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Energy, Environment and Planning – Report Card.

An assessment of the Government's perfomance, 2011-2016

Result: D

Two foolish Ministers for the Environment merely went throught the motions

The environment isn’t a vested interest so it doesn’t rate in Ireland. Enda Kenny argues for Irish exceptionalism on climate change and prevailed in Europe which has now recognised the special position of Irish agriculture in European climate-change policy. We’re not and we do not deserve to get any exemptions at all. We’re a wealthy country that emits twice as much Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions as for example the Swedish, per head. If cattle farming is noxious, the world needs to stop it, not allow more of it to happen in Ireland which does it marginally less noxiously than most others.

The number of wild animals on Earth – vertebrates – has halved in the past 40 years, yet Ireland pursues food-production targets that will devastate our wildlife.

The Department of the Environment isn’t too keen on environmentalism so the new planning bills are inert, any new national spatial strategy will be toothless, and there is no chance of a binding Climate Change Act or the elevation of quality of life over GDP growth as the benchmark of ireland’s success.

Most of all Ireland’s planning and environmental regime remains discretionary and unenforced, characterised by the use of terms like “may: rather than “shall” and “shall have regard to” rather than “shall be in compliance with”. Our heart isn’t in it.

Report Card – Energy, Environment and Planning

“We will legislate to support the geothermal energy sector”. There has been no legislation, so the only geothermal exploration company in Ireland, GT, has stopped investing in Ireland, and moved to Manchester. GT says that 70-90 degree-centigrade-type reservoirs occur across Ireland and are perfect for the purposes of district heating.
Patchy progress on bringing more renewable energy onto grid, stymied by rural backlash against both turbines and pylons. No meaningful progress on ‘community energy’ approach so successful in Denmark, Germany.
Wind Farms
“We will ensure that future wind farms are built in locations where wind regime is best and that they are built in large numbers or in clusters to reduce cost of connection to grid under new ‘plan-led’ Gate 4 process, as opposed to the existing ‘developer led’ system”. The Gate 4 process of allocating windfarm capacity multiannually is underway after many delays.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s as yet unpublished guidelines would increase them minimum distance between wind turbines and towns and villages so resulting in the “end of onshore wind”, according to his Cabinet and party colleague Alex White who said proposals to introduce a set-back distance of 1km would put jobs at risk and jeopardise the country’s renewable-energy targets, in view of the number of one-off houses countrywide.
Marine Energy
“We will provide efficient foreshore licensing and leasing process for marine energy”. The Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill 2013 aims to align the foreshore consent process with the onshore planning system but has not been commenced.
Offshore Drilling
“We will incentivise and promote off-shore drilling and streamline planning and regulatory processes for bringing ashore these reserves and seek to maximise the return to the Irish people”. The Finance Act 2015 provides for a Petroleum Production Tax with an increase in the maximum marginal tax take on a producing field (combining corporation tax and petroleum production tax) from 40% to 55%. However, investment in marginal drilling locations has collapsed with the price of oil.
“We will create a new State company, Irish Water to take over the water investment maintenance programmes of the 34 existing local authorities”. After a botched launch and numerous PR fiascos, Irish Water, mired in controversy, staggers on the brink of insolvency. Incentive to conserve water, via pay-as-you-use metering, has disappeared.
Sustainable Waste Policy
“We will develop a national waste policy that will adhere to the EU waste hierarchy and favours a coherent approach to waste management that minimises waste going to landfill, and that maximises the resources that can be recovered from it”. National policy on waste management is set out in ‘A Resource Opportunity,’ published in  July 2012 but it is unambitious compared to the 1998 policy, ‘Changing our Ways’. The EU waste hierarch of minimize, reuse, reduce, recycle, recover and dispose has become code for allowing incineration.
Dublin’s €600m Poolbeg Incinerator is set to come into operation by the end of 2017 – almost two decades after it was first earmarked for a Sandymount site.
The project will see the construction of a facility that has the capacity to burn 600,000 tonnes of waste per year, much of which would be diverted from recycling.
Waste management plans for the three new regions of Southern, Eastern-Midlands and Connacht-Ulster were published in May 2015.
Waste Reduction Programme
“We will drive a waste reduction programme through extension of producer responsibility initiatives and a levy on packaging after appropriate consultation with industry”. In 2013 then Environment Minister, Phil Hogan, said he would not be introducing any packaging levy as it would be “likely to generate a number of costs – to the legislative process, to public administration, to business – with few identifiable additional environmental benefits”.
In Ireland, we generate nearly 20 million tonnes of waste each year, of which 1 million tonnes is food waste.  Much of this waste is preventable, reusable, repairable or recyclable.  The EU is issuing new guidelines and recycling targets for all Member States looking for 70% recycling level for all municipal waste by 2030.
Environmental Crime
“We will clamp down on environmental crime, such as illegal dumping and graffiti and noise pollution by allowing for on the spot fines, and providing for mediation between neighbours”. The government established new waste enforcement structures at regional and national level and introduced range of on the spot fines for offences under the Waste Management Acts.
Aarhus Convention
“We will complete ratification of the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters”. The Aarhus Convention is an ambitious agreement providing a means of democratic participation in environmental matters. Ireland did not ratify the Convention until 2012, some 14 years after it was adopted.
The first two strands have not been legislated for: the right of everyone to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities within one month of the request, to say why it is required; and the right to participate in environmental decision-making.
The third has been badly implemented: Ireland has altered the legal-costs rules from the prevailing English Rule (losing litigant pays winner’s costs) to the American Rule (each side pays their own costs) for legal actions that relate to an EU directive implementing certain Aarhus compliance measures.
Ostensibly, the special costs regime (SCR) means that a party could at least represent herself, without being threatened with a huge adverse legal costs bill, if she failed in her legal action. However, there is a Catch 22 in the SCR. To determine that a civil action falls under the ambit of the SCR, the applicant must risk an adverse legal costs award in making the application for such a declaration. The High Court recently said this “acts in such a way as to nullify the State’s efforts to comply with its obligation to ensure that costs in certain planning matters are not prohibitive”.
There is no reference to biodiversity (species protection) in the Programme for Government. Targets under the Department of Agriculture’s Food Harvest 2020 will contribute dramatically to species loss and have not even been strategically assessed.
The wildlife-unfriendly Heritage [sic] Bill 2015 provides for managed hedge-cutting in August and controlled burning in March, for the first time.
Site Valuation Tax
There is no reference to biodiversity (species protection) in the Programme for Government. Targets under the Department of Agriculture’s Food Harvest 2020 will contribute dramatically to species loss and have not even been strategically assessed.
The wildlife-unfriendly Heritage [sic] Bill 2015 provides for managed hedge-cutting in August and controlled burning in March, for the first time.
“We will allow an exemption for domestic turf cutting on 75 National Heritage Area sites subject to the introduction of agreed national code of environmental practices”. These NHAs, of national significance, are being sacrificed as peat-extraction sites without reference to the biodiversity, landscape and climate implications.
“We will establish an independent mediation between all relevant stakeholders with specific objective of facilitating resolution to 55 Special Area of Conservation designated bogs.
We will establish an independent mediation to resolve outstanding issues associated with turf cutting on blanket bogs”.
The cross-sectoral Peatlands Council is paying displaced turfcutter claimants up to €1500 or moving them to less sensitive boglands.
99% of the actively growing raised bog in Ireland has gone, with one third of the remaining 1% lost in the last 10 years As to private turf cutting, which involves tens of thousands of individuals in 128 designated sites around the country, the government introduced the “Cessation of Turf Cutting Scheme” in 1999. Under the voluntary scheme, domestic cutters were given 10 years notice to cease cutting turf and make new arrangements for their fuel supply. The 10 years notice or derogation applied to 32 raised bog SACs designated in 1999, with cessation of turf cutting in 2009.
“We will seek to better coordinate national, regional and local planning laws in order to achieve better and more coordinated development that supports local communities instead of the current system that favours developer led planning”.
“We will improve local transport access by making local transport plans an integral part of local Development Plans. We will force all local authorities to develop a transport plan in conjunction with their County/City Development Plans, and Local Areas Plans”.
“We will make the planning process more democratic by amending the 2010 Planning and Development Act to allow for detailed public submissions on zoning, and to rebalance power towards elected representatives”.
“We will abolish the position of County Manager and replace it with that of Chief Executive, with a limited range of executive functions. The primary function of the Chief Executive will be to facilitate the implementation of democratically decided policy”.
“A democratically-decided Regional or City Plan will replace the present top-down Strategic Planning Guideline model”.
“We will give councillors a legal power to seek reports from, and question in public, all providers of public services in their area. And we will also empower them to question private sector service Providers”.
“New Chief Executive positions have been established to replace the roles of City and County Manager and there has been a feeble rebalancing of powers between elected councillors and management. There remains no sign of elected mayors”.
By 2016 the government was talking about “Planning Legislation to Support the Construction Sector”:
The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 introduced a number of reforms in relation to Part V (housing supply) regulations, the dubious retrospective application of reduced development contributions and the introduction of a vacant site levy, which together are aimed at putting in place structural reforms that will support an increase in the output of housing to meet needs.
Updated statutory Planning Guidelines on Apartment Standards, issued by the Minister for the Environment under Section 28 of the Planning Act in December 2015 will boost supply of new apartments in city centre locations by pandering to CIF lobbyings to reduce minimum sizes to 45 square metres for one-bedroom apartments.
Three Regional Assemblies have been established in place of 10 previous regional structures to prepare (nebulous) new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies.
New Local Community Development Committees have been established to ensure a more coherent and integrated approach to local and community development.
There is no apparent intention to coordinate National Transport and Planning policies.
The very belated Planning and Development (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2015, which had no chance of being implemented under the current Government, will implement some of the recommendations from the final report of the Mahon Tribunal. It will provide for the creation of an independent Office of the Planning Regulator “to maintain a constant watch over the general systems and procedures employed by planning authorities including An Bord Pleanála though it is not clear whether the independence extends to being allowed to mandate changes to regional and local plans if the Environment Department objects. It will provide for a new National Planning Framework, which will succeed the 2002 National Spatial Strategy and will be published in draft form later in 2016.
The current Government announced the scrapping of the National Spatial Strategy in February 2013 citing implementation failures and has yet to replace it with a promised new Strategy for Development in Ireland.
Rory Mulcahy SC is to look into allegations of planning corruption in Donegal made by former senior planner, Gerard Convie. The terms of reference for a ‘review report’ allow the Minister not to publish its findings, and itt is not clear if it will address impropriety or just ‘bad practice’’
Ministers Alan Kelly and Michael Noonan rescinded the super-progressive 80% tax on Windfall Profits from Land Rezoning.
Local authorities will be required to carry out a flood risk report in the preparation of their City and County Development Plans, and will also be legally required to manage flood risk through sustainable planning and development. Ireland will miss the deadline for lodging plans with the European Commission on how to best prevent flooding and manage areas when they are flooded.
The OPW, responsible for drawing them up, said they will be finalised in 2016, but they should have been completed in December 2015 and submitted by March 2016.