Lack of Transparency at the Poolbeg Waste-to-Energy Plant – A Bad Start that Exposes Shortcomings in the Irish Planning System

Author: Alison Hardiman

June 20, 2017

The development of the waste to energy plant at Poolbeg in Ringsend, Dublin 4 has been a famously controversial project from the outset. It took ten years before the developers eventually obtained planning permission for it in 2007 and that was achieved in the face of over 2,500 objections. Many within the planning community felt that the poor road network was sufficient reason to refuse permission for the project at this location. Additionally, local residents and environmentalists nationwide had grave concerns regarding the safety and appropriateness of having such a facility in a residential area, proximate to bathing waters and a Natura 2000 site.

Nonetheless, permission was granted for the project by An Bord Pleanála in 2007 subject to the requirements that it would, for instance, require an ongoing EPA licence and that a community liaison committee would be established. The committee was designed primarily to liaise with the local community in relation to ongoing monitoring of the operation of the waste to energy facility.  Amid ongoing controversy, this project was constructed between 2014 and 2017, took its first deliveries on 24 April 2017 and is due to commence full operations in the Autumn.

Last week, on 7 June, there was a ‘small leakage of lime’ that led to the hospitalisation of 11 staff. The Health and Safety Authority and Environmental Protection Agency are both now investigating the incident. It is of key interest that Covanta Ireland, who operates the plant and who is also undertaking its own investigation, “did not provide any immediate information to the public, public representatives of indeed the Community Liaison Committee following the incident.” (Dublin City Council). The Community Liaison Committee was set up as a condition of the planning permission for the project and notification of them should therefore be considered as a planning issue.

This secretive approach does little to increase public confidence regarding the operation of the plant but from the perspective of planning law, it also raises further points regarding:

  • the appropriateness and workability of the split between the functions of the EPA and An Bord Pleanála in Ireland;
  • the current absence of means of effective enforcement of planning conditions; and
  • the enforceability of commitments made in an Environmental Impact Statement during the operational stage of major projects.

The fragmented approach to planning for major projects in Ireland has long been criticised and pending the outcome of the investigations into this matter, the management of this incident would appear to represent a case in point.

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