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A voluntary group called Planning Matters has launched a website that attempts to deal with some of the complexities of the Irish planning system. Founder member Michael Ewing explains why.
Hopefully this will never happen to you, but what if you opened your newspaper and found that someone was planning to build an incinerator next to your home?
If you were lucky, you would have 25 working days in which to respond to this proposed development. You are in a state of shock, but you manage to gather together some of your neighbours, and you decide to work together to fight the proposal. You then visit the offices of the planning authority to find that the developer has submitted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is nearly as big as the Encyclopedia Britannica, and that you now only have 18 working days left. The developer has spent five years preparing for this project, which is highly technical, and about which you have not been consulted until now.
That was an extreme example, but there are many thousands of people in Ireland who have had experiences similar to this with developments of all shapes and sizes, and have found their efforts thwarted by not knowing where to look for information, by a lack of know-how in dealing with the planning process and by a fear of the legal system.
It was in response to this situation that Planning Matters was formed in November 2004, following on from a series of public meetings and workshops called to discuss the failings of the planning system, and at which the scale of the problem became apparent.
The group has launched a web site that attempts to provide the answers to many of the questions facing citizens in these and other situations relating to planning. The site will act as a network to provide information, support and expertise to help people who find themselves in need of assistance when dealing with the planning system, whether they are the promoters of a project or those who are opposed to it.
In addition to providing information, the site will enable individuals and groups around the country to access the knowledge and experience of others who have already grappled with the complexities of the planning process.
The core of Planning Matters is made up of eight people from a variety of backgrounds; an electrical contractor, a teacher, two farmers, a businesswoman, a web site designer, an environmental scientist, and a solicitor. The Planning Matters network provides access through the web site to an even wider skills resource, connecting users to people all over Ireland, each with their own particular experiences and expertise.
With the launch of the website, the first phase of the Planning Matters project is nearing completion. Future plans include a telephone helpline, seminars and workshops. Feedback regarding the content of the site and contributions of relevant information are welcome.
View the site and contact Planning Matters at http://www.planningmatters.ie