Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Planning Issues

10:30 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Casey for raising this issue, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to achieving 5 GW capacity in offshore wind off Ireland's eastern and southern coasts by 2030. It also commits to production of a longer-term plan setting out how the State will harness the potential of at least 30 GW of offshore floating wind power in our deeper waters in the Atlantic. This pace of development is vital to achieve a reliable supply of safe, secure and clean energy.

Ireland's ambitions for the offshore renewable energy, ORE, sector require an up-to-date regulatory regime to provide certainty to project promoters and deliver a pathway to realising the necessary investment. The Maritime Area Planning, MAP, Bill, currently on Committee Stage in the Dáil, will enable the realisation of these ambitions for ORE by providing the necessary legislative toolkit for forward planning, well-regulated development, streamlined consenting, and comprehensive environmental assessment of proposals.

Under the Bill, a new development management system for the maritime area has been introduced to replace the current regime, as operated under the Foreshore Act, which dates back to 1933, and was designed to manage a completely different type of marine use to that currently envisaged. This new marine planning system will incorporate consenting for the occupation of the maritime area by means of maritime area consents, MACs, by a new agency, the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, and a new planning consenting regime to be implemented by coastal local authorities and An Bord Pleanála.

The Bill also sets out special provisions for ORE projects satisfying the definition of "relevant maritime usage". The special provisions for ORE are in recognition of the need to have a pipeline of projects progressing under the new regime in order to meet our 2030 climate and energy targets. Recognising that it will take time to establish the new agency, MARA, it was decided by the Government that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications should be granted limited powers to invite MAC applications for specific ORE projects for a specified period in advance of establishment. However, in the case of SSE Renewables and the Arklow Bank wind park phase 2 project, the company has an existing lease in place under the Foreshore Act and has now applied for an extension of the long-stop dates specified in that lease. While it is not appropriate to comment in detail on an application that will come before the Minister for determination, it is important to note that the application by SSE Renewables is unprecedented in the level of change from the existing lease arrangements, and, accordingly, it is necessary to review the application carefully so as to ensure that any decision made upon it is as robust as possible and will stand up to any challenge that may be brought forward.

I again thank the Senator for raising the issue. He referred to the 80 jobs that will be provided in Arklow in the future. He also referred to thousands of jobs in construction sector and in other areas. I hope the various stakeholders can come to an arrangement that gets matters progressed as quickly as possible.


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