Why our case matters
The significance of the Kathleen Connelly vs An Bord Pleanála Case
The core issue of this case is how An Bord Pleanála carries out and records its assessments of developments, particularly where Appropriate Assessments (AA) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are involved.
To date a number of cases has been taken against the Bord challenging how the Bord records those assessments. The particular concern is with how it records its methods of examining, analysing and evaluating the likely effects of developments on the environment. As a result it is alleged that the Bord cannot communicate clearly its decision-making process in a way that all interested parties can understand. It is left up to those wishing to appeal the decisions of the Bord to trawl through all of the documentation and to employ specialists in assisting them to interpret the rationale behind these decisions. The time-frame of the appeals process is often too short for individuals or groups to achieve this analysis in a thorough and cost effective way.
The High Court Judgement of Mr. Justice Barrett in the case of Kathleen Connelly vs An Bord Pleanála on the 14th June 2016, ruled that it was the obligation of the Bord to record its determinations under EIA and AA legislation. In addition, it is required to give the main reasons and considerations on which its decision was based in such a way that Ms Connelly (and others) are given a proper understanding of why the decision to approve the development of a wind farm in Coore/Shanaway has been reached. In the absence of such a record in this case, Mr Barrett issued an order of certiorari, quashing An Bord Pleanála's decision to allow the wind farm to be built. This is a very important judgement in planning and environmental litigation and will have far reaching effects beyond this case.
The Bord, on the basis that this ruling will have a very significant impact on how it operates and that this is of general public importance, petitioned the Supreme Court for clarification and the Supreme Court agreed that the issues raised in this case warrants clarification by a higher court. The Supreme Court will either uphold, overturn or refer the High Court decision to the European Court of Justice.
The current lack of a transparent and accessible decision-making process in An Bord Pleanála is a situation that needs to be addressed, and is long overdue. An Bord Pleanála is a public decision-making body, funded by tax payers' money, and every interested party should understand clearly how and why the Bord makes the decisions it does. If this case is upheld, it will make it easier and more cost-effective for individuals and communities to decide on the merits of appealing a decision by An Bord Pleanála in the High Court.
‘It never suffices, and it has never sufficed, for a public decision making body to issue a decision that refers in a largely uninformative manner to an ocean of material consulted or relied upon, and to leave an affected party thereafter to fish in that ocean for what she might catch there of relevance within the ever diminishing time frame for bringing a related judicial review application – and one will search long and hard in the law reports to find a judge of the High Court, or any court, who has suggested the contrary.'
(Judgement of Mr. Justice Max Barrett, 14th June 2016, Kathleen Connelly vs An Bord Pleanála, para 27)