Residents lose challenge to extension of Dublin sewage plant

Sandymount and Merrion group loses case against Ringsend plant on all grounds

A residents group has lost its challenge to the proposed €270 million expansion of the sewage treatment plant for Dublin city, including the construction of an outflow tunnel stretching 9km into Dublin Bay.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton yesterday dismissed on all grounds the challenge by the Sandymount and Merrion Residents Association to the planned extension of the Ringsend plant. Dublin City Council had argued the extension is of critical importance as the existing plant is unable to cater for the city’s expanding population.

The residents contended that the proposed development failed to take into account the designation of an area from Rockabill to Dalkey Island as a special area of conservation (SAC) by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in December 2012, a month after An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the Ringsend plant extension.

Harbour porpoise
The designation was introduced under a 1992 EU directive aimed at protecting marine habitats and species and, in the case of Dublin Bay, for protection of the harbour porpoise.

In his reserved judgment, Mr Justice Charleton ruled the designation had “markedly increased” the protection of this environment. Instead of undermining the protection of Dublin Bay as the residents had claimed, the Minister had “ensured that more stringent protections are legally required”.

While a suspicion might arise that the process of preparing the designation was delayed so the council might get consent from An Bord Pleanála for the proposed extension, any such suspicion had “melted away” after consideration of the planning file, the judge said.

He also accepted that prior announcements of special areas of conservation are not made due to concern that developers and others might rush to get permissions which might undermine the conservation objectives.

In this case, “no one was misinformed about anything”, he found. Appropriate conditions for protection of cetaceans were set by An Bord Pleanála as the Minister had suggested while the plant expansion plans were subject to appropriate environmental analysis that would protect both the reef sites in Dublin Bay and the harbour porpoises “that are such an uplifting part of this environment”.

Before any treated sewage could be pumped 9km into Dublin Bay in 2016 as proposed, waste water discharge licences would be required from the Environmental Protection Agency which must also carefully examine any plans that may have an impact on an SAC to ensure compliance with the relevant European directive, he noted.

There was a “further safeguard” under the foreshore procedure, involving the environmental impact of the pipeline being subject to appropriate assessment to ensure it would not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC.

From the moment the special area of conservation was declared, the mandatory nature of protection required under the directive did not depend on any other process or approval, he said.

In those and other circumstances, there was “no basis” to conclude the stringent obligations to protect the conservation area would not be met in the context of sewage discharge.

The judge also dismissed further arguments that the planning board in granting permission for the development had acted in excess of its jurisdiction or had failed to exercise its jurisdiction.

While expressing a view the terms of the directive did not permit him to award costs against the residents, he said he would hear submissions on that issue later if necessary.

Lawyers for An Bord Pleanála and the State indicated they would not be seeking costs against the residents but counsel for Dublin City Council said he wished to take instruction on that matter.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times