2019-12-19 15:47:28 +0000
To: Minister Eoghan Murphy
Access to Justice
Not to enact anti democratic planning laws that will prevent environmental NGO's and community groups challenging bad planning decisions in the courts. It will prevent us protecting our environment against damage.
Why is this important?
VERY IMPORTANT to stop this legislation by Minister Murphy as it will effect our ability to take a court case/ judicial review. Environmental groups outline shock at proposed planning Bill.
Proposed legislative changes would make it almost impossible for citizens and environmental groups to challenge poor planning decisions in the courts.
Ireland’s leading environmental coalition is shocked at the Minister for Housing’s attempt to introduce new planning legislation that would make it near impossible to challenge planning decisions in the courts and hold public authorities and the Government to account.
The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of national environmental organisations – learned over the weekend of worrying developments with the Housing and Planning and Development Bill 2019 that is being brought forward by Minister Eoghan Murphy TD.
In sum, the proposed Bill will add numerous challenging requirements and restrictions that will make it very hard for ordinary citizens and environmental NGOs to achieve the necessary “standing” to take cases.
The changes proposed in the Bill would also add to the complexity of the court process and increases the risks of exposure to significant costs to those seeking to challenge bad planning decisions.
This legislation would row back on major changes introduced just a few years ago to enable ordinary people, their organisations, and environmental NGOs to challenge bad environmental decisions. Those changes were already long overdue and necessary to comply with EU law and the Aarhus Convention.
The Heads of the Bill sent to the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Housing, Planning and Local Government last week are very blunt that the proposed changes are designed to make it more difficult to engage in the legal process and appears to favour developer’s interests at the cost of environmental rights.
The most worrying aspects (some of which are further explored below) of the proposed Bill are:
• Complete change to existing cost rules for environmental cases from a system where costs should “not be prohibitively expensive” to a cost cap rules system with court discretion. This exposes the public and eNGOs to much higher costs and uncertainty, ensuring that many will be dissuaded from bringing a case in the first place and makes it harder to engage lawyers
• Change in standing rights requirements for applicants from “sufficient interest” to “substantial interest” and a requirement that they must be “directly affected by a proposed development” and “in a way which is peculiar or personal”. This is in addition to a new requirement that the applicant must have had prior participation in the planning process.
• Extension of the minimum time that an NGO must be in existence before it can challenge a planning decision from 12 months to 3 years, thereby essentially ruling out newly established citizen-led NGOs concerned with local environmental issues from bringing challenges
• Insertion of a new requirement that NGOs must have a minimum of 100 affiliated members, thereby ruling out the vast majority of Irish groups from bringing challenges.
• Increased requirements for the “leave” stage (where you get court permission to challenge). The Heads of the Bill propose going back to the abandoned “on notice” system and adding to the tests and complexity of the leave – this adds to the costs, duration and difficulty of court proceedings.
“This legislation would row back on major changes introduced just a few years ago to enable ordinary people and small but committed environmental NGOs to legally challenge bad environmental decisions, without fear of incurring eye-watering costs and extensive obstacles to accessing justice.”
“The explanation for the Bill is blatant about making it harder to challenge decisions, with the Department arguing that challenges cause delays. It is bad decisions, and flawed legislation however, that are the real issue driving litigation in this country and this Bill does nothing to address that.
“Given the context of costs in our Irish planning system, the size and nature of organisations and the costs in our courts, this Bill is an extermination of environmental democracy and oversight. It is particularly chilling that it comes at a time when environmental protection has never been more important, and citizens and groups are mobilising in a powerful Green Wave given the endless failures of this Government and administration.
How it will be delivered
Stage a press conference