Official Mistake Cost Public Chance to Object to Hill of Allen Quarry
Dé Céadaoin Deireadh Fómhair 29, 2008 17:13 by Conor McHugh - Leinster Leader
Secret Documents Show That Two-Month KCC Delay Let Roadstone Escape Planning Permission Application
Roadstone has beeen given the go-ahead to quarry the Hill of Allen for the next 50 years without planning permission.
Secret documents obtained by the Hill of Allen Action Group and seen by the Leinster Leader reveal that a combination of cock-up and capitulation by Kildare County Council have consigned even more of the Hill of Allen to history.
A number of weeks ago, despite the objections of Roadstone and Kildare County Council, the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly instructed the Council to hand over secret documents concerning the quarry. The documents reveal that when Kildare County Council instructed Roadstone to apply for planning permission more than a year ago, they were more than two months late in doing so.
This gave Roadstone an opportunity to challenge the Council and to escape planning permission which would have allowed members of the public to comment on and object to their plans.
Roadstone wrote to the Council instructing them to withdraw its demand that they apply for planning permission, and when that did not happen, they brought the matter to the High Court in a judicial review.
The judicial review was adjourned for a number of months until finally, the Hill of Allen Action Group applied to the High Court to become notice parties to the legal action, which would have given them access to court documents explaining why Roadstone had initiated the review.
On that day, Roadstone and Kildare County Council announced that they had come to an agreement to "Regulate the use of the land through the instrument of Section 47 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000".
And in a bizarre move, both of them attempted but failed, to recoup their legal costs from the Hill of Allen Action Group.
The agreement took 14 months to conclude, during which neither side would comment on why Roadstone wasn't applying for planning permission, as is required, under the Planning and Development Act of 2000, of all quarries over five hectares.
Prior to that, quarries which, like the Hill of Allen, started life before 1964 were exempt from planning permission.
The Group has told the Leinster Leader that they are both annoyed and disturbed at the lengths to which they had to go to get that information.
The released documents include the first five drafts of the agreement, dating from June 10, 2007 to August 1, 2007 and reveal that an attempt by Kildare County Council to put a 20 year limit on the lifespan of the quarry was rejected by Roadstone in favour of 50 years. The final document allows Roadstone to apply for more time if they haven't exhausted the quarry after 50 years.
The Council's request for 70,000 euros for the maintenance of surrounding roads was also rejected in favour of a 50,000-euro contribution.
The Hill of Allen Action Group, which opposes the continued destruction of Kildare's most important heritage site, has not been able to see documents relating to negotiations for the past year since August 1, 2007.
The Group has called on the Council to explain to the public how the agreement will satisfy EU legislation requiring Environment Impact Assessments and public participation in these assessments, and how it addresses the provisions of the Kildare County Development Plan that preserve the profile of the Hill and its surrounds.
The Group said, "this planning case has been characterised by an unusual, utter lack of transparency, which is all the more disturbing because there is high public interest in this case of a quarry that has, according to Kildare County Council, significant environmental effects, and which is destroying a site of high heritage value".
According to the Group, the process has been not only secretive, but also unfair. Its members are studying the papers and are considering their options. In the meantime, they call on the Council to provide a full, public account of the case.
Kildare County Council believes that the recently-concluded agreement will protect the Hill under planning law. "The terms of the agreement will result in better protection for the environment: Roadstone will be obliged to operate the quarry in a way that will limit noise and dust, and control traffic, blasting and other impacts while providing for the protection of archaeological and architectural heritage."
In relation to the mistake which saw Roadstone refuse to apply for planning permission, the Council claims they are not at fault. They decided not to contest the judicial review because "the law in this area is unclear, the outcome of a court case was unpredictable. On the other hand, the Section 47 option meant that the Hill would be protected.
"Section 261 of the planning act is open to interpretation: it is not a simple cut-and-dried matter," the Council's statement claimed. "The law is often precise and clear but not always so. The County Council believes that it used Section 261 correctly, and it has never been shown to be wrong in that regard."
And they say that defending the case would have been a gamble, which it was not prepared to do, adding that they took the "course of action that offered the best opportunity to protect the hill.
"In dealing with the Hill of Allen case, the Council chose, and would have preferred, the option of a planning application and environmental impact statement; but even this would not necessarily have secured what people wished.
"Every grant or refusal of planning permission can be appealed to An Bord Pleanála, and there was never a guarantee that making Roadstone submit a planning application would have protected the Hill of Allen any better than the Section 47 agreement."
In response to questions from the Leinster Leader, a spokesperson for Roadstone denied delaying the conclusion of the agreement, but refused to explain who or what had.
She also claimed that "the majority of quarries registered do not have to apply for planning permission."
The Leinster Leader has learned that this does not give a full picture. Only quarries which began life prior to 1964, and do not already have planning permission, have to register. The majority of quarries have planning permission.
"Roadstone has no difficulties in applying for planning permission, provided it is within the legal requirements," she claimed. And she refused to answer a specific question about Roadstone's refusal to pay 70,000 euros for the maintenance of roads in the area, noting that "Roadstone has not refused to make a contribution," and added that a substantial contribution would be made.
She also noted that "Section 261 was never intended to limit the working life of quarries and many operations have no time limit."
The company also denied that it has any intention of obliterating the landmark hill and point to their restoration of Aylmer's Folly in recent years.
Commenting on the revelations, Cllr. Fiona O'Loughlin, who has consistently raised the matter at Council level, said that the Council must "answer many serious questions about how they handled this.
"It is appalling that they let the statutory time elapse within which they had to respond thus giving rise to a court case which should never have been required."
She also wondered how much money was spent on legal fees connected with the case and described the development levy of 50,000 euros as "ridiculously low".