From Tim O'Brien - Irish Times Friday, September 11, 2009

Dublin Bay infill hearing adjourned over bias issue

AN ORAL hearing into plans to infill 52 acres of Dublin Bay was adjourned indefinitely yesterday after concern was expressed about the involvement of flooding specialists HR Wallingford.

Counsel for Dublin Port Paul Gardiner SC raised the possibility of an objective bias in the firm’s retention by An Bord Pleanála, as HR Wallingford had previously been retained by the promoters of a new port at Bremore in north Co Dublin.

Mr Gardiner said Bremore had been put forward as an alternative to Dublin Port’s infill plans, and described Bremore as “the only other game in town”.

After an adjournment during which An Bord Pleanála senior planning inspector Brendan Wyse asked all parties to consider their positions, Jarlath Fitzsimons for Dublin Port suggested that the hearing may be irrevocably compromised. However, the assertion was opposed by Donall O’Laoire for Dublin Bay Watch, and Clontarf Residents’ Association. He said he believed the hearing should continue. It was possible, he said, in cases where a potential conflict of interest occurred, to simply discount the evidence of the party concerned.

Ian Lumley for An Taisce – which is also opposing the infill plans – said it was surprised by the development, and had put a lot of work into the planning hearing. If the hearing were to start over, he said, An Taisce would be subject to considerable costs and he would like to apply for those to be covered. Mr Lumley proposed a compromise in that the board might hire new consultants and continue with the hearings.

Having heard from the parties, Mr Wyse said he had used the adjournment to consult with his board, and the decision had been taken to adjourn “indefinitely” to allow the board to consider the issues raised.

A number of parties sought clarity on the issue of costs and whether the planning application for the infill could still be considered live, but Mr Wyse said he was not in a position to go into those issues. He declared the hearing adjourned, and parties would be advised in writing of what would happen next.

The hearing, under An Bord Pleanála’s fast-track strategic infrastructure rules, was in its second week of hearing the application by the port company for planning permission for the controversial infill.

The port company had earlier told the inquiry that the infill was of strategic national importance, while opponents had argued it was to be sited within a Special Protected Area – an EU designated area for the protection of birds.