I propose to take Questions Nos. 324 and 335 together.
On 28 January last, I announced that I had appointed an Independent Expert Panel, chaired by Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, to decide terms of reference for comprehensive, route-specific studies of overhead and underground options for both Grid Link and Grid West. The outputs from those studies, which will be required to be complete, objective and comparable, will be published before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation on those two projects. The two studies will take account of environmental (including visual amenity) impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors. The independent panel will have power to commission its own work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies presented.
The Panel has commenced its deliberations including considering what work, if any, it might usefully undertake in relation to the North South Transmission Line project. I understand that no decision has as yet been made by the Panel in that regard. It is worth noting that detailed studies have already been conducted for the North South transmission line, including consideration of a route specific underground option and, most recently, an assessment by a previous Independent International Commission of Experts appointed in July 2011 which reported in February 2012. Previously, in 2009, the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources commissioned an independent study on Comparative Merits of Overhead Electricity Transmission Lines versus Underground Cables. That study was conducted by international consultants Ecofys.
I understand that EirGrid has taken full account of the contents of those studies in finalising the planning application for the North South transmission line. The timing of the submission of the planning application to An Bord Pleanála is a matter for EirGrid.
EirGrid published an interim report on the emerging themes from the Grid Link project consultation on 28 January. A copy of this report is available on the EirGrid website at www.eirgrid.com. All of the submissions which EirGrid received on the project are being examined by the EirGrid project team. I understand that once a thorough and detailed examination of all the submissions has been completed, a report will be published on the project website and EirGrid will respond to all correspondence as quickly as possible.
EirGrid made an announcement on 28 March 2014 in relation to the extensive public consultation which it has carried out over the past 20 months on its Grid25 projects. Arising from feedback which was received that the consultation process could be improved, EirGrid has initiated a thorough review of its consultation process to improve future public engagement. I am advised that the review will include an external review of Eirgrid's consultation and engagement processes. To ensure the independence and objectivity of the review, EirGrid has requested the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators to provide experienced professionals to undertake the review. As part of this external review, a number of stakeholders will be asked for their views on the consultation that EirGrid has carried out and how future consultations could be improved. This will be done to ensure that the widest possible views are included in the review. The overall review is expected to be completed by June and its findings will be published, including recommendations to improve future public engagement.