Ireland accused of curbing public access rights

NGO pressures government to rethink draft planning law, complains to European Commission

The Irish government's plan for a major new spatial planning law will breach EU and international law by seriously restricting citizens' rights to comment on planning applications, an NGO claimed today. Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has sent protests to prime minister Bertie Ahern and to the European Commission.

Proposed by the government last August, the new law is designed to overhaul Ireland's development planning system, which has remained largely unchanged since 1963. The government claims it will make planning in Ireland more sustainable by requiring development plans to include environmental objectives and by introducing a new class of landscape conservation areas.

FIE objects particularly to three provisions: that anyone wanting to comment on a planning application must first pay a fee to the local authority; that individuals can only appeal against planning decisions if they have previously commented on the application; and that they must have a "substantial interest" in order to request a judicial review of a planning decision.

The group claims these will breach the EU environmental impact assessment directive, which is designed to allow the public to express opinions before development permission is given. It also says that the law will "clearly contradict" the pan-European Århus convention on public participation, signed by Ireland and other EU countries in 1998 (ENDS Daily 25 June 1998). "It is astonishing that the government should be restricting the right of citizens at a time when European policy is moving in the opposite direction," FIE said today.

Follow Up:
FIE, tel: +353 27 73025, (web site includes press releases on the planning law). See also the full text of the draft planning and development law.

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