A solicitor for campaigners behind the successful legal challenge of the first major flood defence scheme in Cork has accused City Hall of trying to “distort the true position” about why its planning was quashed.
Save Cork City’s solicitor also accused the city council of adopting an “aggressive approach” and “oppositional stance” to the group’s High Court challenge to the €6m Morrison’s Island scheme which has now been delayed following a European Court of Justice ruling.
Solicitor Fred Logue said it “is simply not true” for City Hall to suggest the judgment altered the legal obligation on the council in terms of conducting a specific type of environmental report on the scheme’s impact on protected habitats.
He spoke out after council chief executive Ann Doherty briefed city councillors on the status of the project following the legal setback.
The Morrison’s Island scheme includes the first flood defences proposed under the Office of Public Works’ (OPW’s) €140m Cork City flood defence project, the largest scheme of its kind in the history of the State. With flood defences integrated into a major public realm upgrade, the scheme was advanced as a standalone project under the Part 8 planning process.
Following public consultation, city councillors voted in May to give it the go-ahead.
Save Cork City, which is opposed to the reliance on raised quay walls and wants a tidal barrier built, brought judicial review proceedings against the Part 8 process. It emerged, as part of those proceedings last week, that planning is being quashed.
The council blamed a declaratory judgment by the European Court of Justice on an unrelated wind farm case which, it said, means the council will have to conduct a Nature Impact Statement on the Morrison’s Island scheme.
The project will also have to be progressed through An Bord Pleanála under a Part 10 process which will include further public consultation. Delivery of the scheme could be delayed by at least six months.
In a report to councillors, Ms Doherty insisted the Part 8 was in full compliance with all existing and established procedures at the time. She said the European court’s decision came a month after the Part 8 environmental reports were completed, and the ruling could not have been foreseen. She said the court decision had overturned established practice both in Ireland and across Europe.
Mr Logue said the suggestion the council is the victim of circumstance and its decision-making process overtaken by a wholly unexpected change in the law is just not accurate. He said the council had the benefit of considerable legal resources and of highly specialised environmental advice and should have been aware of European Commission guidelines from 2001 on the need for that specific type of environmental report.
He said the council ignored “authoritative guidance”. He noted the council decision approving the Morrison’s Island project was made on May 14, one month after the European court ruling. And, he said, “in the teeth of that judgment”, the council proceeded to adopt a decision that it should have known was directly in conflict with European law.
Ms Doherty advised that the cost of the delay will be borne by City Hall and the OPW.