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State says weak planning rules not to blame for Derrybrien landslide

The Government has told the European Court of Justice that weak planning rules were not to blame for a landslide at Derrybrien, Co Galway, which caused an environmental disaster.

At a hearing at the European Court of Justice yesterday, lawyers for the State blamed poor construction work on a wind farm for the landslide, which dislodged 450,000 cubic metres of peat over a 32km area, polluting a river and killing 50,000 fish.

“The disaster referred to by the [ European] commission was not caused by issues which could have been anticipated by an environmental impact statement.

The cause of the landslide was in no sense inherent in the development project; rather, it came about as a result of poor building and construction practice on the part of the contractor and its agents,” said the lawyers in arguments submitted to the court.

The Government is defending a case taken by the EU executive, which has blamed the Government’s failure to properly implement a 1985 European directive laying out rules to follow on planning applications and environmental impact assessments for projects. Commission lawyers say that Ireland’s implementation of the directive is deficient because preliminary checks of projects and environmental impact assessments may be carried out after, and not before, the projects have been completed.

The situation at Derrybrien demonstrated “a clear and manifest breach of the directive”, said the commission.

The EU executive also highlighted that Irish legislation allows for developers to apply for retention permission after a development has been executed without consent. It says this ability to regularise developments that have received no consent undermines EU rules. The State does not impose any clear obligation to stop unauthorised development. The only deterrent action a developer can expect is a warning letter, according to the commission, which criticises the lack of any proper guidelines for local authorities.

The commission lists other examples of where the State has failed to abide by EU rules on the granting of planning permission or the requirement to prepare proper environmental impact assessments. These include quarry developments in counties Offaly, Galway, Waterford, Clare and Monaghan, and pig-rearing, peat-extraction and wood-processing enterprises in several counties. It also cites a hotel in Kildare, which received retention permission only after it was built, and a convention centre in Citywest, where work began without proper planning approval. The Government defended domestic legislation in court, arguing the commission was mistaken about the requirements laid down in the directive, and in particular its contention that retention undermines the preventative objectives of the law.

“The directive does not contain a restriction on the time when the assessment must be carried out and Ireland does not accept that the procedural requirements of the directive are necessarily undermined if development consent is granted after certain works are commenced,” said the Government in written submission to the judges. It argued that requiring the automatic removal of all unauthorised developments would represent a “disproportionate interference with the property rights of the affected landowners”.

The court is expected to give its judgment later this year.

Jamie Smyth

The Irish Times

15 February 2008

Source: Friends of the Irish Environment