Mulherin questions if planning process is fit for purpose

Fine Gael Senator Michelle Mulherin has questioned if the planning process is fit for purpose after delays in decision making for the N26 and a new bridge at Cloongullane, Swinford.

Senator Mulherin said: "It will be two years in March since an oral hearing on the building of a new bridge was held. The current bridge is on the national primary network, and is not fit even for the 20th century, it was built in the 19th century.

"It is a hazard and a danger, and is not in keeping with the objectives and standards defined for national primary routes.

"Two years have almost past. An Bord Pleanála had been issuing queries on account of environmental concerns until last July due to the presence of freshwater pearl mussels and alluvial woodland.

"All of those queries were answered at the end of July and a decision was expected on 30 November, which was an indicative date provided by An Bord Pleanála.

"Since then, the date has been pushed back. The lands are located in a special area of conservation, SAC, and there are populations living there, including those in Swinford, Foxford and Ballina.

"There is already a road in the area; it is not a wilderness. It is a place where human beings have legitimate socioeconomic development objectives.

"The Mayo industries group and the Chambers of Commerce for the area recognise that this is long overdue.”

Senator Mulherin continued: "This delay comes after the refusal by An Bord Pleanála of a new scheme for the N26, which would have provided for a new road [N26] between Ballina and Bohola in 2010, on environmental grounds because of overdesign of a road in a SAC and because of the presence of whooper swans.

"Fisheries have no objection to this, and neither does the National Parks and Wildlife Service, yet we still do not have a decision.

"This problem also applies to a new bridge at Glenisland on the R312, which has been delayed, even though there is funding in place for it, because of the presence of freshwater pearl mussels.

"In Galway, the road project on the N59 between Oughterard and Maam Cross has, after many years, received permission, with many conditions, including that there must be a negotiation with the NPWS at every stage.

"This is unprecedented, and it is unclear how it will proceed. Permission has been refused for the N59 road project between Maam Cross and Clifden.

"The ring road around Galway had been refused because it falls within an SAC; the new proposition involves tunnelling around Menlo underneath an SAC.

"The frustration stems from the fact that everybody is passing us out, namely in the areas that can get their strategic infrastructure built.”

Senator Mulherin concluded: “Money cannot be spent because planning permission cannot be secured. Is this a resources issue within An Bord Pleanála? Is it a reflection of the quality of the planning applications coming before it or is it, as I would contend, that we have failed to get a handle on developing areas that are designated as SACs?

"A few years ago a review of the operation of An Bord Pleanála was ordered and recommendations were made to improve it.

"What is the status of that and is our planning system fit for purpose?"

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