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How it got Planning Permission – June ’05

Planning Record – June ’05

Political InterventionPolitical intervention effectively undermined the effect of the unanimous An Bord Pleanala refusal to the first Appeal. It portrayed the ABP decision as being based on a mere technicality. This opened the way for a new application – effectively the fourth. The first Application was found to be so seriously flawed that it was withdrawn before consideration by the Planning Authority. The second Application was granted Permission by the Mayo Planning Authority, despite many submissions highlighting fundamental omissions, defects and inadequacies. A third opportunity was (most exceptionally) provided to the Applicant by An Bord Pleanala issuing a Section 10 request to fundamentally revise four crucial issues. This was done after the Appeals process, including report on submissions and oral hearing, had effectively been completed. It was a case of ‘leaning-over-backwards’ to be accommodating.

Section 10 Referral
This referral came in the immediate wake of Shell’s takeover of Enterprise. Essentially it amounted to a fast-track option for the new owner to make a fresh application, and it reduced the criteria for a successful outcome to just 4 key issues. This was a most generous gesture but the response was blatantly arrogant. What emerged was an enormous volume of consultants’ reports in which assumptions, assertions and assurances predominated, and little or nothing of substance was altered. This was put bluntly in the Executive Summary of the formal Response: 'In the case of consideration of alternatives, visual impact and safety, the assessment is that there is no material change to what has already been stated in the Environmental Impact Statement…The main refinement relates to the need to use more stone within the drainage system.'

The enormity of this disregard by the Applicant for the role and status of ABP was breath-taking. Likewise, the responses and reactions of several ministers in the immediate aftermath of the ABP refusal suggest that the Applicant’s confidence was well founded. Obviously nothing less than what was agreed in principle during initial negotiations was acceptable: the government wanted infra-structural development in Mayo and the developer wanted an on-shore gas refining facility. The fuller implications of this bargain were not teased out by the government, but the developer was clearly aware of the advantages of its end of the bargain and was unwilling to settle for less. This attitude permeates proceedings to date.

Project Splitting
Our central objection is to the way in which clearcut critique of the Application has been frustrated by ‘Project Splitting’. This insidious practice has been pinpointed by a ‘Reasoned Opinion’ (2001) from the EU Commission, which is a preliminary stage in bringing Ireland before the European Court of Justice. ‘Project Splitting’ is unacceptable because it is about leverage: that is, using permission granted for one part of a project to powerfully influence the granting of another less certain permission. When such insidious loopholes are given precedence over the clear intention of the law, the integrity of the system is undermined. Since the Applicant professes to uphold the ‘Donovan Principles’ (see: a reasonable test of their good faith would be for them to accept and permit overall project evaluation.

Gasfield Pressure
In this regard the safety issue arising from the on-shore section of the import pipeline is extremely pertinent. The enormity of a pipeline conveying gas at full gasfield pressure (150 BAR/c. 1 ton per sq. in.) in close proximity to homes along a distance of 9 km, is one of the worst safety aspects of this project. It has been publicly acknowledged by an expert, Mr. Taylor, that world wide 'it is the only one of a kind that he is aware of'(ABP Report p.76). Yet it comes under the scrutiny of no Competent Authority, neither Planning nor Health & Safety nor any other: in short, no responsibility is acknowledged by any government agency.

This scandal is given dramatic significance by the fact that had the original intention of running the pipeline along the Pollatomish route been in place at the time of the recent landslides, it would in all probability have been ruptured with potentially catastrophic consequences. Its intended route was immediately above the graveyard which was severely breached and excavated by that section of the landslides. As the Det Norske Veritas report (p. 3.4) states: 'the major causes of pipe rupture are external interference and ground movement.' When major accidents happen, such as the recent gas explosions in China and Algeria, great concern is expressed. But too often, at the Planning stage major issues of safety, as instanced above, are not given specific consideration because of ‘project-splitting’.

Independent Evaluation
In view of all of the above obstacles to having vital aspects of the project as a whole brought under scrutiny, I requested assurances from the Planning Office that an independent, expert evaluation of the Application would be commissioned in respect to its diverse implications as reflected in the wide-ranging EIS. I made this request in the light of an official record of the Planning Section acknowledging in regard to a similar complex application that it did not have the necessary range of technical expertise within its own staff to evaluate such full implications. It nevertheless proceeded to adjudicate on the project and gave Planning Permission . This became a matter of serious concern when admitted publicly at an Oral Hearing.

Posted Date: 
8 June 2005 - 11:06pm