When the Mepa demerger laws were launched, many concerns raised by NGOs and other prominent voices were shrugged off.
One of the worries is linked to appeals. Government authorities can simply be ignored by the new Planning Authority if they do not give their expert opinion on planning applications within 30 days. In the new system, they can then lodge a formal appeal at the Planning Tribunal to be heard.
For example, the Planning Authority can grant a sensitive permit without advice from the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage. The Superintendence can then appeal, and the tribunal, which is not expert in cultural heritage, will decide who is right. The same applies to other entities, such as the Transport Authority or the Environment Authority.
This encourages open confrontation between two government entities at the tribunal, with one authority challenging another. Why call them authorities or regulators in the first place, if they are not the final word on their subjects?
In this system, government authorities will also have to pay for their expertise to be taken into account by the Planning Authority. To lodge an appeal, they will have to settle a fee of up to €3,500.
It is common knowledge that the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage is under-staffed and under-resourced. How on earth is it expected to drum up the money and staff time required for this cumbersome appeals procedure? They probably can’t even get a cheque signed fast enough to be in time to lodge an appeal.
Certain planning decisions with a negative impact on heritage are therefore likely to go unchallenged. These new regulations seem designed to allow the Planning Authority to do whatever they like.
This fiasco will require time to become apparent, but by then it will be too late for any resulting bad development to be reversed.