Planning objection fees may be illegal

THE Government will find out later this week if its controversial introduction of fees for people wanting to lodge planning objections is in breach of EU legislation.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will issue a preliminary ruling on Thursday on whether the standard €20 fee to make submissions to local authorities on planning applications is illegal.

The European Commission is claiming that Ireland has failed to comply with EU directives by only allowing the public “full and effective participation in certain environmental impact assessments” if they first pay a fee.

Under Irish planning law, local authorities and An Bord Pleanála are allowed to charge a fee to people who want to lodge objections or observations on planning applications.

Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, anyone wishing to make a submission or objections to a local authority in relation to a planning application must first pay a €20 fee. Costs range between €50 and €210 for third-party submissions to An Bord Pleanála.

The legislation was opposed by a large number of environmental groups including Friends of the Irish Environment, An Taisce, the Irish Planning Institute, and by 14 local authorities and the General Council of County Councils.

The European Commission argues that a 1985 EU environmental directive does not contain any express provision to allow such charges to be imposed. It also claims that such fees are contrary to the purpose of the relevant EU legislation.

However, the Government believes that the wording of the directive gives EU member states a certain latitude by not expressly excluding the imposition of fees on planning issues.

Lawyers for the State have also argued that the charging system has resulted in an improved service, while the fees are not so high as to restrict public participation in the planning process.

An advocate-general of the ECJ heard submissions from legal representatives of the State and the European Commission in April.

On Thursday, he will publish an “opinion” which offers the full court a legal solution to the case.

Although the ECJ is not bound to adhere to the decision of the advocate-general, it is seen as a reliable barometer of the ultimate ruling as about 80% of opinions are subsequently confirmed by the court.

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