In Case C-258/11 Sweetman v An Bord Pleanála and others, the Court of Justice provided welcome clarification on the construction of the phrase "adverse effect on the integrity" of a priority habitat site, as designated under EU law. The issue arose in a procedure concerning planning approval for a road in Galway which raised questions about the correct criteria to apply when sanctioning or refusing such development consent falling under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. Questions were duly referred by the Supreme Court of Ireland to the Luxembourg Court. The Court of Justice held that removal of whole or part of a certain priority habitat site amounting to its permanent destruction constituted such an "adverse effect". That was so in a case where the conservation of the habitat type was the very objective that justified its designation as an EU site. In such circumstances, an alternative procedure for development consent under Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive ought to be applied. The judgment has implications for the protection of Natura 2000 sites across the EU.
The judgment is here.
Margaret Gray was junior counsel for Ireland in the proceedings before the High Court and Supreme Court of Ireland and before the Court of Justice.