This section dealt with the legal and statutory processes.
Michael Fisher Northern Standard
Esmond Keane SC for NEPPC told day two of the oral hearing in Carrickmacross that the North/South interconnector planning application by EirGrid was entirely invalid, fundamentally flawed and would be detrimental to landowners. He said EirGrid had not been given statutory power to construct the lines themselves and it was the ESB which had such power. So this was not a valid application from a person entitled to apply to carry out the development, he claimed.
The barrister said there was a possible conflict of interest in An Bord Pleanála deciding the planning application also being designated as the relevant authority in the Republic to manage an EU energy infrastructure Project of Common Interest. Referring to the environmental impact statement, Mr Keane said it failed to comply with what was required. There must be early and effective participation of the public in the consultation process. But this was utterly misconstrued by EirGrid. There had been no effective opportunity for the public to participate about how undergrounding of the power lines could be carried out.
Mr Keane said planning drawings showing proposed 400kV line pylons were utterly incomplete and inadequate. EirGrid said the towers ranged in height from 26m to 51m (80ft to 165ft). It was utterly inappropriate for members of the public not to be shown details of the insulators, conductors and points of connection for the towers in each area and how they related to their own homes. The drawings had failed utterly to give proper notice of what this development comprised of.
“One would have thought EirGrid on this occasion would have shown all the elements of the development and shown all elements of each tower at each location”, the barrister said. There was no idea from the drawings where a fibre optic cable mentioned in some of the documentation would go and if it would be strung between the pylons with the other wires.
Michael O’Donnell, a barrister representing Braccanby Irish Farm LLC and NV Irish Farm LLC in County Meath, told the hearing the entire basis of the planning application had been predicated on a fundamental error. It was not even clear who the applicant was because the construction work was purportedly to be carried out by the ESB, acting as an agent of EirGrid. He said the Planning Board was being put in an impossible position in deciding the application because it was also acting as the competent authority for a project of common interest.
EirGrid’s response was given by Brian Murray S.C. who confirmed that they were the applicants and all planning documentation stated this. So there could be no doubt who the applicant was. He explained that EirGrid exercised a close monitoring role regarding any construction carried out by the ESB on its behalf and such work was monitored by EirGrid engineers. EirGrid was the electricity system operator and was the proper applicant, he insisted. He said there was no legal inhibition on Bord Pleanála operating as a planning assessor and having a separate unit to consider PCIs.
EirGrid senior planning consultant Des Cox was asked by the NEPPC counsel Esmond Keane about arrangements for construction work around pylons and access routes. He explained that the temporary routes would not involve excavation or the laying of stones or wooden sleepers, but instead rubber mats or aluminium tracks would be laid on land required to gain access to pylon sites.
Asked if it would require the removal of hedges and the construction of entrances, Mr Cox replied that regarding hedges there would be a cutting down in some cases but not removal. Regarding a specific site near Kingscourt in County Cavan where the NEPPC claimed a new entrance would be needed, Mr Cox replied: “I do not know; I am not down at that level of detail”.