Sunday 20 June 2010

Share Ireland in EU court over planning laws breach

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will open hearings this week in a significant challenge by the European Commission (EC) to Ireland’s alleged failure to implement European planning laws.

The EC is claiming that, for years, Ireland has been in breach of its obligation to conduct environmental impact assessments properly. Hearings in the case will open at the ECJ on Thursday.

If Ireland is found in breach, it will face substantial costs, and the implication will be that state agencies and local authority planning departments have, in effect, sanctioned developments which were contrary to EU law.

Among the EC’s claims are that there is a major disconnection between the functions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Ireland and local authorities, caused by the government’s failure to adhere properly to European law.

The EC’s allegation is based on the fact that certain projects in Ireland are subject to two separate decision making processes: one process involves decision-making on land-use aspects by the planning authorities, while the other involves decision-making on pollution aspects by the EPA.

The EC alleges that Irish legislation ‘‘contains no obligation on these bodies to coordinate with each other effectively and, therefore, is contrary [to EU law]".

As a result, the EC argues that ‘‘it is possible for a licence application to be made to the Environmental Protection Agency before an application for planning permission has been made, and thus before an environmental impact assessment has been carried out’’.

European law requires that an environmental impact assessment be carried out before a licence application is made, although the EC says it has no problem in principle with planning and environmental decisions being conducted by separate bodies.

The EC also insists that Ireland has breached European law by excluding nearly all demolition works from the legislation implementing a 1985 EU directive related to environmental impact assessments.

The commission argues that the directive applies to demolition works, subject to certain conditions, and requires that an environmental impact assessment must be carried out for all demolition works. Irish law is ‘‘plainly at variance with the directive’’, the EC said.

The commission also alleges that Ireland has failed to transpose into law the obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects.

Irish law requires planning authorities to have regard to an environmental impact statement, but the EC claims that this ‘‘does not correspond to the wider duty’’ on authorities to undertake an environmental impact assessment, which ‘‘identifies, describes and assesses the direct and indirect effects of a project on the environment’’.

Sunday Business Post

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