Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 18 December 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals
The purpose of this meeting is to scrutinise COM (2012) 628, which is a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council amending Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.
I welcome Mr. Philip Nugent, principal officer, Ms Marian O'Driscoll, assistant principal officer, and Mr. Conor O'Sullivan, higher executive officer, who are all from the planning section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and I thank them for their attendance. I wish to advise them that by virtue of 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009 witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If, however, they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person, persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I wish to advise that the opening statement and other documents submitted to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Before Mr. Nugent makes his presentation, I wish to make a few comments. After 25 years of application, the environmental impact assessment directive has not changed significantly whereas the policy, legal and technical contexts have evolved considerably. A number of shortcomings have been outlined in respect of the directive and the Commission's proposal has been drafted on foot of these. I wish to ask the officials from the Department if this proposal achieves an appropriate balance between protecting the environment and imposing burdens on developers and the competent national authorities. Will significant cost and time burdens be imposed on those authorities? In the current economy climate, are such costs necessary? The Department's information note, which was circulated to members, states that the proposal may give rise to issues around the principle of subsidiarity. As the officials are aware, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann each have an opportunity to submit reasoned opinions to the President of the European Parliament, the President of the Council and the President of the Commission if it is considered that there is a breach of subsidiarity. Accordingly, I ask the officials to elaborate on any issues which may give rise to such a breach.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
I thank the Vice Chairman and members for inviting my colleagues and I to address them on the European Commission's proposals for a recast of the environmental impact assessment directive. My name is Philip Nugent and I am the principal officer in the planning section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I am accompanied by Mr. Marian O'Driscoll, assistant principal officer, and Mr. Conor O’Sullivan, higher executive officer.
Environmental impact assessment, EIA, is a critical tool in managing and clarifying the complex interrelationships between development and the environment. It is a process that provides for an examination of the environmental consequences of development actions in a systematic, holistic and multidisciplinary way. As such, it is a critical aid to the decision-making process. The EIA directive was designed to ensure that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment are subject to a comprehensive assessment of environmental effects prior to consent being given. Since the first iteration of the directive in 1985, there have been changes to the legislation itself and to the practice of carrying out EIA both in Ireland and throughout the European Union. The policy and operational context for all stakeholders – whether they are consent authorities, project sponsors or developers, local communities or third parties - has become significantly more complex as a result. The European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1989 formally incorporated the requirements of the 1985 directive into planning and other project consent systems. Since that time, the amendments to the directive have also been transposed into the various project consent codes.
In so far as planning is concerned, the Planning and Development Act 2000 consolidated Irish planning legislation. Part X of the 2000 Act contains the relevant provisions in relation to the requirements of the EU EIA directive in so far as the planning consent system is concerned. Part 10 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, contains more detailed provisions in relation to Part X of the Act. The latter has been amended on a number of occasions recently in order to elaborate on the definition of environmental impact assessment, following a European Court of Justice, ECJ, ruling against Ireland in case No. C-50/09.
An EIA must identify, describe and assess in an appropriate manner, in light of each individual case and in accordance with articles 4 to 11 of the EIA directive, the direct and indirect effects of a proposed development on the following: human beings, flora and fauna; soil, water, air, climate and the landscape; material assets and the cultural heritage; and the interaction between these various factors. Part X of the Planning Act requires that an EIA must be carried out by the planning authority or An Bord Pleanála, as the case may be, in respect of an application for consent for development which comes within the scope of the directive, either by exceeding a quantity, area or other limit specified or because it does not exceed a specified limit but is deemed by the planning authority or An Bord Pleanála as having potentially significant effects on the environment.
The new draft EIA directive is aimed at strengthening existing provisions concerning the quality of the EIA, with the aim of achieving a high level of environmental protection. It is also intended to enhance policy coherence and synergies with other EU law instruments and to simplify procedures with a view to reducing unnecessary administrative burdens. Some of the main features include a requirement that projects which require assessment of environmental impacts under both the EIA directive and the IPPC directive would have to be assessed in an integrated or co-ordinated manner, including the appointment of one competent or facilitating authority; mandatory provision of a large amount of screening information by the applicant for all Annex II type projects; mandatory, and reasonably elaborate, screening decisions to be made by consent authorities for all Annex II projects; mandatory scoping of all environmental impact statements, which will now be called environmental reports, by the consenting authority in all cases where an EIA is required; accreditation of persons deemed competent to compile environmental reports; and all environmental impact assessments to be completed by the competent authority within six months of receipt of all relevant information.
The proposals were published by the European Commission on 26 October and discussed by the EU Working Party on the Environment for the first time on 31 October. The Cyprus Presidency has given over three meetings of the working party for discussion on the proposals. Parallel discussions also took place at a meeting of EIA experts from EU member states in Larnaca in November. A further meeting of this group is taking place today in Brussels.
As set out in our note, the draft directive is based on Article 192(1) of the treaty, on qualified majority voting and on the basis of co-decision with the European Parliament. The proposed changes contained in the draft directive will give rise to an increased need for additional administrative and professional or technical resources for the processing and carrying out of EIA by the competent authority. The requirements to issue detailed screening decisions and, in particular, to scope all environmental reports will add to the cost of dealing with consent applications in these cases. The requirement to align the EIA development consent with IPPC consent may give rise to substantial reorganisation of consent systems and a significant amount of amending legislation. It is considered that the proposed accreditation system and the time limit for delivering an environmental impact assessment consent will give rise to difficulties. In the context of time limits, it would appear that where a competent authority, for example, An Bord Pleanála, is unable to complete the environmental impact assessment for a major project within six months - as required under the draft directive - consent in respect of that project would have to be refused.
The carrying out of an environmental impact assessment is complex in terms both of process and the underpinning legislation. The proposals were published just over six weeks ago we are still examining the content of the directive in consultation with other stakeholders. After the limited consultation that has taken place, there is a view that the proposed directive may give rise to issues around the principle of subsidiarity by failing to allow for sufficient flexibility to member states as regards the choice of measures for compliance and their detailed implementation. I hope this brief overview has provided a useful background for questions or comments from members relating to the new environmental impact assessment directive.
I thank Mr. Philip Nugent, Ms Marian O'Driscoll and Mr. Conor O'Sullivan for coming along today and giving us an overview of this proposal. The sense I have of it is that as things stand, without imposing any stricter or more onerous conditions on any development or doing anything anywhere - I am not saying this in a populist way but on the basis of what I see on the ground - we are heading towards not being able to do anything. It has come to the point where somebody from the National Parks and Wildlife Service or some other enforcer is nearly standing over my bed in the morning telling me not to get out of it. I am serious about this. I am sure they are only doing their job because they have been handed a set of rules to carry out and they have to carry them out.
I understand this issue came up at the European Parliament yesterday and I would cite an example of what I am talking about. Laois County Council paid for a bird survey and €4,000 for drainage work on the River Goul. The survey was completed and because it is now a year or a year and a half old, the council has been told that it will have commission another one. The survey could have cost anything up to between €10,000 and €20,000. The cost involved of a few thousand euro worth of work to take a few buckets of silt out of the river, to remove a silt bank - I am just citing this as an example to set the context - is mad.
What is happening under these regulations is mad. I want to protect the environment and the generations before us protected the environment. I saw slag heaps in England higher than the tallest part of this building. There is no problem in having environmental impact assessments and I do not want to see slag heaps of that height throughout rural Ireland, but I make the point that rules and regulations are crazy. The civil servants in Brussels do not realise, and neither might the civil servants here, what one has to do to drain a section of wetland or to clean out a drain. One has to clean one side first and then clean the other side, even if the drain is only a few feet wide. One has to perform a Houdini act with a Hymac. It is crazy what is being passed down to us. Any members from rural Ireland who are present will verify what I am saying. I come from an environmental background and I want to protect the environment, but what I see being done is lunacy. To compare it with the Taliban, the only thing that is missing is there is no violence involved in enforcing it - not yet anyway. It is crazy.
What impact is this proposal likely to have on special areas of conservation, natural heritage areas and particularly on the bogs incorporated in the lists? Mr. Nugent might give us an overview of Part X of the Planning and Development Act.
I made a point regarding the wetlands. There is a huge contradiction in that the Minister and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is trying to move us towards Food Harvest 2020. This type of proposal has the potential to drive rural Ireland back 100 years before there was ever a mechanical digger to carry out drainage or to reclaim land. I drive through rural areas and pass lands where I saw people cut turf as a child and those lands are now reclaimed. That has happened in my lifetime and there are cattle grazing on it and, in some cases, crops growing on it. I do not want to see the destruction of everything but we cannot have bogs overgrown and flooding farmlands on the edge of them because a group of people in Brussels decide to impose this proposal on us. In broad terms, we have to make a stand on this and we should test it to the limits.
Mr. Nugent mentioned the cost of the administration of this proposal. I hope the witnesses will not take offence at my saying that civil servants do not normally complain too much about the extra administration work or cost involved in a measure. I do not mean that in a negative sense but they operate in a different way from politicians. However, the fact that they are concerned about this makes me very concerned about it. The amount of paperwork that is required to be completed to do anything in this area is crazy. I outlined the situation regarding the River Goul and county councils, which are stretched to limit, are being told they have to get new surveys done because the ones they have are out of date, even though they will contain the same findings as the new one. I hope in those cases that they go ahead with the works.
One member of the panel might respond to the issues regarding the NHAs and the SACs. We should test the issue of subsidiarity in this context. We might as well take down the tricolour over this House. I am not saying we should get involved in environmental destruction but if we are going to allow ourselves to be trampled on with more regulation and impositions from Brussels, we should call it a day. We should tell the people that this is being run under the direct control of Brussels.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
I will take the Deputy's second question first requesting an outline of Part X of the Act. It might be useful if we prepared a note because it quite complex legislation. It might be best dealt with through a note giving detail on how the regulations fall underneath it. In terms of the designation of NHAs and SACs, the directive will have no impact on the designation. That is a matter for the NPWS under the habitats directive.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
It will make the process of carrying out EIAs on developments that are close to or in an SAC much more complex.
In terms of subsidiarity, some member states so far have raised concerns that the draft directive breaches the subsidiarity principle by imposing mandatory timeframes which the existing directive does not do. Other areas that have been identified as potential breaches of subsidiarity would be around the issue of scoping. Under the existing directive, scoping and EIA are discretionary and by that I mean a developer can ask a competent authority to scope what should go into the environmental impact statement, which will now be an environmental report. Under the new proposals, that will become mandatory. Even where somebody is quite satisfied that they know what needs to go into an environmental impact statement, the competent authority will none the less in all cases have to provide that scoping. That will add potentially to the costs of competent authorities or, more likely, to those of project sponsors because those costs would have to be passed on. It has been argued so far that is an unnecessary cost and it goes beyond the requirement of the directive because the Commission has not shown how that would lead to improved protection of the environment. Those are a couple of the areas the Deputy raised.
From reading the notes the witnesses prepared, I note other countries are concerned about this. Previous Ministers have told us that we are very good at getting other people on side. For the future of this island we need to get other people on side in this respect to stop this proposal in its tracks.
I thank Mr. Nugent for his explanation. What is his understanding of the impact of the initial directive on turf cutting and the way it is at present and, in practical terms, what will this mean for turf cutters afterwards? The reason I ask this is that Mr. Nugent talked about projects and private people doing X, Y and Z. In many cases that would be people like my father. The project he would be undertaking would be to try and keep his house warm. When he decides in future to engage in that project of keeping his house warm, how much will it end up costing him? Will it cost him so much that it will no longer be practical for him to do it? What will be the impact?
For years I and an organisation called the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association have warned that in terms of what was coming down the line from Europe, after initially designating special areas of conservation and criminalising people for cutting turf, we would see a series of wetlands directives, including this directive, put into Irish law which would end the tradition and culture of cutting turf in this country forever at a practical level, unless one was so rich that one did it for the craic.
Ms Marian O'Driscoll:
On the implications for turf cutting, that falls into two distinct categories, that is, whether it is done within a Natura site or outside a Natura site. If it is within the Natura sites, that is a matter for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and this proposal will not affect that because it is only to do with the broader environmental impact.
This measure will not have any particular impact on turf cutting no more than it will have on any other project. The current position on turf cutting is that there is a mandatory threshold of 30 hectares for an environmental impact assessment and therefore for turf cutting in excess of 30 hectares an EIA must be carried out. Under that hectarage an environmental impact assessment should be carried out to determine if it would have a significant effect on the environment. We do not see those thresholds changing in any way but as we have explained, if this directive comes in it will have impacts on mandatory scoping and screening. Somebody applying to cut turf on a large site may have some extra bureaucracy to go through in the same way anybody else would, but other than that we do not see it having a major effect on turf cutting.
We are engaged in an exercise with Bord na Móna and various people because the Commission has asked us to establish the extent of large-scale industrial turf cutting throughout the country. We have been talking to Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Geological Survey of Ireland, GSI, and Bord na Móna with a view to doing some mapping in that area but we do not have any proposals for any particular changes in regard to turf cutting.
Ms Marian O'Driscoll:
Thirty hectares is the requirement for a mandatory EIA, but I believe it is ten hectares for a planning application. If someone was carrying out turf cutting on 20 hectares, they would have to apply for planning permission and it would then be a matter for the planning authority to decide whether an EIA was needed. It would decide in accordance with annex 3 of the directive - the impact it is having on the environment. That could be an area on which we could issue further guidance. Generally, it is accepted that most of the bogs in the Natura sites here are protected. In terms of other bogs there should not be a major impact on the environment given that the ones considered of value are protected under the habitats directive.
It is supposed to be doing it at the moment. However, I know otherwise. When the Government puts serious effort into relocating people into new bogs, they will run into that problem because they will need that amount of bog and environmental studies will need to be done on it. Those studies will not allow people to cut turf on them. They will be told they are destroying the planet or something along those lines.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
The EIA directive is not deterministic. In other words, a project might still have significant adverse effects on the environment but when a planning authority or the competent authority weighs up all the considerations, including the socioeconomic and other aspects it considers, it may still decide that notwithstanding those impacts, the project should still go ahead. The EIA process does not give one a "Yes" or a "No". It says that these are the effects on the environment.
In general EIAs are welcome because we have only one environment and developments have a habit of not lasting as long as the environment.
We are discussing the new regulations. I note that the witnesses have some concerns but they are mostly monetary and not environmental. Correct me if I am wrong but they referred to the need for additional administrative and professional technical resources for the processing and carrying out of the EIAs by the competent authority. Some time ago there was some debate in the European Union on making processes easier for local authorities in general. If that is going through a process in the EU, why would that result in extra administrative work?
We are at a time in this country where there is less development going on than was the case in the boom. In terms of staffing arrangements and so on, some staff who were required in the planning section some years ago might be diverted to dealing with EIAs. The witnesses may not have it with them but they might provide us with a detailed note on the reason the administrative burden will cost more when there is less planning and development taking place. If there is to be more environmental impact scrutiny, where will the cost come into that?
On the timescale, Mr. Nugent referred to a six-month period, but how does that affect the fast-tracking of planning projects and so on?
I ask the witnesses to comment on the simplifying procedures to which the European Union referred. It was linked in with this. I read about that somewhere but how will the changes affect Ireland? We hate to see regulations coming from Europe about, say, cheese makers and yet in France they seem to be able to make cheese in various localities or they can sell eggs in certain localities. Perhaps there are stricter regulations in Ireland. There should be commonality among all European Union states on EIA directives. I am aware other countries have raised questions about that.
Scoping was always necessary, and local authorities gave guidance on that, but mandatory scoping is necessary now. There is also more of an onus on the developers not simply to include any information and hope for the best. There are competent people who can ensure the people the developers employ are competent in what they write down and that they can stand over that. That is welcome.
In terms of the negative aspects, the witnesses pointed out the cost, administration and so on and hopefully that can be dealt with, but what else should we object to? We want development but we also want to ensure the environment is protected.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
We certainly would not like to give the impression we are concerned only about the monetary impacts of the draft directive. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is concerned about the environmental impacts of the environmental impact assessment directive.
We are concerned about proportionality. We are not yet sure that the Commission has demonstrated how the new proposals significantly lead to enhanced protection of the environment, bearing in mind the administrative burden that will arise for competent authorities and project sponsors. There is little gain for a considerable administrative burden.
I am not sure how this proposal squares with other communications from the European Commission over recent years to try to simplify procedures. I do not mean to be glib but the Senator would probably have to ask the European Commission. It is telling that it took the environment side of the Commission longer than anticipated to get the draft proposals through its internal assessment board. That is an important issue.
Our main concerns relate to the mandatory scoping. We do not understand why the arrangement should be mandatory and we do not yet see the benefit. This concern is shared by two thirds of member states. We are also concerned about the extent to which the accreditation system that is to be introduced will lead to an improvement in the protection of the environment. It could be extremely complicated. Does one seek a planning qualification or an environmental engineering qualification? What are the different standards of qualifications among member states and states outside the Union? How does one ensure that people entering from outside the Union will have the requisite skills to become accredited? These questions concern pretty much all member states.
There are requirements associated with new factors that must be assessed. Planning authorities would not have the in-house expertise to assess the implications in all cases. An example relates to issues associated with climate change and biodiversity. This would be complicated. It would be very costly to the public system to ensure all local authorities and planning authorities had the expertise in-house.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
The Senator is referring to a shared service approach. If the draft is sanctioned as it stands, we would certainly have to consider a shared service approach. It would be extremely costly for all local authorities to have the requisite expertise in-house so a shared service approach would have to be considered. We would be happy to do so.
This is a proposal to amend directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects and the environment. It is opportune and important that everyone would have an opportunity to reflect on the measures and the centrality in decision making and on achieving consent. I refer also to the likely impact.
Reference was made to cost, which obviously is important. There appears to be an infringement of the subsidiarity principle and an imposition of total bureaucratic entanglement. The latter includes mandatory scoping, which is well beyond the original objectives of the directive. The directive should and probably will be amended substantially.
Directive 2011/92/EU contains a legal requirement to carry out an environmental impact assessment on public and private projects likely to have a significant effect on the environment prior to their authorisation. Proposal 628 is to strengthen the provisions concerning the quality of the environmental impact assessment with the aim of achieving a high level of environmental protection. However, if it infringes on the achievement of other objectives, the Department should subject it to significant amendment. It should seek the backing of other concerned countries.
The European Commission's proposal states its suggested changes to the environmental impact assessment directive are partly intended to take account of decisions of the European Court of Justice on the directive. As stated, the Commission referred to one of the cases brought against Ireland, namely, C50/09, decided in March 2011. The court said Ireland failed to implement Article 3 of the environmental impact assessment directive, which, as Mr. Nugent and his officials well know, requires the planning authorities to prepare an independent assessment of the environmental impact statements prepared by developers. The independent assessment is supposed to take account of the effect of the development according to the specific criteria in Article 3 of the environmental impact assessment directive. These pertain to human beings, fauna and flora, soil, water, air, climate and the landscape, material assets, cultural heritage, and the interaction between these factors. I believe Mr. Nugent referred to this.
The European Commission followed up on the court's decision and required us to implement fully Article 3 of the directive. This was achieved by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, on 31 October when he signed the European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Planning and Development Act 2000) Regulations 2012. To date, planning authorities have given planning permission for major developments, such as wind farms. I have an interest in the latter, not only in terms of their impact on the environment but also their impact on people. I am concerned about proximity to houses and the lack of statutory criteria to ensure the protection of people, particularly their health. There can be flickering and noise. That is why my Bill is very important.
The required approach is set out under sections 171A and 172 of the Planning and Development Act but it was just abandoned. My Bill, whenever it is before the House, will ensure protections for people and their houses, including against diminutions in value.
The European Court of Justice signalled clearly in its decision in March 2011 that permissions do not comply with European law. Can we now be assured that the planning permissions are legally sound? Will we be left open to claims for compensation from those who must live in close proximity to developments, including some wind farms, on the basis that there is a failure to comply with Article 3 of the environmental impact assessment directive? Is there advice available to assure taxpayers they will not be left carrying the can? If such advice is available, I am sure it could be shared with this committee. In a time of scarce resources, the last thing we need is another drain on resources.
I am concerned about this matter and that is why I brought forward the Environment and Public Health (Wind Turbines) Bill. It is gaining a lot of notice from many people who are deeply concerned, most of whom are major contractors and developers. I fully support sustainable energy proposals and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. I am delighted to see that Bord na Móna has taken on board a proposal that I fully support on Mount Lucas. The project is far away from where people are living.
This is important. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the European Court of Justice stated we did not comply with Article 3 of the directive. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan need not worry in this regard. No one else comes in. It seems we do not bother about any of it. I am concerned about vindicating the rights of ordinary residents. They should be recognised. The last thing we want to do is introduce a measure that gets us all into knots and loops such that we cannot move for bureaucratic entrapment.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
I shall try. The Deputy is absolutely correct that we have a chequered history on the implementation of the environmental impact assessment directive. There is more than one ECJ decision against Ireland. A specific development constituted part of the C50/09 case. The decision of the court did not call into question the validity of consents given for any other projects. There is no question mark over any of those. Many of the other projects would have been the subject of appeals and judicial reviews. Part of the challenge would have been on the grounds that Ireland had not properly transposed Article 3. Those cases have wended their way through various courts. The ECJ decision did not call into question the validity of consents already given.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
The basic point is that it does not call into question the validity of those consents.
The final piece in our transposition of the directive was the set of regulations that has been mentioned, which the Minister, Deputy Hogan, signed at the end of October. They literally and directly transposed all the wording of Article 3 and went a bit further. They were developed in consultation with the European Commission to ensure the commission was happy enough. The European Commission had referred Ireland for non-transposition. At this stage we are satisfied that we have to go no further to ensure absolute and proper transposition of Article 3.
Will local authorities be instructed that those regulations are now mandatory? In the context of all future project proposals concerning wind farms and other projects, they will have to ensure absolute compliance with those regulations. It will ensure that people have their fair say and that the public participation process is allowed.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
We would maintain that they were already doing the environmental impact assessment anyway. We have communicated the new regulations to all local authorities by way of circular letter. We are also preparing statutory guidance, under section 28 of the planning Act, on carrying out EIA by planning authorities. That will take into account the most recent changes to the Act to transpose Article 3.
I wish to make a couple of points. As regards the accreditation system, I have watched a lot of planning permissions over the years, including ones where an environmental impact assessment is required. They are required to be independent but I found it strange that in all those years I never saw one arguing against the proposal. I would have thought there would be something that would not make it through that kind of rigorous assessment. How is it intended to proceed with the accreditation and will there be reviews to examine some of the assessments?
The second point I wanted to draw attention to is that of in-house expertise. A lot of the people who worked in local authority planning departments in recent years were employed on temporary contracts, so they were the first out the door. Quite a lot of expertise was lost as a result. It is not just a question of having the resources within local authorities. There is also an implicit cost in this. In an environment where there is a public service recruitment embargo and a reduction in available funding, how is it intended to compensate local authorities that must take on an additional work load without extra resources?
Food will play a much bigger economic role in future. Will Food Harvest 2020 require an environmental impact assessment? If so, how will it play out and who will administer it?
When there is a planning application that requires an environmental impact assessment - and those assessments are supposed to be independent - I have never seen one argue anything other than positively in favour of the application in every respect. One would have thought that some of them would have been neutral at least on the proposal that was being made.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
An important point to make is that they may have been modified from the start of the process. Part of the EIA is that alternatives have to be examined and mitigation measures must be included. It may well be that is why only the positives are coming through, because concerns are being addressed throughout the process. I am not sure, however, and I do not know about the specific case.
Mr. Philip Nugent:
As regards how we propose to proceed with the accreditation system, this has only been discussed at three working groups so far. We are still very much getting to grips with it and trying to think about how we would do it. We have never done it before. Some member states seem to have accreditation systems of sorts, so the usual approach would be to begin looking at examples in other jurisdictions. At this stage we have not really thought about how an accreditation system might work, or what the qualification standards would be.
As regards in-house expertise, it is the case that the volume of planning applications coming into planning authorities has dropped off significantly. The number of staff in planning departments has also dropped off to reflect that. There is a big difference, however, between the qualifications and expertise of a general planner who examines normal planning applications and the highly specialised and detailed scientific qualifications that would be required to have such a person in-house for each local authority.
As regards how local authorities will be resourced to take on these experts, we would not be looking at 32 or 34 experts in each field, that is, one in each planning authority. We would probably be looking more at a shared service model, as I told Senator Keane earlier. Inevitably, however, the cost of providing that expertise would have to be passed on to the industry or the developers.
I am not familiar with Food Harvest 2020 but it sounds to me more like a plan than a project. If it is a plan, it would be subject to strategic environmental assessment rather than an environmental impact assessment, which is more about a project.
I have a couple of questions. We sometimes feel here that we are overburdened with compliance requirements, rules and regulations. Has Mr. Nugent had any feedback on how this directive is going down in other member states?
My second question concerns the alignment that appears to be required between the EIA development consents and the integrated pollution prevent control consents. How does Mr. Nugent see that working out? It seems to me that it will be very challenging. This will be discussed during our EU Presidency, so can Mr. Nugent see any difficulties for us in that respect?
Mr. Philip Nugent:
Let me take the last question first. It will be dealt with during our EU Presidency. We do not have a fixed number of working party meetings but we have listed it in the draft agendas for the two Councils in March and June. Our level of ambition will be coloured by the discussions at the working party and the positions of member states.
This takes me back to the first question on the feedback we have received so far. It is a proposal that is giving rise to significant concerns in other member states. I would draw a distinction between some of the newer member states who joined post-2000 and the older ones. Some of the newer member states seem to have brought their environmental law into line with existing EU legislation. Therefore some of the newer member states seem to have a dedicated stand-alone EIA consent process, whereas the older member states, including ourselves, have a requirement for EIA arising under a number of different legislative codes, for example, foreshore and arterial drainage planning. It seems to be giving rise to greater complexity in member states that do not have dedicated stand-alone EIA systems.
The feedback so far has been mixed. I would say that two thirds have quite significant concerns. All member states have scrutiny reservations but that is a standard with any draft proposal at this early stage.
As regards the alignment between IPPC and planning, we would not be particularly concerned that there are too many difficulties there. That is because we have gone a long way to ensure that they are very closely aligned anyway. One issue that would give us some concern in terms of that alignment, though, is the designation of a competent authority or a facilitating authority.
Other consent systems may also interact with IPPC. It may not be so straightforward but from a planning and IPPC point of view, we are satisfied it will not give rise to additional complexity. The Commission has given us an assurance on this but we are still consulting other Departments responsible for other consent systems to see how it might square for them
I thank Mr. Nugent, Ms O'Driscoll and Mr. O'Sullivan for assisting us in our deliberations. I propose we go into private session to consider our opinions with regard to this legislative proposal and to deal with other matters on the agenda of today's meeting. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I will read each legislative proposal and we can agree each one as required.
The first proposal is COM (2012) 407, a decision of the European Parliament and the Council establishing a Union action for the European Capitals of Culture for the years ending 2020 and 2033. It is proposed that this proposal does not warrant further scrutiny. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next proposal is COM (2012) 520, a Council decision on the position to be taken on behalf of the European Union at the 32nd Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention). It is proposed that this proposal does not warrant further scrutiny. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next proposal is COM (2012) 550, a Council decision authorising member states who are contracting parties to the Vienna Convention on Civil Liberty for Nuclear Damage of 21 May 1963 (Vienna Convention) to ratify the protocol amending that convention in the interest of the EU or to accede to it. It is proposed that this proposal does not warrant further scrutiny. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next proposal is COM (2012) 561, a Council regulation establishing a Community system for registration of carriers of radioactive materials. It is proposed that this proposal does not warrant further scrutiny. Is that agreed? Agreed.
That is the end of the meeting. I wish you all a very happy Christmas and see you in the new year.