AN Taisce’s decision to seek an appeal to the Supreme Court regarding the proposed €140 million Glanbia/Royal-A-Ware cheese manufacturing plant at Belview has been criticised by Ireland South MEP Billy Kelleher (FF).
Speaking to the Waterford News & Star at the European Parliament this morning, Mr Kelleher said the proposed plant would be “of significant importance in terms of ensuring we have the capacity to process the milk that is produced during the peak season”.
As for An Taisce’s stance on the project and its attempts to see its planning permission legally over-turned, Mr Kelleher stated: “I believe An Taisce, while they have an entitlement and a right to do so, that they’re actually using the planning process to make political points and to try and rewrite policy and I don’t believe that that’s how the planning process should be used or even abused.”
He continued: “There’s a point being made (by An Taisce) that this particular plant will have an impact on the environment because of milk production, etc. The fact is that this is being built to accommodate what is already being produced on the island and it would be there to ensure that during the peak seasons of April, May and June, that we have enough capacity to process milk. So I am disappointed that An Taisce have taken this through all the hoops, through the planning process itself and then through the legal routes as well and while they have an entitlement to do that, entitlement doesn’t always necessarily mean that this is right.”
An Taisce has been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in respect of the High Court judgement on the judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s granting planning approval for the proposed Belview plant.
In a September 24 statement, An Taisce stated it had sought leave to appeal “as it believes the original judgment gives rise to points of law of general public importance about how the environmental impact of large projects should be assessed by planning authorities such as An Bord Pleanála”.
Reaching its determination, Chief Justice Frank Clarke, along with Justice Iseult O’Malley and Justice Marie Baker stated: “bringing further clarity as to the proper approach to evidence or argument in relation to relevant scientific matters in judicial review proceedings of this type is a matter of general public importance which arises in these proceedings”.
An Taisce welcomed the Supreme Court decision to accept this appeal “which it believes will provide clarity on important points of law”.
When asked if he was concerned that An Taisce’s position on the Belview proposal could act as a test case to oppose other future projects, Billy Kelleher called for a “genuine streamlining of our planning process”.
He added: “We are almost incapable now, in Ireland, of bringing large scale infrastructure to fruition, be it public or private, in a short space of time. From conception to completion, there’s no guarantee of a timeframe and that is a very worrying concept. If you look at it in terms of the critical infrastructure that we need to develop in the years ahead, like additional capacity for electricity for example – wind power and solar power – they all require planning yet all of that remains very, very difficult. And investors look at this and they’re beginning to walk away from Ireland and that is an issue of genuine concern…we cannot continue to see projects endlessly dragged into courts and obfuscated and delayed for years at a time, which is happening, unfortunately.”
When put to him that his party is in government and are in a position to considerably influence such matters through new or amended legislation, Billy Kelleher replied: “The Government did publish legislation with regard to critical infrastructures but when you have a Constitution, when you have the entitlement to seek redress to go to court, then that pathway is always available. So there also has to be a streamlined court process as well that can assess these matters in a timely manner; otherwise, we will end up with all of these critical infrastructure projects that are there to benefit the public good, to help reduce our carbon footprint and gas emissions and also producing more environmentally sustainable electricity, yet they are being delayed for extended periods. This is an area that we just have to get right.”
Mr Kelleher concluded: “And this is happening in many other areas, not just in electricity generation through wind and solar (energy) but even offshore as well; it seems to be a very lethargic approach to getting these projects from conception to completion. And then you look at the most recent case of investors not staying the course (the withdrawal of Norwegian company Equinor from a partnership with ESB from a project off the West Clare coast) in terms of off-shore wind energy as well.”