Call to ratify planning information convention

 

PLANNING ISSUES:TWO GROUPS involved in separate planning challenges on the west coast have called on the incoming government to implement a key piece of international legislation linking human rights and environmental issues.

Ratification of the Aarhus convention on access to environmental information and public participation in decision-making had been a key aim of the Green Party on entering coalition with Fianna Fáil more than three years ago.

Former minister for the environment John Gormley had predicted almost two months ago that it would be implemented “very shortly”.

However, his party colleague, former senator Niall Ó Brolcháín has since claimed there was “no will within Fianna Fáil to ratify it” – Ireland being the only European Union member state not to do so.

The legislative amendments are now ready, but are a matter for the incoming government, according to the Department of the Environment.

Ireland signed up on June 25th, 1998, to the convention, which was agreed in the Danish city of Aarhus. Parties to the convention are required to make the necessary provisions so that public authorities (at national, regional or local level) will provide for citizens to receive environmental information from them within one month of so requesting.

The convention also allows for “access to justice”, as in the right to participate in environmental decision-making, and the right to review procedures and challenge public decisions.

Early ratification and translation into domestic law by Ireland would have had a significant impact on the State’s handling of a number of projects which became contentious – such as the east-west interconnector and the Corrib gas project – according to residents in west Clare who are opposed to plans for a major wind farm development in their area.

The issues have also been raised in Donegal where environmental groups opposed to the location of sewage treatment on the shores of Lough Foyle have said they had been “stalled at every turn” in seeking information from a project which is currently before An Bord Pleanála and which has cost the local authority more than €1 million to date before approval or construction.

Jutta Kruse, resident of Shanaway near Miltown Malbay, said she and neighbours in a quiet rural area of west Clare had had their “world turned upside down” as they tried to seek information on planning for multiple wind farms in their locality.

The residents have appealed a decision by Clare County Council of August 2010 to grant planning permission for the 28-turbine wind farm on Mount Callan. An Bord Pleanála is due to rule on it by the end of March.

The residents also discovered to their “dismay” that there were plans for a pumped hydro energy storage facility on the 391m-high (1,283ft) Mount Callan.

This is a system where water is pumped to a lake or storage tank at a higher elevation and released when needed to fall through turbines and generate electricity.

The multiple effects of the pump station and wind farms on wildlife, groundwater, human health and welfare, community and property would be “devastating,” Ms Kruse said on behalf of her group.

The new Clare County Development Plan agreed in January had been “altered” to make this development possible, Ms Kruse said,

The local authority had also agreed that wind farm and hydro developments in natural heritage areas would be considered as “acceptable in principle”, although this was against Department of the Environment guidelines, she said.