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Planning Update: Overdue Legislative Reform of Offshore Planning Process Finally on the Horizon

28 August 2019

The General Scheme of the Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) Bill, formerly known as the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill has been published. We set out below a summary of some of the key points to note from the MPDM.

With great power...

It includes a power for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to issue marine planning guidelines to public bodies and that public bodies will be required to adhere to those guidelines in the performance of their functions. This is similar to the power of the Minister to issue planning guidelines for onshore development under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Maritime Area development

The Maritime Area is to be defined to include the:

  • Sea and tidal areas of the internal waters of the State
  • Territorial sea of the State
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the State, and
  • Continental Shelf of the State

Development in the territorial sea, EEZ and on the continental shelf will require consent from An Bord Pleanála (the Board) whereas development in a new “nearshore” area will require the consent of the planning/local authorities. It is proposed to define a new area called “nearshore” for each coastal local authority.

An Bord Pleanála will then be responsible for certain classes of development within the entire Maritime Area and for most offshore development beyond the nearshore.

Planning Interest

The relevant responsible Minister will be enabled to grant a planning interest for a specified development in a specified part of the maritime area which will allow an application for planning consent to be made to the planning authority or the Board as appropriate (the Planning Interest). The Planning Interest will be time limited and is intended to ensure that proposed developers have the financial and technical capabilities to complete projects. Planning Interest and marine consenting responsibilities will be designated between Ministers for different developments and activities. Offshore renewable energy activities will be the responsibility of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Where there is more than one application for the grant of a Planning Interest in respect of the same part of the maritime area, the interest may be auctioned among the applicants concerned by means of a tender process limited to those applicants.

There will be a new single State approval for the entire Maritime Area which will manage the occupation of the maritime area rather than the development consent approvals which will be managed within the planning system.

Granting Maritime Area consent

The relevant Minister will only be permitted to grant a Maritime Area consent if he or she has previously granted a Planning Interest, if required, and the applicant has been granted development consent. Maritime Area consent is required for any development in the Maritime Area apart from certain limited circumstances provided in the Bill.

If in the opinion of the Government a specified activity is of economic, social or environmental importance to the State, it may designate any part of the Maritime Area for the establishment of a strategic zone to facilitate the activity in question. This is known as the Strategic Marine Activity Zone

Development in a Strategic Marine Activity Zone

The Board will be obliged to grant permission for an application for a development in a Strategic Marine Activity Zone where it is satisfied that the development, if carried out in accordance with the application or subject to any conditions which the Board may attach to a permission, would be consistent with any marine planning scheme in force for the zone in question.

Conversely no permission shall be granted for any development which would not be consistent with a relevant marine planning scheme.

The MPDM will provide the flexibility required to allow for both a ‘centralised’ and ‘decentralised’ approach to the development of offshore electricity grid connections.

Conclusion

Details of the proposed legislative reform of the offshore consenting process have been long awaited. The detailed nature of the General Scheme of the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill is most welcome.

The enactment of the MPDM in primary legislation by the Oireachtas needs to be progressed as quickly as possible to ensure offshore renewables play their full part in the achievement of Ireland’s ambitious 2030 targets including the connection to the grid of at least 3.5 GW of offshore wind.

For more information about the MPDM, please contact a member of our Energy & Utilities or Planning & Environment teams. 


The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

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