A residents’ group has lost its High Court challenge to the proposed €270m expansion of the sewage treatment plant for Dublin city, including the construction of a 9km outflow tunnel into Dublin Bay.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton today dismissed on all grounds the challenge by the Sandymount and Merrion Residents Association to the planned extension of the Ringsend plant which, Dublin City Council argued, is vital as the existing plant is unable to cater for the city's expanding population.
The residents had argued the proposed development failed to take into account a Special Area of Conservation extending into Dublin bay which was introduced under a EU directive aimed at protecting marine habitats and species and, in the case of Dublin Bay, for protection of the harbour porpoise.
The designation of the area from Rockabill to Dalkey Island as a SAC by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in December 2012, a month after An Bord Pleanala (ABP) granted permission for the Ringsend extension, had "markedly increased" the protection of this environment, the judge ruled.
Appropriate conditions for protection of cetaceans were set by ABP 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".
Instead of undermining the protection of Dublin bay as the residents had claimed, the Minister, through the SAC, had "ensured that more stringent protections are legally required", he ruled.
Before any treated sewage can be pumped 9km into Dublin bay in 2016 as proposed, waste water discharge licences will be required from the Environmental Protection Agency which must also carefully examine any plans that may impact on a SAC to ensure compliance with the relevant European Directive, he said.
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.
The judge also ruled there was no unlawful conduct under either national or European law by either Dublin City Council or the Minister in relation to the proposed expansion. He dismissed further arguments that ABP, in granting permission for the development had acted in excess of its jurisdiction or had failed to exercise its jurisdiction.
Earlier in his judgment, he stressed the participation of SAMRA in the ABP oral hearing for the development was genuine and said he rejected any suggestions of a pretence of care for the environment.
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 Pleanala 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.