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Monday 16 July 2018

Pressure group loses appeal to stop high-power electricity line between Meath and Tyrone

Ray Managh

A bid to overturn An Bord Pleanala’s planning permission to EirGrid for the construction of a 138-kilometre-long North-South Interconnector were thrown out today Tuesday in the High court by Mr Justice Max Barrett.

The Interconnector project comprises a 400kV overhead line circuit linking an existing substation in Woodland, Co Meath, with a planned substation in Turleenan, Co Tyrone.

It is planned to provide a second high-capacity all-Ireland electricity interconnector, the existing one being a 275kV double circuit overhead line between Co Louth and Co Armagh.

Judge Barrett said few if any of us would welcome the news that a great line of electricity pylons and linking wires was due to be erected on or across property that we chanced to own or otherwise enjoyed.

He said the applicants, North East Pylon Pressure Campaign Limited and Ms Maura Sheehy, living in a beautiful part of Ireland and enjoying some of the best of the Irish countryside, understandably object to the interconnector being built upon their properties, by their homes or across their townlands.

“But when it comes to the decision of an Bord Pleanala to grant approval to EirGrid the court is coerced as a matter of law into concluding that there is no lawful basis that would justify it granting any of the reliefs the applicants seek,” the judge said.

Judge Barrett, in a 220-page reserved judgment, said the application to quash the Bord’s decision to grant approval, was, among other legal challenges to the scheme “respectfully refused by the court.”

He said the thrust of his judgment was such that the issue of jus tertii (the pleading by one of the rights of another) was not of the significance that it might otherwise have been.

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“But while the applicants have standing to bring the proceedings…the court does not see that either of the applicants, neither of them being landowners, has the requisite standing to make such claims as were made in their pleadings and submissions concerning allegedly affected landowners,” the judge said.

He said this, to borrow from the phraseology of another learned judge, seemed to the court to be a near-classic example of allowing “one litigant to present and argue what is essentially anlother person’s case.”

Judge Barrett said the applicants sought to quash the Bord’s decision to approve the infrastructure linking the electricity networks in Ireland and Northern Ireland on grounds it was contrary to and in breach of EU regulations and directives and lacked proper environmental impact assessments as well as breaching the European Convention of Human Rights.

The applicants had also objected on grounds that an Bord Pleanala was not lawfully designated as a competent authority to hear the appeal against approval.

Judge Barrett said the Bord enjoyed a presumption of validity and it was a significant feature of the case brought by the applicants that no leave had been granted to challenge the accuracy of any matter in the 600-page report of the Bord’s inspector who heard the appeal over 35 days and who had been addressed by 204 people.

Although the amount of material before the court was extensive it could not but note the vastness of the enterprise undertaken by the inspector.  An environmental impact statement had extended to five volumes comprising 14,000 pages of text and maps.  There were more than 900 sets of submissions from members of the public, all in turn replied to by EirGrid.

He said a critical issue arising so far as consent was concerned was whether there was any rule in legislation, at common law or pursuant to the Constitution or European Convention on Human Rights which mandated that EirGrid could only seek approval pursuant to the consent of the owners of an affected property.

“Regrettably but almost certainly necessarily, and not without regard for individual rights but concomitant with that concern for the overall public good which central government invariably and properly brings to the formulation of national policy and legislation, individual landowner consent is neither a pre-requisite to nor necessary component of a successful development consent application whether by virtue of primary or secondary legislation,” the judge ruled.

He said that were the consent of all of those persons to be a mandatory element of successful development applications, the applicable application process would quickly become unworkable.

Judge Barrett, referring to health issues brought up by the applicants, opened the inspectors report on Electromagnetic Fields.  He said the HSE, based on the weight of research in the field, was satisfied that as long as the development complied at all times with the international exposure limit guidelines as established by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protexction, there would be adequate protection for the public from any electromagnetic field sources.

Concerning health issues the judgment details matters on electromagnetic fields, childhood leukaemia, various other cancers, non-cancerous diseases and autism as reported in the planning inspector’s findings.

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