by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

As a continuation from my previous article, I thought that it might be a good idea to briefly examine the planning process around the Bremore development. I should state at the outset that I’m not a legal professional. This is just my own understanding of the Bremore situation, having studied what appear to be the relevant sections of the Strategic Infrastructure Act 2006 and the Harbours (Amendment) Act 2009.

1. Extension of Harbour Limits

In July of this year the Drogheda Port Company applied for an extension of its harbour boundary, to include the Bremore area. Although a necessary preliminary move for development, movement of harbour limits is treated separately for planning purposes and the application can be made directly, without requirement for public consultation, to the Minister for Transport. The relevant legislation is the Harbours (Amendment) Act, specifically Section 3(a), which substitutes for Section 9 in the original 1996 Act and  Section 3(b), which substitutes for the limits of Drogheda and Dublin Port, as defined in the third schedule of that act.

After a process of consultation with the company, the aforementioned Section 3(a) allows the minister to change the harbour limits, defined in Section 3(b), having regard merely to the capacity of the harbour and to navigational safety. Applications for planning permission, permission granted in respect of any development of the land, environmental impact assessments and other listed factors may also be given regard to, but only if relevant to the decision, in the minister’s opinion. The environmental impact statement for the development remains ‘in preparation‘, but this Section suggests that its absence, as raised by an Taisce, is not a stumbling block to the boundary extension and there seems to be little in the way of it proceeding, in Irish Law.

The two ports specified in the amendment to the third schedule of the original Act are also the two with upcoming expansion plans. Of course, it has previously been suggested that the new Act includes “an amendment to allow Drogheda Port Company permission to alter the limits of the Port Company in order to facilitate the proposal to build a new port at Bremore.” In congruent flow, it was signed on the 21st July 2009 and followed by notice of the Bremore application, in the Drogheda Independent, one week later. You may further note the advice of the recent Indecon report; “Nothing should be done at a policy level to block either the proposed expansion of Dublin Port or the proposed development of Bremore at this stage.”

A fait accompli.

2. An Bórd Pleanála and the proposed development.

The development of the deepwater port, excluding, perhaps, any ancillary projects, has been classified as a Strategic Infrastructure Development, that is, a development that fits one of the specifications in the seventh schedule of the 2006 Strategic Infrastructure Act. In this case, presumably, Part 2 of the schedule, which covers transport infrastructure; harbour and port installations. What this means is that the planning process for these specified development types has the potential to be ‘fast-tracked‘, by allowing a direct application for permission to An Bórd Pleanála, rather than to the local planning authority.

Such direct application is allowed if the board is satisfied, after consultations with the prospective applicant, that the ‘seventh schedule’ development would be of strategic or social importance to the State or its region; or would contribute substantially to the National Spatial Strategy, or regional planning guidelines; or would have a significant effect on the area of more than one planning authority. (Section 37A.2)

During this period, of consultation, the Board gives advice to the prospective applicant about whether the development would fit within these criteria. Also it may, looking ahead, advise on the planning application and consideration of application, procedures and more specifically, the considerations “related to proper planning and sustainable development or the environment,” that could, in its opinion, have a bearing on an eventual decision in relation to the application. (Section 37B.3)

According to the Bórd Pleanála website , pre-application consultation is still the position, or case type, of the Bremore development. If the Board decides that it would fall outside the criteria, then a written notice of such will be served on Bremore Ireland Port Ltd. and its application would then have to be made to the local planning authority. If it makes the opposite decision it will serve a positive written notice and the company can then, if it wishes, request that the Board give an opinion, also in writing, on what information it will have to include in its environmental impact statement (EIS). (Sections 37B.4, 37D.1) This statement must accompany the subsequent application for planning permission. (Section 37E.1)

Assuming the latter outcome, prior notice of the application to the Board and a prepared EIS, must be published in one, or more, local newspapers, specifying the times, places and period (at least 6 weeks) at and during which copies can be inspected, or purchased. Submissions and observations relating to “the implications of the proposed development for proper planning and sustainable development,” and “the likely effects on the environment of the proposed development, if carried out,“ can be made to the Board during this specified period. (Section 37E.3)

The factors that the Board must consider before making its decision on the application are set out, in full, in Section 37G.2, and include the submitted EIS, any submissions and observations made and any other relevant information on the likely impact on proper planning, sustainable development and the environment.

3. Why do we object?

(a) The area that would be affected is too important to lose under development.

Although it is probable that some, as yet unspecified, accommodation will be made for the national monuments on the ground surface, this is only part of the tale. It is also probable that the tombs were just one feature of an extensive ceremonial landscape, the remains of which are still underground. To quote, once again, Professor George Eogan; “the area on both sides of the Delvin River from Gormanston to Bremore is a large Megalithic cemetery dating from 3,500BC.”

Preservation only by record means the destruction of archaeological sites and evidence, which could be more fully analysed and understood by future generations.

(b) The need for a new deep water port is not there.

The thrust for port expansion is based, firstly, on the recent, rapid growth in the Irish Economy. A sizeable part of the increased pressure on the ports was due to importation of construction materials, but this boom is now gone and the country is significantly over-housed for its population size.

It is based, secondly, on a forecast of and a need for, future economic growth, what George Monbiot recently referred to as “the central immortality project of western society“. This is the way that things have always been, but, unfortunately, it is no longer possible. The world is running out of raw materials and more especially, the driver of production, consumption and port trade; oil. As prices inevitably rise more sources, in Canada and Russia for example, may become viable, but at atrocious cost to the atmosphere and environment. In reference to the Canadian resource, a recent article in the Times stated that; ”extracting each barrel of crude from the sticky mass of sand, clay and bitumen produces two to three times as much CO2 as drilling for a barrel of conventional oil.”

Even if you can accept this scenario as sustainable and allow the conclusions of the aforementioned Indecon report, the need is not immediate; 2020 to 2025 at the earliest. Time enough, surely, to identify and develop several, less harmful, alternative port sites.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world…?”