Planning Fee

Dear Taoiseach and Members of Dail Eireann;
You will be aware that The Minister for the Environment has initiated a new consolidated 1999 Planning Bill. While our organization very much welcomes many of the innovations in the new legislation, it is impossible for us and the community groups which we represent not to feel that three of its provisions are fatally mistaken.

1) A fee - the size of which will not be determined until after the Bill is passed - discriminates based on who can pay. This will also severely impact on the work of those NGOs (non-Governmental Organizations like ours) who support local groups or step in where no one else is there to do it.


WE REQUEST YOU TO ELMINATE THE PROPOSED FEE TO COMMENT ON PLANNING APPLICATIONS [Section 33 (2) (c) omit the words 'the payment of a prescribed fee' and replace with the words 'an application to a planning authority for the development of land'.]


2) The right to appeal has been restricted to those who objected to the original planning permission. The only restrictions on appeals should be because they are groundless or vexatious, and provisions exists for appeals to be rejected on these grounds already. What will happen now to those who only hear after the permission is granted for a development, even one directly on their doorstep? NGOs, who often hear of damaging developments after they are granted, will now be refused the right of appeal.


WE REQUEST YOU TO ELIMNATE THE NEW BAR TO THE RIGHT OF APPEAL AGAINST A LOCAL AUTHORITY PLANNING DECISION. [Section 36 (1) (a) add 'other' before 'person' and omit 'who made submissions in writing in relation to the planning application to the planning authority in accordance with the permission regulations and']


3) Finally, the onerous costs system which inhibits seeking justice in the Irish Courts has been made worse by denying anyone the right to seek a judicial review of a planning decision, no matter how unreasonable it is, unless they have a "substantial interest" in the decision. We fear the Courts will read this as a property interest. We already have in practice to prove a sufficient interest and show bona fides and even in some cases provide security for costs. The wording of the new legislation will restrict our access to justice far far more.


WE REQUEST YOU TO ENSURE THAT ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS WORKING IN GOOD FAITH DO NOT FORFIT THE RIGHT TO SEEK A LEGAL REVIEW OF ADMINISTRATION DECISIONS WHICH AFFECT THE ENVIRONMENT. [Section 48 (4) (b) omit 'and that the applicant has a substantial interest in the matter'.]


We are not exaggerating when we say that these three core issues pose a very serious long term threat to our rights as citizens concerned with our environment. We also believe they compromise the ability of future generations to protect our environment and that they clearly contradict Agenda 21.


Finally, we draw your attention to the Aarhus Agreement, which Ireland has now signed. This agreement is entitled 'RESOLUTION ON ACCESS TO INFORMATION, PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN DECISION-MAKING AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN ENVIRONMENTAL MATTERS.


The opening paragraph states clearly 'We, the Signatories to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, Resolve to strive for the entry into force of the Convention as soon as possible and to seek to apply the Convention to the maximum extent possible pending its entry into force.'


These three provisions of the 1999 Planning Bill are in direct contravention of this agreement and of our rights and the rights of community groups in every constituency in Ireland. We urge you to ensure their removal from the proposed legislation.



STATEMENTS FROM OPPOSITION PARTIES

THE GREEN PARTY

IS TOTALLY OPPOSED TO THE IMPOSITION OF A FEE FOR COMMENTING ON PLANNING APPLICATIONS.


FINE GAEL

DEFENDS PUBLIC'S RIGHTS IN PLANNING PROCESS


THE GREEN PARTY

IS TOTALLY OPPOSED TO THE IMPOSITION OF A FEE FOR COMMENTING ON PLANNING APPLICATIONS.

Already local groups and individuals find it extremely difficult to take on developers because of lack of resources. This will make the task even more difficult. In our view it is fundamentally undemocratic and flies in the face of moves to democratise the planning service.

This Bill is in many ways regressive and dangerous. It's aim is to facilitate in the main developers and to fast-track development projects. As a result of the imposition of this fee will ordinary people get more transparency, accountability and efficiency in the planning service? We are also concerned that exempt development under the Bill includes partnerships with Local Authorities. The widening of the definition of exempt development will result in a disempowering of community groups and will further errode confidence in the planning process.

John Gormley, T.D.

10th February 00




FINE GAEL

DEFENDS PUBLIC'S RIGHTS IN PLANNING PROCESS

STATEMENT BY ALAN DUKES TD


"Fine Gael will oppose proposals in the Government's Planning and

Development Bill to charge public interest groups for participation in the

planning process, and to limit their right to appeal planning authority

decisions to An Bord Pleanala", said Alan Dukes TD, Fine Gael Spokesman on

the Environment and Local Government.


"Third party rights to object and appeal are an essential and democratic

part of our system. They are not the cause of planning delays, which are

due partly to under-resourcing of our planning authorities and often to bad

preparation of applications. Curbing the public's rights is no solution

to these problems".

Wednesday, 9 February 2000


Press Statement, 11th February 2000

Joe Higgins T.D., Socialist Party

Planning Bill severely curtails the rights of ordinary people

Joe Higgins T.D. condemns cabal of speculators, developers and construction bosses

Speaking in the Dail on Thursday, 11th February Joe Higgins, T.D., Socialist Party said that elements of the Planning Bill are regressive in the extreme in terms of the rights of citizens. Referring to the provision in Section 33(2)(c), which provides for a fee to be levied on anyone making observations on a planning application, he said:

"I am concerned about what I detect from Government and business sources as a certain tendency to want to railroad the planning process in such a way that the rights of people are severely curtailed."

While Joe Higgins welcomed the provision of Section 84(c) of the Bill (which provides for 20% of land zoned for residential use to be set aside for affordable social housing) he pointed out that it was an unconvincing attempt to make up for the failure of successive Governments to take on the real problem in this area.

"It is an incredible scandal that four years ago a worker on the average wage could purchase a home and put a roof overhead, which I regard as one of the basic, fundamental human rights. A mere four years later that is now impossible because a cabal of speculators, developers and construction bosses were allowed to profiteer outrageously in land and housing without any measures with real meaning being taken against them."

The Government could have brought in some of the measures discussed in the Kenny Report as long ago as 1973 in regard to controlling the price of building land to safeguard the rights of all citizens. No Government has had the courage or political will to protect ordinary people who are suffering so much from speculation and profiteering.

ENDS




You will be aware that the Irish Minister for the Environment has initiated a new consolidated Planning Bill. While our organization very much welcomes many of the innovations in the new legislation, it is impossible for us and the community groups which we represent not to feel that three of its provisions are fatally mistaken and in fact are infringements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 85/337/EEC.
Margot Wallstrom, Commissioner,

Environmental Directorate XI,

Legal Affairs Division B.3,

Rue de la Loi, 200,

B-1049, Brussels, Belgium

9 February, 2000


Dear Ms. Wallstrom;

You will be aware that the Irish Minister for the Environment has initiated a new consolidated Planning Bill. While our organization very much welcomes many of the innovations in the new legislation, it is impossible for us and the community groups which we represent not to feel that three of its provisions are fatally mistaken and in fact are infringements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 85/337/EEC.

The Directive states that any assessment under the Directive specifically includes "people who may be concerned by the project in question". Article 6 (2) makes it very clear that Member States shall ensure that they give "the public concerned the opportunity to express an opinion before development consent is granted".

How then can the following three provisions in the proposed Irish legislation not be an infringement of this Directive?

1) A fee - the size of which will not be determined until after the Bill is passed - discriminates based on who can pay [Section 33 (2) (c)]. The Minister has stated repeatedly that in compensation for this fee citizens now have a statutory right to make these observations. This supposed new benefit to citizens is utterly without substance and in no way makes up for the loss of the ability to observe without charge. The proposed fee will also severely impact on the work of those non-Governmental environmental organizations like ours who support local groups or step in where no one else is there to do it.

2) The right to appeal has been restricted to those who objected to the original planning permission and paid this discriminatory fee [Section 36 (1) (a)]. The only restrictions on appeals should be because they are groundless or vexatious, and provisions exist for appeals to be rejected on these grounds already. What will happen now to those who only hear after the permission is given for a development, even one directly on their doorstep? NGOs, who often do not learn of damaging developments until after they are granted, will now be refused the right of appeal. It is a fact that already in Ireland those who appeal planning decisions are required to pay an IR £120 fee.

3) Finally, the onerous costs system which inhibits seeking justice in the Irish Courts has been made worse by denying anyone the right to seek a judicial review of a planning decision, no matter how unreasonable it is, unless they have a "substantial interest" in the decision. [Section 48 (4) (b)] We fear the Courts will read this as a property interest. We already have in practice to prove a sufficient interest and show bona fides and even in some cases provide security for costs. The wording of the new legislation will restrict our access to justice far far more. It is clear from recent Court of Justice decisions that citizens must have access to their national courts to review the exercise of discretion by the national authorities under the EIA Directive. We would like to remind the Commissioner that NGOs and even private individuals have recently had enormous costs awarded against them by the Irish Courts, even when pursuing cases for which a ruling can only be in the public interest.

We are not exaggerating when we say that these three core issues pose a very serious long term threat to our rights as citizens concerned with our environment. The fee will hit hard at all residents' groups and NGOs. Indeed, the survival of the underfunded environmental NGOs in Ireland is under threat because of the fee.

We also believe the restrictions compromise the ability of future generations to protect our environment and that they clearly contradict Agenda 21 and the Aarhus Agreement, which Ireland has signed. It is astonishing that the Irish government should be attempting to introduce statutory provisions restricting the right of citizens to be involved in planning decisions at a time when European policy is moving in the opposite direction.

It is clear that where the environmental impact assessment directive is relevant to a particular planning application, the proposed Irish legislation restricting citizen's access is unlawful.

The environmental impact assessment directive was created in order to give clear rights of participation to European citizens in decisions relating to the environment. We believe the Irish government is attempting through national legislation to cut back on this vital European policy and we urge you to examine the proposed legislation and initiate inquiries with the Irish authorities on an urgent basis.

The Steering Committee of Friends of the Irish Environment