Irish Times - 06-08-07
An Bord Pleanála rejects recommendations from its own inspectors in 13 per cent of planning cases, some of which will have involved a lengthy oral hearing conducted by the inspector.
The board said it does not have statistical data on the types of cases where it has overturned its inspectors' reports.
A number of decisions in relation to projects of national or regional significance, particularly those relating to "national policy", have caused public controversy.
Earlier this year the board granted planning permission for the new €350 million Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin, which had been vigorously opposed by local residents for several years.
A lengthy oral hearing was conducted in 2006 by Brendan Wyse, who recommended permission be refused on the basis that there were better alternatives to the Lansdowne Road site and the stadium would have a negative impact on residents. The board rejected his report. Chief among their reasons was the fact that the stadium was part of national policy as it was included in the national development plan.
There were also public protests in relation to the granting of permission for incinerators in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, and near Duleek in Meath.
The board granted planning permission to Indaver Ireland for a toxic waste incinerator in Ringaskiddy in 2004. Planning inspector Philip Jones, who conducted a three-week oral hearing, recommended rejection on 14 counts - some of which related to public safety and the fact that there had yet to be sufficient research into the public health implications of the facility.
While the board did attach conditions to address the inspector's concerns, it said the facility was a necessary public utility and that the board must have regard to national waste management policy in its decision and granted approval.
Permission for the State's first municipal waste incinerator, at Carranstown, Co Meath, was granted two years previously. Again, inspector James Carroll recommended refusal but the board cited national policy in its decision to grant permission. Legal challenges to both incinerators are ongoing.
In late 2004 the board approved a significant commercial residential development by Eircom near Heuston Station in Dublin, which inspector Kevin Moore had said would have a "substantive and material" adverse environmental impact and was a "substantive deviation" from the council's plan.
An Bord Pleanála chairman John O'Connor has vigorously defended the independence of the board and has denied that it is the board's function to rubber-stamp Government policy. However, he said the board is obliged by legislation to take national policy into account when making a determination.
"The Board's decisions are taken in a context of national policies and locally developed policies as expressed in the local development plan. These policies are determined democratically at national and local level. Both the inspector and the board must have regard to those when dealing with cases," Mr O'Connor said. It was the board, not the inspector, who ultimately had responsibility for every decision made, he said, and it always gave reasons when it rejected the inspector's decision.
"In major cases, where the board has revised the inspector's recommendation, it has given a comprehensive explanation why it has done so."
© 2007 The Irish Times
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