Planning Bill’s draconian restrictions

 

Sir, – The Government has provided the draft of a new Planning and Development Bill designed to restrict community groups and NGOs like ourselves from challenging the State through our court system (“Environmentalists say proposed Bill makes it harder to object to planning decisions”, News, November 13th).

Amongst the draconian proposals, individuals and community groups will be particularly disadvantaged by, among other things, more restrictive requirements for “standing” to bring cases.

Individuals will need to show they are “directly affected by a proposed development in a way which is peculiar or personal” to them; community groups will need to show they’ve been active in the field of environmental protection for at least three years.

The traditional means of communities responding to an unwanted, damaging development by reactively forming a group to oppose it will be much less effective in future. Limiting costs that can be awarded to successful litigants will make pro bono work even more problematic in Ireland.

Other requirements intend to hobble if not extinguish the rights of voluntary groups like ours – required to register as a charity – that tackle hugely important issues in the public interest. Projects like Dublin Airport’s new runway (our challenge established a constitutional right to an “an environment that is consistent with human dignity and the wellbeing of citizens at large”) and the Shannon liquid natural gas terminal planned to import fracked gas from the US.

The proposed changes will make it harder for us to review “plans” – as we are doing with Ireland’s inadequate climate change plan and again with its failure to properly assess and climate proof the new National Development Plan 2040. And harder too for seeking rights – the right to see court documents once cases are closed – or even the basic right to legal aid we are seeking for those defending the environment. None of these is “frivolous” or “vexatious”.

The UK supreme court recently offered a powerful restatement of the importance of access to justice: “But the value to society of the right of access to the courts is not confined to cases in which the courts decide questions of general importance. People and businesses need to know, on the one hand, that they will be able to enforce their rights if they have to do so, and, on the other hand, that if they fail to meet their obligations, there is likely to be a remedy against them. It is that knowledge which underpins everyday economic and social relations.” – Yours, etc,

TONY LOWES,

Friends of the

Irish Environment,

Eyeries,

Co Cork.