Tuesday 25 June 2019

Semi-states 'lobby Government to speed up planning process'

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Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Major semi-state companies are understood to have begun lobbying Government on how to tighten planning laws in order to speed up construction of key infrastructure projects.

Restricting the ability of people living at a distance from projects, and those who won't be directly impacted by developments, is understood to be a key priority. The move comes in particular in the wake of the long running planning delays for Apple's proposed data centre in Athenry, Co Galway.

That project is now effectively on ice after a succession of legal challenges - the latest just last week - added years and hundreds of thousands of euros in legal costs to its planning permission process.

Apple is a private company, but semi-states including the ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte are experiencing the same impact from planning objectors and groups and individuals challenging permission once it has been granted, including through judicial review proceedings.

Fergal Leamy, the chief executive of Coillte, the state forestry agency, said resistance to wind farms, including those his agency wants to develop on State lands, could ultimately jeapordise the country's prospects of becoming energy self sufficient.

"Planning is always a sensitive area, as developers we have to do things better, but in terms of remote objectors, we see it every day, and we really need to think about that as a country," he said.

Bord Na Móna, which is involved in a number of major energy projects, including the ESB's Lough Ree and West Offaly power stations, warned in its 2017 annual report that in the past number of years "it has become increasingly difficult to obtain planning permission for any infrastructural developments," anywhere in the country.

A spokesman for the ESB said it operates within existing planning legislation, but would participate in working groups or consider and respond to a Consultation Paper on planning.

The Government already plans to introduce more restrictive planning rules - aimed at cutting down on the numbers of legal challenges mounted to prevent major projects, with a particular eye to large scale housing and infrastructure.

Pressure from semi-states, tasked with making a commercial return on taxpayer-owned assets, may lead ministers to widen the application of fast-track planning procedures.

Irish Independent

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