RESIDENTS OF Usk, near Kilcullen, Co Kildare, are incensed that An Bord Pleanála rejected a High Court recommendation when it granted permission for a major landfill site in the area.
Greenstar, one of Ireland’s leading waste management firms, had sought approval to dispose of some two million tonnes of municipal waste over a 10-year period on the 46-acre site of a quarry in Usk, seven kilometres south of Kilcullen.
The Usk and District Residents’ Association has been fighting plans to turn the disused quarry into a landfill site since they were first mooted in 2002 – at an estimated cost of €300,000, mainly in fees to retain lawyers and expert consultants.
Kildare Co Council officials initially supported the project, but councillors voted unanimously against it in mid-2004 and permission was refused. Greenstar appealed against this decision and An Bord Pleanála overturned it in July 2006. The residents’ association sought a judicial review of the board’s decision, which was contrary to the planning inspector’s recommendation, taking their case to the High Court in a bid to have the decision overturned.
In March 2007, Mr Justice Peter Kelly quashed it after the board conceded there was an “absence of satisfactory records leading to the decision” – thereby, as the judge said, “disabling it” from establishing its ruling was lawful. The local residents said they had “no faith in the objectivity or impartiality of the board” in dealing with the appeal, as it had “tied itself up in knots in attempting to explain its decision-making process in deciding to grant this permission”.
Referring the case back to the board, Mr Justice Kelly made a number of recommendations “which, without in any way accepting the validity of any of the complaints made by the applicant, will minimise the risk of further judicial review”. He said it would be prudent for the board to reopen the oral hearing. “That would provide a forum for all of the parties to place up-to-date information before the inspector and also to agitate any other questions considered appropriate.”
Given the board had 10 members and that only five had made the decision, he recommended that “further consideration of this matter by the board be dealt with by members of it who have not had a previous involvement in the case”.
Before it came to making its decision last month, after receipt of planning inspector Mary Cunneen’s second report recommending refusal, board chairman John O’Connor and deputy chairman Brian Hunt discussed Mr Justice Kelly’s recommendation.
According to a memorandum by Mr O’Connor, they agreed that “the most appropriate course would be to convene a meeting of all available board members (ie those who participated previously and those who did not) to decide the appeal”.
This course was taken, he wrote, because “the exclusion of the five members who took the quashed decision would seriously weaken the level of experience and expertise that would be brought to bear” in the decision.
The appeal involved “a major and significant infrastructural development which would, in accordance with established practice within the board, be decided at a board meeting involving the chairperson and deputy chairperson”.
Ms Cunneen, in her report, had recommended refusal because of the “undue proximity” of three houses to the proposed landfill site, “thereby seriously injuring the amenities and depreciating the value of those properties”.
A second reason she gave for refusal was that the development would be premature pending compliance with a High Court order made in December 2004 requiring that the former quarry – which was illegal – be restored.
But the appeals board decided unanimously to grant permission “having regard to national policy relating to waste, the waste management plan for Co Kildare 2005-2010 [and] the proximity of the site to the national road system”. Another reason for the decision was that the Environmental Protection Agency had already granted a licence to Greenstar for the proposed landfill, which the board said would be acceptable in terms of its impact on the amenities of the area.
The board noted that the waste licence granted by the EPA included conditions requiring a minimum distance of 100 metres between the landfill and nearby houses and said the impacts had been “adequately addressed” by the developer.
But locals are not reassured. “Everyone seems to believe that this is the wrong place for a dump, except An Bord Pleanála,” said Sharon Corrigan. “It’s been a long, hard and expensive fight to save our homes and protect our families”.
The Irish Times