It’s Christmas… and Leitrim CDP time!

Leitrim County Councillors decide policies on fracking.  

Members of GEAI (in particular Aedín and Eddie) have been really busy this month. The first (pre) draft version of Leitrim County Development Plan, which was not at public consultation stage, was given by the officials to our Councillors and, needless to say, copies managed to find their way into the hands of some campaigners. We were dismayed – a whole section on “Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction” and the wording amounted to a pathway to fracking. No ban on fracking, emphasis on hydraulic fracturing rather than the whole life cycle of unconventional gas development and no mention of Health Impact Assessment (HIA).

What to do? Obviously, all campaigners against fracking would like to see a ban on the whole process. Many kept calling for this and said that nothing less would suffice. However, the Council officials, backed up by legal advice and the results of a court case in Mayo where a ban on mining was disallowed, insisted that the Plan could not include a straightforward ban.
So – members of GEAI and others went about the situation in a different way.

Campaigners insisting on a ban were asked to research the issue and come up with a way to include a complete ban in the Plan.
An alternative view was that if a ban could be included, that would be great. However, if a ban could NOT be included or could be overturned in the future by a Minister, policies had to be put in place that would, as much as possible, safeguard communities and the environment from any adverse impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration or Extraction (UGEE).

 This major task was taken on – the background to the Development Plan was researched and a paper was produced that summarised the background to the situation in Ireland at the moment regarding shale gas and made sure everything relevant was included in the introductory section; various people and organisations were consulted and policies were then worded that, in the view of those involved, went as far as possible to prevent any UGEE projects taking place.

Information sessions and discussions were held with Councillors to make sure that they understood and agreed with what was being proposed.
The main policies proposed in the paper can be summarised as follows:

  • Precautionary principle on all proposals for UGEE projects/operations (this includes preparatory work and deep drilling) where risks are not “determined with sufficient certainty”.
  • Comprehensive HIA on national policy and on local UGEE proposals.
  • No UGEE projects/operations unless “it is scientifically and credibly demonstrated that those projects can be undertaken sustainably whilst also fully protecting the environment and human health”.

Constant contact was kept with Councillors from all parties throughout the process. The paper was also scrutinised by Council Officials.  Our understanding is that all the policies suggested may not be accepted (for various reasons) but significantly, a Health Impact Assessment may now be included. The final draft will be debated by Leitrim County Council on 16th January and will then go forward for public consultation.

The Public will have until end March 2014 to make submissions on the draft Plan.

Full text of submitted paper CLICK HERE

Leitrim County Development Plan 2015 – 2021

Leitrim is in the middle of making its Plan

The making of the Council Development Plan is one of the most important functions of the County Councillors as responsibility for making the Plan, including the various policies and objectives contained within it, rests with the elected members as a reserved function under section 12 of the Act.

Because Leitrim is targeted for unconventional gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the making of the County Development Plan 2015 – 2021 is of great interest to GEAI, other organisations campaigning against fracking, and the wider public.

It is vital that the section on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction reflects the concerns of the public concerning unconventional gas developments. The Councillors have been advised by the officials that a simple ban on fracking cannot be put into the Development Plan; this is being disputed, especially as Donegal County Councillors have already inserted a ban in their Plan. Advice given to the council is that a ban can be overturned by the Minister. Also, the case of Mayo County Council is also quoted, where a judge ruled against a blanket ban on mining.

GEAI considers that, whether or not a ban on fracking is specifically included in the Development Plan, it is essential to also include some very strong policies to safeguard Leitrim communities from fracking. Such processes as Health Impact Assessment and the application of the Precautionary Principle can be used to prevent short-term proposals to exploit shale gas, causing contamination of our air and waters and damaging the health of people and animals.

Leitrim County Councillors have a difficult task ahead of them. The section on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction must satisfy the public’s need for protection from the environmental and social damage caused by unconventional gas development while “taking on board and implementing relevant national and regional policies” (see below).

WE WISH THEM EVERY SUCCESS IN THIS ENDEAVOUR!

Progress of the Plan is as follows:
December ‘13:
The Plan is at first draft stage – the officials have produced a first draft which can be considered and amended by the Councillors, but must be voted on by mid-January.
Late January ’14:
Officials prepare draft with amendments
February:
Draft goes for public consultation, submissions invited from public (10 weeks)
April:
Officials prepare Managers Report on any submissions or observations
July:
Councillors consider Managers Report. Councillors may accept or amend the draft.
September:
Advertise any material alteration of draft
October:
Submissions on material alterations invited. (4 weeks)
November:
New Manager’s Report prepared
December:
Councillors consider Manager’s Report
January ‘15: Plan published.

BACKGROUND TO THE COUNTY DEVELOPMENT PLAN

The Department of Environment “Guidelines for Planning Authorities, June 2007” provides a good overview of the purpose of the Development Plan and the role of elected members and Local Authority officials. The following gives short snapshots of some content of interest to us:

Role of Development Plan

“The plan creates the vision for the area it covers, specifies the type, amount and quality of development needed to achieve that vision and seeks to protect and enhance the environment and amenities.”

Role of members (Councillors):

“Members must have an active and driving role in the entire process, from its inception to its finalisation. They must listen to and take account of the views and wishes of the communities they represent. They must adopt the development plan at the end of the process. ..Crucially, there is an onus on elected members and the executive to fulfil their responsibilities and functions in the common interest, adhering to proper planning principles and facilitating the sustainable development of their area.”

Supporting National Policies

“Development Plans should take on board and implement relevant national and regional policies in a manner consistent with the NSS and regional guidelines if the planning system as a whole is to function effectively. The Development Plan must be part of a systematic hierarchy of land use and spatial plans, including the National Spatial Strategy and regional planning guidelines. It must also be informed by the plans and strategies of the Government and other public agencies in general.”

“It is important that development plans fully support national policies so that all local authorities play their full part in the achievement of national objectives.”

Protecting the Environment

“The Development Plan will set out policies for the protection of the environment and heritage and is an important source of information for landowners, developers, communities and members of the public in this regard.”

“Local authorities have a key role to play in regard to preserving the natural heritage of their areas arising from the legal responsibilities placed on them and from the increasing public awareness of the importance of nature conservation at local level.”

Sustainable Development

“Sustainable development means ensuring that all development is sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms. As such, the development plan must offer clear guidance on sustainable development policies and objectives, both national and local, which address the various issues involved, such as climate change, waste management, transport, urban development, sustainable communities, use of natural resources etc.”

“Accommodating new development needs in an environmentally sustainable manner is a key way in which development plans can contribute to the achievement of sustainability.”

Public Consultation

“Councils should also actively involve citizens in the whole process of making the plan, especially those who may not normally contribute or engage in the process. Councils should consider innovative methods to encourage as wide a public consultation as possible. It is vital that, from an early stage, as much public and political consensus is built around the strategic direction the new plan is to take.”

“While section 11(2)(c) of the Act does not specifically require the preparation of background papers at the pre-draft stage, the compilation of a single, over-arching and concise “Issues Paper” to accompany the initial notification that a new development plan is to be prepared, is strongly recommended at that stage as a means of presenting key information on strategic planning and heritage issues and inviting public submissions on differing policy approaches.”

Leitrim should follow Donegal’s example

How has Donegal prevented fracking while Leitrim is advised that a ban is not feasible?  READ ON…

The Leitrim County Development Plan 2015 – 2021 is at draft stage and does not in its present version impose a ban on fracking. At present, its policy on mineral and extrative industries (Policy 69) is “”It is the policy of the Council to promote the mineral, gas and oil extractive industries where such development does not adversely impact on the environment, existing infrastructure and the amenity value of neighbouring lands.”

It is the view of GEAI members that this policy statement is not strong enough and does not give the message that proposals for fracking in Leitrim will not be allowed to go ahead.

It has a section (3.7.12.9) that emphasises the “significant public concern in respect to the social, economic and environmental impacts that may be associated with hydrocarbon exploration and extraction by means of fracking.” The piece goes on to talk about adopting the precautionary principle in respect of development where significant environmental implications are involved…  It also points out the wish of the Council to “Safeguard and nurture the ‘unspoilt/green’ image and reputation of Leitrim…”

Is this enough? We do not think so – the issue of Fracking is far too serious to be addressed by generalised comments on “image and reputation”, no matter how well-meaning.  In New Brunswick, there were many discussions that focussed on precautionary principles, but these have not stopped fracking from commencing (Chief Medical Officer’s Report).

The Councillors have had advice both from the County Manager and outside legal advisor that Councils cannot put into their Development Plan policies that go against Government policies.  The absence of a national policy on Fracking is considered to be an indication that it cannot be banned unilaterally.  However, Donegal County Council have managed to get around that problem.  They have inserted the following policy statement into their Development Plan:

“It is a policy of Donegal County Council that the process of Hydraulic Fracturing (or fracking) will not be permitted within the County of Donegal. Therefore, this Council will not allow the intrusive shale gas extraction practices.”

What this does is specify the process of hydraulic fracturing in Donegal ONLY.  This is very clever.  By focussing on the process in its own territory, it is not contravening Government policy, while (of course) completely preventing the shale gas industry from operating in Donegal, since they cannot do that without hydraulic fracturing!

LEITRIM COUNTY COUNCIL SHOULD FOLLOW DONEGAL’S EXAMPLE.

COPYRIGHT

® All rights reserved to GEAI 2018