Government plans to fast-track planning for major infrastructure schemes are designed to blame the public for delays, it was claimed today.
As a new system to speed up the delivery of motorways, airports and incinerators was unveiled, opposition parties said objectors were once again being made the scapegoats for Ministers’ inefficiency.
The bill was labelled an affront to democracy.
Eamon Gilmore, Labour Party environment spokesman, said: “An urban myth has been promoted by the Government, and by the Taoiseach in particular, that these delays are due to planning objections by the public.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Most of the delays in providing infrastructure are to due to delays in decision making at cabinet level, design, land acquisition and bad management by Government.”
The Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill will allow developers to apply direct to An Bord Pleanála for planning permission. Officials will be on hand to talk through possible problems on major schemes.
An Bord Pleanála will rule on incinerators, motorways, landfills, gas pipelines, power stations and electricity lines while plans for Luas and Metro under Transport 21 will also be decided on.
But critically the reforms do not include plans to set up a new High Court division to rule on planning matters.
Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment, insisted the views of the public, local authorities and interested stakeholders would be taken into account.
“We cannot emphasise enough how badly Ireland needs new and improved infrastructure across a number of areas, to tackle bottlenecks in our economy, to enhance competitiveness, to improve the quality of life for the citizens and to protect our precious environment,” he said.
Battles over major schemes have delayed projects nationwide, some by as many as several years.
The M50 completion was delayed by two years following disputes over the ancient Carrickmines Castle, the High Court is currently deciding on the legality of the route of the M3, Shell has been forced to delay its gas pipeline works in Mayo and environmentalists are up in arms over plans for incinerators in Cork Harbour, the Boyne Valley and Dublin Port.
Vincent Salafia, who has campaigned to have the route of the new M3 motorway moved away from the Hill of Tara, said it was a lack of expertise in the Government that delayed projects.
“The strategy to shoot the messenger and discredit citizens who want to preserve the environment as being anti-roads; or robbing the taxpayer has been used to justify the act,” he said.
Fergus O’Dowd, Fine Gael environment spokesman, said the reforms were about headlines rather than getting things done.
“With the courts taking almost two years to decide on cases of strategic infrastructural importance, I see very little prospect of the Minister delivering on his promise to speed up delivery of these key projects,” Mr O’Dowd said.
Both the Green Party and Sinn Féin said the bill was an attack on democracy.
Ciarán Cuffe, Green Party environment spokesman, said: “The publication of this bill shows that this Government and the current Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, are closer to their friends in the building industry than to the needs of ordinary communities.”
Sinn Féin’s Arthur Morgan said: “This is clearly a response to the communities across the state who have courageously fought to protect their health and safety.”
Brendan Butler, IBEC director of enterprise, said getting major projects done on time and in budget was essential for economic success.
“It is incomprehensible that in a modern economy it can take less time to travel from Paris or Brussels to Dublin Airport than it takes to travel from Dublin Airport to the southside of the city.”