THE STATE has accused An Bord Pleanála of permitting “the deliberate destruction” of priority habitat limestone pavement at the protected Lough Corrib site in Co Galway by granting approval for the €317 million Galway city outer bypass.
In a strong attack on the board at the Commercial Court yesterday, Garret Simons SC, for the State, argued that the board’s approval was invalid as it breached the European habitats directive requiring member states to protect natural habitats.
Counsel for the board rejected the attack as unwarranted and described as “farcical” claims by the State the board was trying to save face. The State was now making arguments in this case contrary to what it had told the oral hearing into the road, Nuala Butler SC said.
The Minister for Transport can intervene at any time to stop the road given the Minister for the Environment’s claim that the approval breached EU law but he had not and the board rejected the State’s reasons for not doing so, Mr Simons added.
If there was a breach of European law, the remedy was in the State’s hands but it had not acted and there was no explanation why this conundrum continued to exist.
The clashes happened in the continuing hearing of the challenge by environmentalist Peter Sweetman to the board’s approval in November 2008 for the road scheme, excluding one connection between Gortatlevna and An Baile Nua.
Mr Simons told Mr Justice George Birmingham yesterday that the Government believed the approval was invalid. When the judge asked why the Minister for Transport did not just stop the road project, as suggested by the board, he said that would be an interference with the separation of powers as the issue was now before the courts. The State did not wish to leave an important legal question unresolved or deprive Mr Sweetman of his right of access to the courts.
Mr Simons added that the State supported Mr Sweetman’s application for a referral to the European Court of Justice of issues concerning interpretation of the relevant provisions of the habitats directive so as to secure clarity on the meaning of those provisions.
The case centres on the interpretation of Article 6, particularly 6.3 of the habitats directive which stipulates any plan likely to have a significant effect on a protected site must be appropriately assessed as to its implications for the site’s conservation objectives and prohibits approval of any plan which adversely affects “the integrity” of the site.
The case continues today.