Galway ring road plan quashed as board admits it was not aware of climate plan

An Bord Pleanála concedes court case against €600m project taken by Friends of the Irish Environment

An Bord Pleanála has conceded a High Court case against the proposed €600 million ring road around Galway, in a move that will scrap planning permission for an 18km project that was supposed to ease chronic traffic congestion in the city.

The planning authority’s decision not to contest court action against the project by campaign group Friends of the Irish Environment was its seventh concession in a matter of days. In the previous week An Bord Pleanála conceded legal cases against four apartment projects — halting delivery of some 1,752 new homes in Dublin and Co Kildare — and cases against a wind farm and a commercial development in Co Cork.

The move on the Galway project comes four years after a planning application was lodged. “The decision was made following the receipt and consideration of legal advice,” An Bord Pleanála said.

The proposed roadway to the north of Galway would extend the current N6 from Coolagh in the eastern suburbs of the city to Barna in the west via a new bridge, a Corrib viaduct and two short tunnels on the east side of the city.


Environmentalists had argued that the ring road would encourage motoring in defiance of climate targets. But business lobby Ibec described An Bord Pleanála’s decision as “a major setback for regional growth and competitiveness”, saying the project was long overdue and urgently needed.

Asked about the move, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the “saga isn’t over” but called for reflection on the length of time it took to progress such projects.

“Well, it is a very serious issue, but it’s still in the process and I’m very conscious of that,” he said.

“I know there was divided opinion, but many, many people see this is essential in terms of the growth and development of Galway, but Bord Pleanála has taken its decision and it will go back to the courts process shortly.”

Setting out the decision to concede action against the permission it granted for the Galway road last November, An Bord Pleanála said it was “not aware” at the time that the Government had adopted a new climate plan days previously and failed to consider it, as required by law.

The 2021 Climate Action Plan was introduced less than one week before An Bord Pleanála’s decision in the Galway case and was comprehensively reported at that time in national media.

“The board held five meetings to consider the application before making its decision at its fifth and final meeting on 8 November 2021 at which it decided to grant permission for the proposed road development,” An Bord Pleanála said when asked why it conceded the Galway case.

“The board was not aware at this meeting that a new Climate Action Plan 2021 had been adopted four days previously on 4 November 2021 (adoption of same had not been communicated to the organisation).

“The board accepts that, in particular in the context of the proposed development at issue and the decision in this case, the failure to consider the new Climate Action Plan 2021 in accordance with section 15 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 as amended prior to making its decision is sufficient to vitiate the lawfulness of its decision.”

The two local authorities in Galway and the State road-builder Transport Infrastructure Ireland said they were disappointed to learn of the planning body’s decision “on a very limited ground” not to oppose judicial review proceedings against the new ring road.

“Notwithstanding this setback, Galway County Council and Galway City Council are confident that the issues arising can be resolved and as a result intend to continue to progress the delivery of the N6 [Galway city ring road] project,” said a joint statement.

It was not immediately clear whether this meant a new application would be submitted to An Bord Pleanála, a process that could take two years. Because the case was still before the court, the three bodies said it would “not be appropriate” to comment further.

Asked what happens next, An Bord Pleanála said that was a matter for the court to decide, having heard the views of case participants. The case returns to court three weeks from Monday. “Where the court makes an order quashing a board planning decision, it also has the power to then remit the planning case back to the board for a new decision if it considers that appropriate,” the planning authority said.

The local councils and Transport Infrastructure Ireland said the project was crucial for Galway’s development as the main economic centre in the west and was part of the overall transport system.

“It addresses the transport problem in Galway city by adding trip capacity to the existing transport network, thereby reducing trips through the city centre, and the new links incorporated as part of the N6 [ring road] provide for the strategic need of the national road network and for the connectivity of Galway city and the west region to the national road and [trans-European transport] network.”

Sources close to the project said the authorities would have to study whatever orders the High Court makes before deciding how best to proceed.

Green Senator Pauline O’Reilly, an opponent of the ring road, welcomed moves to quash the planning permission.

“[An Bord Pleanála] admit to not having taken the Climate Action Plan into account. Now it’s time to ramp up an approach to reducing traffic through public and active travel. A reimagined Galway is needed,” she said.

Plans to bypass Galway have long proved contentious. Permission for an outer bypass was granted in 2008 but cancelled in 2013 after a challenge in the European Court of Justice, which ruled the proposal would have a severe impact on a protected natural habitat.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times