"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
THE controversial €1bn Corrib gas project has been dealt a major planning blow.
Bord Pleanala has ruled that a private road from the Atlantic was built illegally.
Shell now faces having to tear up the road it built though a special conservation area in Co Mayo without planning permission.
Yesterday's landmark Bord Pleanala ruling could delay the project for at least a year.
In a clear win for objectors, the board ruled that a private road already built from the foreshore at Sruwaddacon Bay, where the gas pipeline comes ashore to the existing county road, needs planning permission.
An Bord Pleanala said that the road was built through a priority habitat protected under an EU directive on special areas of conservation known as SACs.
This means that Shell will either have to remove the 1km road built for the project or apply to Mayo Co Council for retention permission.
If it applies and loses, the road will have to be taken up.
The ruling also means that the company must stop work in a number of other areas linked to the project until permission has been secured.
A number of works already carried out also need permission and are not exempt, it also ruled.
This means that work on these projects will have to be halted.
Planning applications to sort out the controversy could take up to a year.
In a clear victory for opponents of the massive project, the board ruled in favour of An Taisce, which had questioned the issue of planning permission.
An Taisce had submitted a list of projects involved in the development and asked if they constituted development, which would need planning permission.
The board ruled that Shell requires planning permission for three aspects of work it is already conducting in relation to the Corrib gas field.
An Bord Pleanala has already given the go-ahead for the overall project.
Approval was also needed a for valve station already installed on the gas pipeline, the board ruled.
An Taisce said the decision raised serious concerns.
"It means that a major element of the Corrib Gas development in Co Mayo is unauthorised and is proceeding without planning permission," a spokesperson said.
"It also raises the question as to why the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which has the legal function for implementing the Habitats Directive in Ireland, failed to take action with regard to the unauthorised development on the designated shoreline site," An Taisce said.
- Treacy Hogan