Strategic Infrastructure Bill a threat to democracy and to public confidence in the planning process
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. speaking in the Dáil today on the Panning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill said the Bill was designed to facilitate the ramming through of unwanted infrastructure against the democratic wishes of communities. Deputy Morgan went on to say that the legislation would undermine public confidence in the planning process.
Deputy Morgan said, "Sinn Féin is opposed to this legislation which is the brainchild of those who are irked at having to put up with delays resulting from 'annoying' democratic input into the planning process. It is designed to facilitate the ramming through of unwanted infrastructure against the democratic wishes of communities and regardless of genuine concerns of those people and communities who are likely to be affected by such developments. One can legitimately wonder whether the Government came under pressure from vested interests such as Indaver to bring forward this legislation and I would ask the Minister to address this point. After all this is a government which changed the retail planning guidelines to facilitate IKEA.
"The intention of the proposals contained in this legislation is not as the Minister claims to ensure 'the right infrastructure in the right place with the minimum of impact on the community and the environment.' In fact it is exactly the opposite. It is designed to quash opposition to such projects where opposition is in most cases either based on health and environmental concerns or based on concerns regarding the destruction of sites of historical and archaeological importance. What we actually need is reform of the planning process to allow health and environmental considerations to be taken into account and examined. These are generally the issues at the fore of concern from local communities in relation to infrastructural developments. The legal challenges which have been cited by the Minister for the Environment as being at the route of why he has brought forward this legislation could be avoided if health and environmental concerns were examined and considered as part of the planning process.
"One issue of concern which I would like to touch on before I conclude is related to the type of projects which this legislation is designed to fast track. For example included in the infrastructure developments to be fast tracked 'an industrial installation for the production of electricity, steam or hot water with a heat output of 300 megawatts or more.' One could reasonably ask if this would mean that the new division could be used to override public opposition to nuclear power if the Government desired to pursue such an agenda.
"This legislation will only serve to further erode public confidence in the planning process. There are deficiencies in the planning process, but this does not address them. While genuine health and safety concerns continue not to be considered, concerned individuals and communities will continue to use every available avenue to challenge questionable developments. When official avenues of input and appeal are closed to them, they will take to the streets and will engage in protest action. The only way which difficulties which have been encountered to date can be resolved is by ensuring that communities can have their concerns listened to and considered, and by ensuring full public confidence in the planning process." ENDS