The case is being heard today in the European Court of Justice arising from a complaint made by Friends of the Irish Environment to the EU on behalf of more than 60 community and environmental groups against the €20 planning fee.
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The fee was introduced to comment on planning applications by Noel Dempsey in the Planning Act 2000.
Commenting on today's hearing in the European Court of Justice, Friends of the Irish Environment expressed disappointment that the Irish authorities had chosen to go to such lengths to fight the Commission's case.
'We are aware that there is no specific prohibition on the charging of fees to comment on planning applications which come under the EIA Directive. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that such a fee acts as a barrier to public participation in decision making.'
The Reasoned Opinion in this case made it clear that "it is contrary to the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive to make comment by the public subject to a participation fee". The Commission pointed out that Ireland is the only EU member state to have required the payment of a fee as a precondition for considering the public's opinion in the development consent procedure.
The Commission rejected Ireland's argument that the fee was an administrative matter devolved to the member state. It also rejected the argument that consideration of the public comments was an entitlement to have a service rendered, stating that "on the contrary, the role can be considered in terms of the public providing supplementary information that can help these authorities make a fully informed decision."
The Commission also noted that the fee reversed the purpose of the polluter pays principal, in that a financial burden was placed on the person who was likely to be most affected.
FIE is concerned, however, that even if Ireland loses this case, projects that are smaller than the very large developments that come under the EIA Directive will still be subject to this unacceptable fee.