The 20 Euro planning 'participation fee'

A hearing took place today in the European Court of Justice arising from a complaint made by Friends of the Irish Environment to the European Commissions' legal affairs division on behalf of more than 60 community and environmental groups against the €20 planning fee.

The fee was introduced to comment on planning applications by Noel Dempsey in the Planning Act 2000. It was part of a set of new obligations on an objector which included the limiting of planning appeals to those who had paid such a fee to object.

At the hearing today before five judges and the Advocate-General Ireland mounted a well-prepared defence, reiterating its claim that the Commission was overstepping the mark.

The Impact Assessment Directive did not debar the imposition of such fees and Article 6 of the Impact Assessment Directive left the detailed arrangements for the consultation of the public to Member States.

They plugged away at the now familiar arguments, arguing that the fee would contribute to an enhanced service, that it would not discourage participation, that it would be mitigated for certain non-governmental organisations or persons merely seeking information in an EIA process, and that only a minority of developments would attract separate participation fees.

Questioned by the Court, Ireland made it clear that the fee was not intended to deter frivolous or vexatious objectors but merely to defray administrative expenses, a different story to the one that the Minister gave in the Oireachtas, where the deterrence of the frivolous and vexatious was a principle reason for the fee.

It is hard not to be uneasy after today's hearing. The procedural questions, particularly from the Advocate General - were notable if only for the fact that they indicated there was no principle that such a fee would be contrary to community legislation.

While no date was given today for the Advocate General's Opinion which generally guides the final Court Judgement, this Advocate General retires in October and we can expect her Opinion before then.

Friends were not represented in the Court nor were we a party to the case. Our own case in Ireland has been stayed by the Irish Courts pending the EU Judgement, precluding our participation in the legal process.

Nor has Ireland referred our case to the European Court, as is done on questions of European law by other member states on a regular basis. Ireland has not once refered a case to the European Court, denying its citizens the valid right of another legal avenue.

And denying us the right to represent the community groups who supported our complaint.

The 20 Euro planning 'participation fee'

A hearing took place today in the European Court of Justice arising from a complaint made by Friends of the Irish Environment to the European Commissions' legal affairs division on behalf of more than 60 community and environmental groups against the €20 planning fee.

The fee was introduced to comment on planning applications by Noel Dempsey in the Planning Act 2000. It was part of a set of new obligations on an objector which included the limiting of planning appeals to those who had paid such a fee to object.

At the hearing today before five judges and the Advocate-General Ireland mounted a well-prepared defence, reiterating its claim that the Commission was overstepping the mark.

The Impact Assessment Directive did not debar the imposition of such fees and Article 6 of the Impact Assessment Directive left the detailed arrangements for the consultation of the public to Member States.

They plugged away at the now familiar arguments, arguing that the fee would contribute to an enhanced service, that it would not discourage participation, that it would be mitigated for certain non-governmental organisations or persons merely seeking information in an EIA process, and that only a minority of developments would attract separate participation fees.

Questioned by the Court, Ireland made it clear that the fee was not intended to deter frivolous or vexatious objectors but merely to defray administrative expenses, a different story to the one that the Minister gave in the Oireachtas, where the deterrence of the frivolous and vexatious was a principle reason for the fee.

It is hard not to be uneasy after today's hearing. The procedural questions, particularly from the Advocate General - were notable if only for the fact that they indicated there was no principle that such a fee would be contrary to community legislation.

While no date was given today for the Advocate General's Opinion which generally guides the final Court Judgement, this Advocate General retires in October and we can expect her Opinion before then.

Friends were not represented in the Court nor were we a party to the case. Our own case in Ireland has been stayed by the Irish Courts pending the EU Judgement, precluding our participation in the legal process.

Nor has Ireland referred our case to the European Court, as is done on questions of European law by other member states on a regular basis. Ireland has not once refered a case to the European Court, denying its citizens the valid right of another legal avenue.

And denying us the right to represent the community groups who supported our complaint.
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