The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. Dick Roche T.D., today published the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006.
|Dick Roche, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government |
"We cannot emphasise enough how badly Ireland needs new and improved infrastructure across a number of areas, to tackle bottlenecks in our economy, to enhance competitiveness, to improve the quality of life for the citizens and to protect our precious environment. Every delay incurred in dealing with an infrastructure project adds to the costs of providing that infrastructure. These costs are not just financial: there are also the costs of lost time and lost opportunities," said Minister Roche at the launch of the Strategic Infrastructure Bill.
This Bill will introduce a new strategic consent process for major infrastructure of national and public importance. An Bord Pleanála will be restructured by the establishment of a dedicated Strategic Infrastructure Division.
The Bill will provide a better service for all stakeholders, infrastructure providers State bodies and the general public alike, through:
- a single stage process of approval for projects,
- a rigorous assessment of all projects including their environmental impact,
- full public consultation, and
- certainty of timeframes.
An Board Pleanála is already responsible for deciding on roads, motorways , water and waste water proposals by local authorities. This bill extends that process to projects of strategic importance. In addition, infrastructure being provided by other statutory bodies and private promoters will now also be subject to a single stage process. This will cover core energy, environmental and transport infrastructure.
The remit of the Board is being expanded to include approvals of railway orders (including Luas and Metro). A specialised consent procedure for major electricity transmission lines is also being provided for.
The Bill protects the rights of everyone to participate in the process. In addition, under the Strategic Consent Process, the Board will be required to consult with the relevant local authorities and have due regard to their comments and those of the elected members of the authority.
The Minister noted that a lot of the most protracted delays to decisions on infrastructure in recent years have been due to legal challenges. The Minister welcomed an initiative by the Courts to improve the procedures for processing legal challenges to infrastructure cases.
The Minister also indicated that he was taking the opportunity afforded by the Bill to deal with 3 other issues: rogue developers, expanding the rights of recognised NGOs to access the courts as provided for in the Aarhus Convention, and the compensation payable for subsurface lands.
"I am also taking the opportunity to amend section 35 of the Planning Act to enable planning authorities to refuse permission to a developer on the grounds of his or her past history of non-compliance with planning" permissions" added the Minister. This means the applicant would be required to apply to the High Court if he or she wished to have the decision to refuse permission overturned.
The Minister also pointed out that the Bill extends the rules on access to judicial reviews for environmental Non-Governmental Organisations and will also ensure that Ireland is in compliance with its international obligations under the Aarhus Convention on Public Participation.
The Bill makes it explicit that land 10 metres below the surface being acquired for public infrastructure has no value unless the person can show that the land is more valuable to them for some specific reason.
Key features of the Bill
- The introduction of a one step strategic consent procedure for certain types of major infrastructure.
- Responsibility for deciding on approvals of railway orders, including light rail and metros, is transferred from the Minister for Transport to An Bord Pleanála.
- A new Division will be established within the Board to handle decisions on all major infrastructure projects – major local authority projects and motorways which are already the responsibility of the Board, strategic infrastructure consents, major electricity transmission lines and railway orders.
- The types of infrastructure to be covered by the new strategic consent process are listed in a new Seventh Schedule to the 2000 Planning Act and include environmental, energy and transport infrastructure.
- Persons or bodies (including State and semi-state organisations) seeking permission for those types of strategic infrastructure will apply first to An Bord Pleanála for a decision on whether the particular project is of strategic importance.
- Where the Board decides that the project in question is of strategic importance, an application with an environmental impact statement can be made directly to the Board.
- The public, the local authority (including the elected members) and interested stakeholders will be consulted and their views will be taken into account.
- Major changes to the way in which the Board handles infrastructure consents, including the possibility for pre-application discussions with the applicant and more flexibility in the decision that the Board can make on the application.
- Power to the Board to amend decisions on major infrastructure projects, subject to requiring any major additional environmental impacts to be assessed.
- Power to the Board to require infrastructure providers to provide direct benefits to local communities affected by major infrastructure projects.
- Requirement on the Board to have regard to the national interest and any effect any decision may have on issues of strategic economic or social importance to the State, as well as to the National Spatial Strategy and any regional planning guidelines in force for the area.