Irish national park development refused

NGOs claim victory after nine year fight against proposal to construct visitors' centre

Ireland's planning agency yesterday refused permission for construction of a visitors' centre in a national park, marking a key turning point in a nine-year legal battle. Environmental groups, who fought the scheme through several high court hearings and one in the supreme court, welcomed the decision, saying it would "reinforce the principle of sustainable development and the imperative of conserving important habitats".

In its ruling, the national planning board upheld refusal of planning permission for the scheme delivered by Clare county council in 1998. It said that construction of the centre would lead to "unacceptable" environmental degradation and endanger habitats and species requiring protection under EU law. "The Burren is of international botanical importance and nature conservation [must] take precedence," a planning board spokesperson said.

The dispute began in 1991, when the Office of Public Works (OPW), an official agency, first proposed building a visitors centre at Mullaghmore in the Burren national park. Three-quarters of the funding for the project was to come from the EU. Because of its status, OPW was not bound to carry out an environmental impact assessment and there was no right of appeal for objectors. Work on the site began in 1992.

A group of local conservationists, the Burren Action Group, nevertheless fought the scheme, and won a high court ruling that the OPW's action had been unconstitutional, which was confirmed by the supreme court in May 1993. As a direct result, the government passed a new law in 1994 bringing OPW and other state agencies under the remit of normal planning procedures. Other actions were also taken by the environmentalists, including one launched in 1996 demanding restoration of the site, which has still to be closed.

Follow Up:
Irish planning board, tel: +353 1 872 8011, and the Burren decision page one, and page two; Burren Action Group.

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