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Irish Times - 09-05-05
Fast-track planning body to be abandoned

The Government is to abandon plans for a separate fast-track planning authority for major road and infrastructure projects, and is to instead proceed with a major reform of An Bord Pleanála. Minister for the Environment Dick Roche is finalising proposals to create a new division of An Bord Pleanála which will deal with major infrastructural projects.

It follows a delay of more than 12 months in the promised Critical Infrastructure Bill after splits emerged in the Cabinet about the plans over the inclusion of waste infrastructure and incinerators in the new system.

The proposed Bill came out of a Government commitment in 2003 to create a new fast-track process following delays to major road and infrastructure projects which were, in part, blamed on the planning process.

Legislation, which would have seen the creation of a new Critical Infrastructure Board to deal speedily with major planning applications, was finalised last year by Mr Cullen.

However, he was forced to postpone plans to bring the legislation to Cabinet for approval after it emerged that Government colleagues were opposed to the inclusion of incinerators in the new fast-track planning system.

Opponents included Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. Dublin City Council has proposed an incinerator for Poolbeg in his Dublin South East constituency, and Mr McDowell has pledged support for opponents.

Last November, Mr Roche announced he was withdrawing the then Bill from Government to review aspects of the legislation. Officials at Mr Roche's department have almost completed that review, and have proposed radical changes in a bid to break the deadlock at Government.

The new proposals are expected to be brought to Cabinet in the next month or by August at the latest.

Plans for the Critical Infrastructure Board have now been shelved in favour of a separate division within An Bord Pleanála to deal with major planning applications deemed to be of national importance, including major waste-management facilities.

It is understood Mr McDowell has also been given assurances that the Poolbeg incinerator will not come under any fast-track planning proposals.

It follows comments last January by Mr Roche that he did not want to see the Poolbeg incinerator included in any fast-track planning process."I don't want the Strategic Infrastructure Bill to be seen as facilitating any specific project, or to be caught up in any local issue," Mr Roche said at the time.

The creation of a division of An Bord Pleanála is believed to have been the preference of senior civil servants.

The new proposals are also expected to allay fears from some Ministers that the fast-track process could be seen as simply rubber-stamping projects.

In January, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also indicated he was against a separate planning authority for major projects.

"If you have a broad National Infrastructure Board that puts everything through a fast-track it will not work. People will just see this as a back door trying to press controversial projects through."
Liam Reid
© The Irish Times


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