Wednesday 26 October 2016

An Taisce to be sidelined in planning laws

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly

ENVIRONMENT Minister Alan Kelly is preparing a suite of new measures aimed at overhauling the planning application process, including ending the system that sees applications automatically sent to An Taisce.

Mr Kelly aims to move more than half of planning applications online in a move aimed at saving taxpayers millions of euro per annum.

Central to the overhaul of the planning system is reducing the number of so-called "prescribed bodies" that must be provided with all planning applications relevant to their remit.


The list of prescribed bodies, which will now come under review, includes government departments Failte Ireland, the National Roads Authority (NRA) and CIE.

"The referral of planning applications to prescribed bodies, as required, represents a particular administrative burden for planning authorities, with associated cost implications in terms of staff time as well as the reproduction and issuing of relevant documents," according to a department memo seen by the Herald.

As the only non-statutory body on the list, An Taisce is believed to be at risk of exclusion following Mr Kelly's review.

Any such move would place Mr Kelly on a collision course with the heritage body, which has attracted growing criticism from politicians at both a local and national level for its large number of objections.

Government sources added to the criticism last night, telling the Herald that there is a growing concern about the level of objections that are lodged by An Taisce and the impact this has on development.

"We have to consider whether it is right a non-statutory body like An Taisce is provided with each and every planning application for scrutiny. The review will decide whether it remains a prescribed body," a source said.

An Taisce has become used to criticism over its objections to planning applications. When serving in the role of Gaelteacht Minister, Fianna Fail TD Eamon O Cuiv criticised what he described as an "unacceptable" level of objections.

In February, up to 1,000 people in Kerry held a protest over a decision by the environmental watchdog to seek a judicial review that halted a planned road improvement. An Taisce said the planned development would negatively impact on the heritage of the area.

The month before, Limerick TD Niall Collins criticised An Taisce over its objection to plans to build a smokeless fuel plant in Foynes, Limerick.

More recently, the heritage body raised concerns over filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Skellig Michael.

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