Legal History
Future Planning

On March 6 2000 An Bord Pleanala, (the Irish Planning Board) upheld the refusal of planning permission for a controversial proposal to develop a visitors' centre at the Burren, Mullaghmore, County Clare. The Burren is an unique limestone landscape situated in the west of Ireland, which hosts many rare Alpine and Mediterranean plants and ancient stone monuments. This is a landmark decision that concludes a nine-year debate on the siting of visitor facilities within national parks in Ireland. The decision has been described by the Burren Action Group as "a victory over the state that had always assumed its pre-eminence over its citizens in planning legislation."

Worked stopped on the site in February 1993 after an action by the Burren Action Group in the High Court. The decision will result in the dismantling of the partially completed centre at a cost of an estimated I£1 million, and the return of the site to its previous condition.

Legal History

Before Howard v The Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland in 1994, developments by state authorities which included a member of the government, the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland who manage State properties and the Irish Land Commission did not need planning permission. In 1991 the Office of Public Works announced the establishment of an I£2.7 million interpretative centre, with 75% European funding, for Mullaghmore. No planning permission was needed, so there was no obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment. Most importantly, there was no mechanism for appeal. The decision in the Howard Case caused this provision to be repealed. It also resulted in the introduction of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act and the enactment of the State Authorities (Development and Management ) Act 1993, which brought the state and its agencies under the remit of the planning acts.

The Burren Action Group's application has been before the High Court since 1996. Following An Bord Pleanala's decision to refuse planning permission, the proceedings are to be referred back to the High Court. The Minister for the Arts and Heritage has two months to initiate a judicial review of the planning board's decision, but this is unlikely to proceed as the minister has already proposed that an alternative site be identified.

An Bord Pleanala's reasons for upholding the refusal of planning permission were as follows:

  • The development was proposed for a relatively remote and underdeveloped part of the Burren containing 'a significant number of habitats and species';

  • The Burren is 'of international botanical importance' and the national park's management plan indicates that nature conservation takes precedence when conflicts between objectives arise;

  • Visitors and traffic would cause 'an unacceptable degradation of the physical environment';

  • Traffic movements would be 'obtrusive in the landscape and detract from the remote quality'; and

  • Other access locations to the park are available.

Future Planning

The long legal battle has achieved many of its objectives, including the following:

  • It brought the state and its agencies under the planning acts;

  • It led to the re-assessment of management plans for national parks both in Ireland and the European Union; and

  • It reinforced the view that visitor centres should be focused on the periphery rather than in the core area and should be located in gateway villages where economic return to the local population can be maximised.

For further information on this topic please contact Paul Eustace at Dillon Eustace by telephone (+353 1 6670022) or by fax (+353 1 6670042) or by e-mail ([email protected]).

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