Campaigners gather in Dublin to protest ‘unfair’ planning system

Environmental groups call for ‘overhaul’ of process to give communities greater say

Maria Hegarty, Laura Duez, Roisin McAleer, Sarah Zimmermann and Patricia Sharkey outside the offices of An Bord Pleanála on Friday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

Maria Hegarty, Laura Duez, Roisin McAleer, Sarah Zimmermann and Patricia Sharkey outside the offices of An Bord Pleanála on Friday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

 

Environmental groups from across Ireland gathered outside An Bord Pleanála in Dublin on Friday to protest against the current planning system which they claim “lacks meaningful public participation”.

Standing outside the planning board’s offices on Malborough Street, Derry Chambers said he and the Cork Environmental Alliance had been caught up in a planning battle for 20 years against a proposed €160 million incinerator at Ringaskiddy in Cork harbour, which Indaver Ireland has been seeking to build since 2001.

“We’ve won everywhere. We won twice in the High Court but An Bord Pleanála overruled it and it’s in the High Court for a third time at the moment. Over the past 20 years, it’s cost the communities at the harbour over €1 million between court cases and various other fees, and it’s just not fair,” he said.

It was “nothing short of a national scandal” that companies could play “ducks and drakes” with Irish planning law, he said.

Financial resources

Too few people can afford to engage in the planning process, which requires financial resources, qualifications and expertise, and “endless free time to stay abreast of local and national planning proposals”, the protesters said.

They called for a “complete overhaul” and a brand new planning system to be developed which would “allow ordinary people to have a genuine say.”

An Bord Pleanála did not respond to requests for comment.

Patricia Sharkey came from Co Donegal to protest a plan by Danish company Ørsted to put 23 200-metre high wind turbines on the Gweebarra river.

“It’s one of only 22 salmon rivers left in Ireland and it’s on peat bogs. We have so many protected species there that are just going to be wiped out – from pine martens, to red deer, red grouse, red squirrels and golden eagles. It’s one of the last wildernesses in Ireland and we have to protect it,” she said.

There were “very few places where you can sit at your back door and see golden eagles” and this was one of them, she said. “It’s public land that belongs to us, the public, so it just can’t be allowed to be dug up for a multinational to profit.”

Ms Sharkey said the planning system “isn’t equitable because communities can’t afford to go beyond An Bord Pleanála to appeal to the High Court.”

“These are sparsely populated and poor areas. It’s torture to keep doing this and we’re not going to take it.”