There were hopeful signs for the future of the Galway City Outer Bypass at a European Court of Justice oral hearing yesterday after support was shown for An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant permission for the first half of the project.
Giving the optimistic prognosis, Galway West Fine Gael Deputy Seán Kyne explained that both the UK and Greek governments made presentations during the hearing held in Luxembourg which stated that the planning authority had “acted correctly in interpreting the various articles of the Habitats Directives”.
An Bord Pleanála had granted the permission, however while subject to a legal challenge the Supreme Court sought guidance on a point of EU law. The hearing was held to examine what criteria an authority needs to apply when determining whether a planning project will have an adverse effect on the integrity of an area such as a national habitat area or a special area of conservation. The hearing also examined whether a project can be authorised if it will affect the integrity wholly or partially of such environmentally sensitive and protected areas.
Deputy Kyne who attended the proceedings confirmed that the case put forward by An Bord Pleanála and by Galway County Council was very impressive. Submissions were also made by other parties including the National Parks and Wildlife Service and environmentalist campaigner Peter Sweetman who had objected to the decision to grant permission.
However, according to Deputy Kyne, submissions made by the UK and Greek governments could help turn the tide for a project whose outcome, up until now, had been tagged as doubtful and uncertain. During the hearing, questions were also asked by the various judges and the advocate general; the latter is due to issue a report to the Court of Justice at a later date.
The Supreme Court had asked a number of questions in relation to Article 6(3 ) of the EU Habitats Directive, the answers to which are not expected to be available for at least three to six months.
Deputy Kyne said that he is hopeful these answers “will help the Irish Supreme Court to uphold the decision of An Bord Pleanála. The Galway City Outer Bypass is vital for easing traffic congestion in Galway city and for the sustainability and economic development of Connemara”.
However, he stressed that the hearing was not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer on the bypass and that steps have been taken to face the European’s court decision, whether it is favourable, or not.
“Should the European Court’s clarification on the Habitats Directive be favourable the bypass legal proceedings will resume here in our Supreme Court. However, if the court rules that the project as it stands will contravene the Habitats Directive then the plans for the bypass will have to be re-examined and the IROPI (Imperative Reasons of Overriding the Public Interest ) process commenced without delay.
“Fortunately, the planning process followed by the Galway County Council acting for the National Roads Authority will already have examined possible alternative routes for the bypass which will help speed up the IROPI process.”
The IROPI is where planners accept that an infrastructure project will cause damage to an area protected under the Habitats Directive but that the project is necessary for various reasons including health and safety, economic wellbeing, and public service reasons.
Deputy Kyne concluded: “The Galway City Outer Bypass is considered by the Government to be the number one road project in terms of cost-benefit and funding has been located via stage two of the Stimulas Programme announced earlier this year. I’m confident we will overcome legal obstacles to provide this crucial infrastructural project for Galway and the west.”