On 28 November 2008 An Bord Pleanála (the “Board”) granted approval for the construction of part of the Galway City outer bypass scheme. The Board turned down the western section of the bypass, citing “fundamental shortcomings” in this section’s design and layout, and the impact of such a development on Tonabrocky Bog’s slender cotton grass (Eriophorum gracile).  

Two separate legal challenges aimed at overturning planning permission for the €317 million Galway city ring road project will be heard in the Commercial Court on Tuesday 30 June 2009. The objectors are: Hands Across the Corrib Ltd. and Peter Sweetman.  

In an unprecedented turn of events that the High Court judge described as a ‘hornet’s nest’, the State, the National Park and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Environment have joined with the objectors to challenge the permission. The Board has the support of both the National Roads Authority and the Galway County Council.  

Some €12 million has been spent on the project to date and the estimated total cost is €317.5 million. The bypass seeks to address the chronic traffic congestion in Galway City and its environs, and plans to join the new Dublin-Galway motorway with Connemara by the inclusion of a fifth bridge over the Corrib.  

On 28 May 2009, the Commercial Court heard that the State believes that the Board gave invalid permission for this part of the ring road, possibly exposing the State to legal action by the European Commission. The State told the Board in correspondence in May 2009 that it was a matter of “great regret” that the Board did not accept the State’s view that the permission for the project breaches provisions of the EU habitats directive and relevant regulations. The State is claiming that the existence of a consent which breached EU law exposed the State to an action for infringement by the European Commission and to risk of injunctive/interim measures and heavy fines.  

“It is Government policy to proceed with the building of this road, but only in accordance with law,” the letter stated. The State added that unless the position was clarified by the court, there would be a “very significant legal impediment” to the development of the road project.  

Mr Justice Peter Kelly in the Commercial Court said that the case brought by Mr Sweetman against the Board and the State, with Galway City Council and Galway County Council as notice parties, had exposed a split between the State parties on interpretation of the habitats directive, the Irish EC (Natural Habitats) Regulations and other issues.  

The hearing is eagerly awaited and further updates will issue as this matter proceeds.