Proposals to restrict court challenges to planning applications would ‘deny access to justice’
Government proposals to rewrite planning laws to reduce the number of judicial review challenges to controversial developments would deny communities access to justice, lawyers have warned.
The draft heads of a new planning bill were recently sent by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s office to the Oireachtas committee for housing, planning and local government.
The proposals include requiring groups seeking to bring a judicial review against a development to have existed for three years; have at least 100 members; be “personally and substantially” affected by a development; and be able to shoulder the legal costs.
Limerick solicitor Michelle Hayes told Irish Legal News the measures amount to “seriously retrograde proposals with major negative consequences for the environment and the rights of individuals, communities and groups to a high-quality, healthy and sustainable environment”.
Ms Hayes, who is president of Environmental Trust Ireland and chair of An Taisce Limerick, has been involved in a number of environment-based challenges to planning applications.
The proposed bill “would have the effect of preventing individuals and environmental groups from objecting to adverse and poor-quality planning developments”, she said.
For example, an ongoing campaign against Irish Cement’s proposal to burn tyres, mine waste and other materials in an incinerator in Mungret, Co Limerick “would not be feasible” under the legislation, despite having the support of over 4,500 people.
Ms Hayes noted that there are “already a number of restrictions in place restricting or preventing individuals and environmental groups from meaningful interaction in the planning process”, such as the five-week deadline for making submissions or observations to a local authority, after which an appeal to An Bord Pleanála is not permissible.
Where plans are submitted directly to the Board under the fast-track strategic housing and strategic infrastructure development schemes, a judicial review is the only route for appeal, she added.
The first strategic housing development in Limerick was recently refused planning permission on environmental grounds, including those raised by Ms Hayes in an extensive submission to the Board.
She concluded: “The latest proposals have a disproportionate and adverse effect upon individuals and environmental groups committed to advocating for environmental protection and sustainability and are completely unnecessary.
“The proposed measures are clearly pro-developer and anti-environmentalist, draconian, oppressive and should be resisted.”