By Ann O'Loughlin
An environmental group has lost its legal challenge to An Bord Pleanala's decision it had insufficient information about affected landowners or occupiers to decide whether certain peat extraction works in the Midlands need planning permission.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) had asked Westmeath County Council to refer for determination by the Board issues as to whether peat extraction works in the townlands of Lickny/Newcastle, Doon and Carlanstown were exempt development.
The three sites - 100 hectares at Lickny/Newcastle, 60 hectares at Doon and seven hectares at Carlanstown - are substantial but are not adjoining, although the townlands are, the High Court noted.
After the Council made the referral in 2010, the Board conducted investigations and an inspector prepared a report.
In May 2013, the Board dismissed the referral over difficulties in identifying the owners and occupiers.
Having regard to the different parcels of lands identified in the referral, which appeared to be in "multiple" ownership in varying size of individual holdings with "numerous" parties involved, and in the absence of certainty about ownership and the individual circumstances of the plots, the question referred was not detailed enough to enable the Board carry out its obligations under section 129 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, it said.
The “diversity of circumstances" involved militated against a "thorough evaluation" of the referral question, it said.
In its High Court challenge, FIE argued the Board either had sufficient information or had statutory power to obtain it.
In his judgment today, Mr Justice Charles Meenan said the problem facing the Board was, regardless of the fact the lands could be identified, the owners/occupiers could not to the extent it would have been unsafe for the Board to make a determination concerning the property rights of those involved.
The Board had taken certain steps to identify such persons and he could not conclude its dismissal of the referral was either irrational or unreasonable, he said.
He rejected arguments the Board could have overcome the problems concerning the identities by posting notices on or near the relevant lands.
The Board had said it did not believe notices would solve the problem and exhibited various folio maps showing various parcels of land subdivided into numerous lots, each with a potentially different occupier, he said.
In the circumstances, he did not think it was unreasonable not to have posted notices.
He dismissed other arguments including the Board had not met the requirement to state the main reasons and considerations on which its decision was based. The Board, when giving reasons, is not required to give a "discursive judgment" as a result of its deliberations, he said.
The basis for the Board's determination is "clear to me". The reasons "succinctly" referred to problems of identification of the individuals who owned and/or occupied the lands.
After James Devlin SC, for FIE, indicated it may seek a certificate for leave to appeal, the matter was adjourned to next month.