Taoiseach Bertie Ahern yesterday confirmed in the Dáil that the new National Infrastructure Board could include incinerators or major chemical installations, such as the Corrib gas field, within its remit. He said its function would be to prevent costly delays in the planning process.
Responding to questions from Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Mr Ahern would not be drawn on details of the composition of the board. He said the new board would not be in position for at least a year.
Government sources have constantly referred to the Corrib gas field objections and the tree protests at the Glen of the Downs as two examples of delay that could be overcome by the new board. However, it also became apparent yesterday that the new infrastructure body could be used to expedite incinerator and chemical proposals that have been the target of well-organised opposition in the local community.
Mr Ahern faced a barrage of criticism from the Green Party and from Sinn Féin for having met the international president of Shell, the company behind the controversial Corrib field project off the coast off north Mayo.
However, he strongly defended the meeting. “There are not too many people who turn up at my door who have spent, or are about to spend, several hundred million euro in this country,” he said.
He said that Shell would not be able to benefit from the National Infrastructure Board. He said he advised the president that Shell would have to make a decision on whether or not it would proceed with the project, based on current planning laws.
Mr Ahern said the final decision by Shell on the Corrib gas field will be discussed at its world board meeting over the next number of days.
Setting out the need for an infrastructure board, Mr Ahern said that major national projects like roads had cost 10% more that the National Development Plan had forecast and that a mid-term review would reschedule some of the projects. He listed a number of factors that contribute to mounting costs, such as planning delays, construction inflation, and non-Exchequer factors, such as wildlife and forestry conservation.
Green Party leader Trevor Sargent said Mr Ahern could not lay the blame for delays and skyrocketing costs on the actions of protesters or planning appeals.
“The delays and costs over-runs of LUAS are due to Government bungling and mismanagement. At least three years was added to LUAS because of Government dithering,” he said.