Planning and Housing Policy Section,
Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government,
21 October 2011
Submissions/observations on the draft Guidance for Planning Authorities on the Drainage and Reclamation of Wetlands - Consultation Document September 2011
The Planning and Development (Amendment)(No.2) Regulations 2011 (S.I. No.454 of 2011) and the European Communities [Amendment to Planning and Development] Regulations 2011 (S.I. No.464 of 2011).
The threshold for mandatory planning permission for wetland drainage has been reduced from 20 ha to 0.1 hectares and the threshold for mandatory EIA is set at 2 hectares.
These thresholds are a dead letter as they exceed the scale that such developments are carried out in practice. The 100m x 100m (0.1 hectare) threshold would wholly encompass a significant proportion of wetlands in Ireland including most ponds, springs, streams, dune slacks and wet woodland relics or could significantly undermine the conservation function of larger wetlands.
Furthermore, the in-combination impact of multiple sub-threshold wetland drainage works on separate landholdings could undermine the function of larger wetland systems e.g. along river floodplains.
In reality, the drainage of any wetlands in Ireland, given their habitat function and importance, could be likely to have significant adverse impacts on the environment. Therefore we recommend that no threshold be implemented.
Furthermore it is evident to us that Ireland's obligations under the Water Framework Directive cannot be fulfilled in a situation where small wetlands can be drained with no notification or consent with potentially major cumulative impacts on river basins.
The definition of wetlands inserted by the Article 3 of the new P&D Regulations 201, as confirmed in the draft DAFF guidelines, also includes peatlands (bogs, wet heaths and fens). However the extraction of peat (which is defined in the P&D Regulations 2001 to specifically include related drainage) is governed by Article 17 of the P&D Regulations 2001 where a 10 hectare threshold for a requirement for planning permission and a 30 hectare EIA threshold are set.
This inconsistency allows for a specific class of wetland to be afforded lesser protection. In the Irish context the conservation of peatlands are of prime importance and the subject of considerable and increasing pressures from exploitation.
As FIE has documented, in practice there is very little willingness to enforce planning, EIA, IPPC and Natura 2000 requirements vis-a-vis peatland disturbance without creating opportunities for further legal inconsistencies which could facilitate adverse impacts on the environment.
Tony Lowes and Caroline Lewis
Friends of the Irish Environment