and metro, pipelines, electricity infrastructure, incinerators and landfills.

Mr Roche said yesterday he believed the changes would shorten the planning process considerably for many large projects and generate "very significant savings" for the taxpayer. "Ultimately you should be able to halve the time," he said.

However, the changes were criticised by the Opposition parties, which claimed they were designed to cut the public out of the consultation process and would not address the underlying causes of delays in infrastructure delivery, such as Government indecision on some projects.

Labour party environment spokesman Éamon Gilmore claimed the proposals would "fundamentally change the role of An Bord Pleanála and will not address the real causes of the delays in infrastructure development".

Green Party environment spokesman Ciarán Cuffe claimed Mr Roche wanted "to undermine the rights of communities to have a democratic input into planning decisions at a local level".

According to the proposals outlined by Mr Roche yesterday, major projects by private companies will be able to bypass the initial local authority planning stage and move directly to the new division, if local authority managers deem the projects to be strategically important. These can include environment projects such as incinerators or landfills.

The new planning legislation has introduced a number of technical changes which will have significant implications for planning court cases.

It will remove the necessity to put parties on notice when taking a judicial review, which will effectively remove an initial stage of the hearing process, which is currently lasting an average of seven months.

It will also allow judges hearing judicial reviews to require applicants to provide indemnities to the court that they have the financial resources to meet the costs of the case, should they lose.

The use of this measure would be at the discretion of the judge in question, Mr Roche said.

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell is also to consult the Courts Service on how to ensure that planning cases are heard more speedily in the High Court. The time taken for judicial reviews of planning cases has been identified as one of the main factors leading to delays in the planning process.

Mr Roche said the length of time judicial reviews took was a major factor, with figures indicating that the average planning process time, including judicial review, for a major projects was now 92 weeks.

Plans for the creation of a new division of An Bord Pleanála were contained in outline proposals for long-promised critical infrastructure legislation, announced two years ago by the Government.

The plans were altered following objections by Mr McDowell that an incinerator in his constituency would be fast-tracked. Mr Roche said yesterday the Ringsend incinerator would go through the normal planning process.

Liam Reid
© The Irish Times


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