The High Court this week refused an application for leave to challenge a decision of An Bord Pleanála where the Board had refused planning permission sought by Dublin City Council involving the pedestrianisation of College Green. The Court described the case as “…one of the most unusual planning cases to have come before the Irish courts.” Unlike most planning cases, the Applicant in this case wanted to challenge a decision of the Board not to grant approval for a proposed development.
Dublin City Council had applied for planning permission for a proposed development on College Green, Dublin, which would involve the pedestrianisation of the Green, the implementation of new traffic measures and the undertaking of minor road works. The Board refused the planning permission.
In its decision, the Board concluded that the proposed development would have adverse impacts on pedestrians and bus transport within the city centre and therefore would be contrary to proper planning and the sustainable development of College Green. In its reasoning, the Board cited the following considerations:
There was insufficient traffic analysis and associated information to quantify accurately the traffic impact and the magnitude of the development.
Although unclear, there would more than likely be significant negative effects for bus transport due to the extent of re-routing necessary. The Board emphasised the critical importance of bus transport to the city and its future role in facilitating a shift from car usage.
Issues on the Quays regarding their capacity to accommodate the scale of bus re-routing remained unresolved.
There had been a failure to demonstrate that the existing footpaths on the Quays were capable of accommodating the increased pedestrian numbers that would be using the Quays due to bus re-routing.
The Application before the High Court
The Applicant, who described himself as an ‘environmental activist’ from Dundalk, sought to challenge the decision not on the basis of any adverse environmental effects of the decision, but instead on the basis of the economic waste that was the result of the decision. He complained that there had been no public commentary on what he considered to be a waste of public resources.
The Applicant sought:
Findings of the Court
Barniville J identified some essential factual elements of the case that would define the course of the proceedings, namely that:
Barniville J considered whether the Applicant had standing to bring judicial review proceedings.
Applying national law, Barniville J observed that it was clear that the Applicant did not have a “sufficient interest” in the matter as required by Section 50A(3)(b) of the 2000 Act. The Court arrived at this conclusion by following the principles laid down in the seminal Supreme Court case of Grace and Sweetman v An Bord Pleanála and also referred to cases such as McDonagh v An Bord Pleanála.
In outlining his reasons for coming to this conclusion, the Judge noted:
The Court was satisfied that there was nothing in EU law requiring the Court, in compliance with its EU obligations to ensure “wider access to justice” to members of the public concerned by a decision, to interpret national rules on standing in a manner as to afford the Applicant standing in this case. The Court considered that it would be “extraordinary if…[EU law]…were to require the court to uphold the applicant’s standing to bring these proceedings having regard to the several factors which strongly militate against such standing.”
This case provides a useful examination of the case law in respect of the question of standing to bring judicial review proceedings in the context of planning decisions and a useful analysis of the factors to be applied in determining what constitutes a “sufficient interest” and how these are applied by the High Court.
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