A guide published for the new Planning and Development bill approved by cabinet on Tuesday, has raised serious alarms already within the Environmental Pillar, an advocacy coalition of national eNGOs. The guide indicates “substantial modifications” will be made to the current rules on Judicial Review in the Planning and Development Act 2000, and outlines the changes. The new bill is set to replace that Act entirely, and is to be published in the coming weeks.
While the Taoiseach spoke on Tuesday about the need for faster planning decisions in setting context for the Bill’s approach, it is setting itself up to cause major delays instead, according to Phoebe Duvall, Senior Planning and Environmental Policy Officer with An Taisce.
Expanding on this, Duvall said: “Just last Friday, at the IEN’s Law Conference to mark the 25th anniversary of the Aarhus Convention, the speaker from the EU Commission expressed concern that Ireland would be the only Member State where there were serious issues with both legal costs and standing (the right to take a challenge) if it went down the route of what was in the draft of the Planning Bill published earlier this year. Now from what we have seen in the Guide [to the next version of the bill], that is exactly the direction we are heading in, with vague terms and conditions, concerning limitations for organisations of the public and a worrying lack of clarity so far on the criteria you will need to meet to be recognised as an eNGO. The risk is that we will have another decade of litigation ahead of us before it is all sorted, which will bring costs and delays to the delivery of homes and critical climate and transport infrastructure and risk serious impacts to the environment in the interim.”
Attracta Uí Bhroin, Environmental Law Officer of the Irish Environmental Network, highlighted serious concerns that there were issues with the legal aid scheme proposed in the bill. The scheme will replace the current special rules to protect people and groups from prohibitively expensive costs in environmental litigation.
“This new scheme will give the Government effective control over who can or can’t afford to hold them to account before the courts, and how well they are represented in mounting such a challenge. Government will decide on the size of the pot of money available or not available for legal aid, and the rates of fees for lawyers, and the rules of the scheme, and it will be subject to the vagaries of the exchequer. Special cost rules were introduced just over 10 years ago. This was important so people could uphold their rights to an effective Judicial Remedy under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and also rights under EU Directives and the Aarhus Convention. Those rules are now to be entirely replaced with this wholly unwelcome and worrying new scheme.”
Uí Bhroin added: “The draft bill outlined an unprecedented regression in terms of access to justice rights in environmental litigation in Ireland. The devil will be in the detail of some of the changes when the full bill is published – but without question what we have seen thus far in the guide is deeply alarming, and there’s work to be done to push back on this by anyone who cares for our economy, our society and our environment.”
Duvall concluded, “It’s hard to over-emphasise the significance of getting planning legislation right and the risks of getting things wrong with this bill, which will then cause major delays to the delivery of homes and critical energy and transport infrastructure. The Environmental Pillar had significant concerns about the earlier draft of this bill, and how it was produced. The Government’s approach to the content and framing of this next version undermines our confidence still more”
Irish Environmental Network
MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7, Ireland