THE STATE believes An Bord Pleanála has given invalid permission for a €317 million Galway ring road, possibly exposing the State to legal action by the European Commission, the Commercial Court heard yesterday.
However, the board rejects the claims of invalidity and is standing over its decision.
The State told the board in correspondence this week that it was a matter of “great regret” the board did not accept the State’s view that the permission for the project breaches provisions of the EU habitats directive and relevant regulations.
The chief State solicitor informed the board that the existence of a consent which breached EU law exposed the State to an action for infringement by the European Commission and to risk of injunctive/interim measures and heavy fines.
“It is Government policy to proceed with the building of this road, but only in accordance with law,” the letter stated. The chief State solicitor added that unless the position was clarified by the court, there would be a “very significant legal impediment” to the development of the road project.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly was provided with the correspondence yesterday when dealing with procedural issues concerning a legal challenge by environmental campaigner Peter Sweetman to the board’s November 2008 permission for the road project.
The judge said the case brought by Mr Sweetman against the board and the State, with Galway City Council and Galway County Council as notice parties, had thrown up a “hornet’s nest” and exposed a split between the State and the board on interpretation of the habitats directive and Article 30 of the EC (Natural Habitats) Regulations and other issues.
The judge said he would permit the board to amend its statement of opposition in the case, which is due to be heard on June 30th.
In that amended opposition, the board rejects the State’s claims, and also contends the State does not have the necessary legal standing to introduce new grounds of challenge.
The judge was told Galway County Council was anxious to proceed with the project and to have the case heard on June 30th.