Irish Independent - 02-06-05
PLANS for a network of incinerators are being fast-tracked . . . but not in Justice Minister Michael McDowell's backyard.
Projects such as incinerators, dumps, power lines, pipelines and the expected €20bn Metro and rail transport package are to be fast-tracked under a radical overhaul of the planning system announced by Environment Minister Dick Roche yesterday.
All major infrastructure projects are to go directly to Bord Pleanala, bypassing the need for local authority approval. Bord Pleanala is to get a new Strategic Infrastructure Division which will handle decisions on all big infrastructure projects.
Major transport, environmental and energy projects of strategic importance proposed by the private sector will go straight to the new unit.
However, the proposed incinerator for Ringsend, Dublin will not be fast-tracked. Instead, it will be dealt with under the existing planning system.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell had opposed building of an incinerator in his constituency and did not want it on the list of infrastructure for fast-track planning in the legislation. However, the legislation was approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday - with the Ringsend incinerator excluded.
While incinerators will be fast-tracked to Bord Pleanala, the one proposed for Ringsend will not, as it will go to planning before the fast-track regime is in operation.
Dublin City Council has selected a preferred bidder for the project, and this is due to go to the Department of the Environment for approval shortly.
Launching the legislation at Government Buildings yesterday, Mr Roche said the proposal for an incinerator in Ringsend was not included as it would come under the existing system. Under the new measures, High Court judges will soon be able to ask those taking appeals against fast-tracked infrastructure projects such as incinerators, super dumps, and motorways to "Show me the money".
Amid concern that taxpayers are picking up the costs of failed challenges to big projects, Mr Roche announced significant changes. Legal alterations mean judges will be able to decide whether to ask a person seeking a judicial review if they can afford the costs.
Mr Roche said there was currently "a bit of an adventure" where taxpayers picked up the legal costs. People were using the "open court system" to delay projects.
He hit out at the tens of millions of euro added to the cost of building the N11 Dublin-Wexford road through Wicklow because of objections over the Glen of the Downs.
Mr Roche also expressed alarm at the number of accidents and at least one fatality which occurred when thousands of vehicles were forced to use unsuitable roads in the Rathnew, Newtownmountkennedy, Newcastle, and Greystones areas due to the hold-up in the project.
Mr Roche said the aim of the new fast-track system was to halve the amount of time it took for major infrastructure projects to get off the ground.
The measures were welcomed by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland and Ibec, the employers' body. However, the proposals would be "toothless" unless accompanied by a review of legal challenges.
The Green Party accused the minister of bypassing democracy and undermining "the rights of communities to have a democratic input into planning decisions at a local level".
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment