IT will be increasingly difficult to secure planning permission for one-off rural homes that aren’t connected to public sewers, following a judgment of the European Court of Justice yesterday.
The Luxembourg-based court ruled that Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations to comply with an EU directive that waste water from septic tanks is recovered and disposed of without endangering human health.
The ECJ said standards used in granting planning permissions "did not ensure a level of environmental and human health protection as high as that pursued by [the EU] directive".
During the hearing in the case, the commission heavily criticised Ireland’s track record on environmental protection, especially in relation to the handling of waste from septic tanks. It argued that various Irish environmental laws had not enabled pollution to be reduced in practice. It is estimated there are around 400,000 households in Ireland which rely on septic tanks to collect waste water.
The commission claimed there were "serious shortcomings" throughout Ireland which were capable of adversely affecting the environment. EU officials claimed such problems were linked to deficiencies in construction, unsuitable siting, insufficient capacities, maintenance and inspection as well as "inactivity" by local authorities.
However, the commission said the sole exception were by-laws introduced in Co Cavan which had adequately addressed the issue of the disposal of domestic waste waters in the countryside through septic tanks.
In contrast, the Government insisted that, contrary to claims by Brussels, the existing national legislation fully met Ireland’s obligations under the EU directive.
However, State lawyers acknowledged that Ireland had not expressly or specifically transposed the 1975 directive into national legislation even though they argued that Irish law as a whole ensured compliance with all the obligations arising from the EU legislation.