I welcome government approval for a package of measures to streamline the judicial review of strategic infrastructure projects.
The Government has already agreed to amend the Strategic Infrastructure Act to include data centres within its provisions. It has now agreed to review the operation of the Act to determine if any other changes are required in light of experience, alongside legislative changes to implement the recommendations of the Expert Group on the Review of An Bord Pleanála. This will include proposals for the statutory introduction of, and reduction in, time-limits for processing specific forms of planning applications.
The new measures aim to provide greater certainty on timeframes for decisions on planning and other consent processes, to deliver badly-needed public infrastructure. While it is essential that planning decisions go through independent and transparent planning processes, and respect all national and EU environmental and other obligations, it is also in the public interest that decisions are taken in as timely and efficient a manner as possible.
These measures will build on the accelerated, one-stage planning process for strategic infrastructure projects which is already operated by An Bord Pleanala.
In the same context the Government also welcomed the decision by the President of the High Court, Judge Peter Kelly, to include strategic infrastructure projects within the scope of new accelerated judicial review procedures to be introduced from the 26 of February, 2018.
The Government has agreed to prepare legislation to streamline the judicial review of strategic infrastructure projects. Detailed heads of legislation to give effect to these measures will be announced in detail in the near future. They include:
• reducing the time period for leave to apply for judicial review of strategic infrastructure projects from eight weeks to four weeks;
• to set out criteria in legislation to assist in determining whether an applicant has sufficient interest to instigate a judicial review of a strategic infrastructure development;
• and to prescribe certain requirements for organisations which have automatic standing rights to bring judicial review proceedings in respect of strategic infrastructure developments.
The Government has also decided to request the Review Group on Administration of Civil Justice, chaired by the President of the High Court, to consider a number of additional procedural reforms regarding judicial review of Strategic Infrastructure developments, including the scope for a strengthened pre-hearing process and possible use of a written submissions only process.
Experience also demonstrates that public participation measures can help to enhance projects and discourage poorly developed proposals.’ The type of projects covered by the Strategic Infrastructure Act covers major projects including national roads, railways, housing developments of more than 100 properties, large hospitals etc.