Developers, including State agencies and prominent private companies, are seeking planning permission for more than 50 major infrastructural projects under the new fast-track planning process.
The new planning system allows developers to bypass the county council planners and go directly to An Bord Pleanála for permission. However, they are likely to have to pay a five-to-six-figure application fee for the faster service.
An Bord Pleanála is conducting initial consultations for 53 developments of national or regional importance including the controversial Corrib gas pipeline route, a cable car for Dublin city called the “Suas” and new Luas, metro and rail lines.
The projects are the first to be developed under the Planning and Development Strategic Infrastructure Act introduced by the previous minister for the environment Dick Roche, which came into force on January 31st. An Bord Pleanála has so far held consultation meetings in relation to about 30 of the 53 schemes and expects to be receiving formal planning applications from next month.
Planning applications made under the new system could be determined in as little as six months.
The planning board is currently agreeing fees for the new system with the Department of the Environment and is seeking to impose an application fee of between five and six figures. The fee for appealing against the projects has yet to be determined, but a final decision on all fees is due in the coming weeks.
Twenty-eight of the schemes are being developed by private companies including oil company Shell, wind energy firms Hibernian Wind Power and Atlanticwest Energy and the newly formed Liffey Cable Car Company. The remaining 25 schemes so far submitted to the planning board are being developed by State agencies including Bord Gáis, Bord na Móna, the Railway Procurement Agency, the Dublin Airport Authority, the ESB and several local authorities.
However, An Bord Pleanála will not permit all the schemes to be developed under the fast-track route. It has turned down some schemes at the consultation stage and is likely to reject more before they submit planning applications.
An application from Fingal County Council for a new electricity transformer at a local power station was rejected as not qualifying as a Strategic Infrastructure Development (SID) as was a similar electricity-related application from Monaghan County Council.
To qualify for fast-tracking the project must be a major development of transport, energy or environmental infrastructure; or a development of national or regional strategic, economic, or social importance. Projects also qualify if they cross county boundaries or if they are developments by State authorities requiring an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
The consultation meetings allow An Bord Pleanála to decide which projects qualify under these headings. If it decides the project is a SID it must go through the new planning process and cannot go the local authority route.
In February 2006 Mr Roche said he was introducing the new planning legislation to bring about “greater efficiency” and stop “unnecessary delay” in the provision of infrastructure. The Act has since been criticised by Opposition politicians, environmentalists and commentators for excluding public participation in the planning process at local level.
However, Bord Pleanála chairman John O’Connor said yesterday that because the public will have at least six weeks to appeal to the board in relation to the projects as opposed to five weeks to appeal to their local authorities, “in many ways, public participation has been enhanced by the new legislation”. Elected members of local authorities also had a role, he added.
By Olivia Kelly
2 August 2007
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