Harbour board changes tack to put port expansion on trackAugust 14, 2012 - 8:34am
GALWAY Harbour Board has ‘changed tack’ on the way in which it plans to submit its application for the redevelopment of Galway Port.
The ‘new way’, it says, increases the chances of the larger extended port being granted planning permission and decreases the prospects of the project being delayed by complex legal arguments in Europe.
The Harbour Board has confirmed to the Sentinel that it has decided to apply for the port development to be progressed for “Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI)” rather than through the ‘traditional’ route it had originally envisaged.
It is choosing this route – one which has never before been tried in Ireland but which has worked for similar port developments in sensitive ecological areas in UK and Europe – partly in order to avoid the kind of lengthy delays experienced by the proponents of the Galway City Outer Bypass, which is currently before the European Court of Justice.
Under the IROPI route, the Harbour Board concede that the development of the new port will have an impact on the ecology of the site at inner Galway Bay, a designated European Natura 2000 habitat.
But, crucially, the Harbour Board’s Environmental Impact Statement, which is complete, will argue that the proposed development will have no “significant” ecological impact on Galway Bay, and it provides that any loss of Habitat in the Natura site is compensated for at another suitable location.
The IROPI route, which comes under Article 6 (4) of the Habitats Directive as opposed to the traditional route of Article 6 (3), does mean the planning application for the development will be delayed due to ongoing consultations with the Environment Minister, An Bórd Pleanála, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the European Commission.
“We had envisaged that the planning application would have been lodged (this Friday) August 17, but because of discussions with the European Commission and National Parks and Wildlife Service, we decided to review the scope of the planning application. There will be a short delay, but it is a delay we believe that will lessen the delay long-term in terms of actually getting the planning application,” said Harbour Board CEO Éamon Bradshaw.
Because this is the first occasion in Ireland that a body or organisation has applied for IROPI status, the exact procedures of how it will pan out is unknown as yet but the decision on whether Galway Port should be considered IROPI will be taken by the Environment Minister in consultation with the European Commission.
Mr Bradshaw says applying for planning under Article 6 (4) rather than the traditional Article 6 (3) increases the chances of the project succeeding to construction stages.
He said the city bypass, and other Strategic Infrastructure Developments, went through the traditional route but have been delayed and caught up in legal procedure.
“What we are saying is that, under the traditional route, similar to what happened with the bypass, there could be judicial reviews and it could then go to Europe. What we have done is reviewed the planning application after extensive consultations and we believe the Port should be progressed as IROPI,” he said.
Under IROPI the Harbour Board admits there will be an impact on the ecology of the site, he said.
“It would be impossible to argue otherwise. If you are going to build on a land mass of 27 hectares, we couldn’t argue it wouldn’t have an impact even if it is only .3% of the total ecological habitat. But what we will argue strongly, and what our Environmental Impact Statement says, is that the impact on the site form an ecological point of view is minimal,” he said.
For more on this see page 3 of The Sentinel