EU concerned over unauthorised retention of quarries


INDUSTRIAL PEAT extraction and the operation of unauthorised quarries are being allowed to continue because legislation passed in the 2010 Planning and Development Act has not been implemented.

Measures to tighten up Ireland’s system of granting planning “retention” for unauthorised developments, particularly quarries, were promised by the government after a 2008 European Court of Justice ruling against Ireland.

The EU was increasingly concerned about Ireland’s granting of retention permission where the developments should have been accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment.

The EU was also concerned with a loophole that grants immunity from enforcement procedures where quarries and industrial peat extraction plants can demonstrate they have continued unprosecuted for more than seven years.

Campaign group Friends of the Irish Environment and a range of other bodies have claimed Ireland’s benign attitude to enforcement effectively side-steps European and national environmental directives and planning.

The Department of Environment said it intended to “very shortly” implement the section of the Act that prohibits retention approval for developments that should have been accompanied by an environmental assessment.

The department said that while this section had not been formally implemented, its measures had been communicated to planning authorities as “a policy position” as far back as October 2008, following the European Court ruling.

It said other elements of the Act relating to time limits, such as the seven-year rule for peat extraction, require further amendments to regulations before they can be implemented. The department said “it is hoped that these regulations will be finalised shortly”.

However, Friends of the Irish Environment, which had lobbied two previous ministers to implement undertakings given to the European Court, was not satisfied.

While it said it welcomed news that the department would end the “loophole” that developments without assessments could seek retention permission, the group said more needed to be done.

“Every year the seven-year rule remains in place, more unauthorised quarries join the list of those who can claim immunity from prosecution,” a spokesman said.

Friends of the Irish Environment said it had taken a number of years to get the EU case to judgment, and it was now almost three years since that case. “That is potentially a lot of quarries operating out there with the benefit of the seven-year rule.”

The spokesman said the Oireachtas had debated this Act from when it was a Bill in 2009, and the President has signed it more than six months ago, “but a worrying amount of the Bill’s sections [are] still not in force”.