A project to protect the landscape and improve planning decisions nationally is to be piloted in the Tara Skryne valley, Co Meath. It will be carried out by the Heritage Council in conjunction with Meath County Council, who will develop a landscape management plan and designate a landscape conservation area.
Initial funding of €25,000 is being provided by the Heritage Council and the local authority. Further funding is expected from the Department of the Environment next year. The end cost is expected to be about €125,000.
The project will begin in the autumn and is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months, by which time the Highway will be completed. It will examine current and potential land use and develop a plan for the area. The project will have community input and will be led by Meath county council. It is unclear what is meant by “community input,” given the Irish Government’s record in implementing its own laws and regulations with regard to developments which it favours.
In Corrib, to give one relevant example, the Department of the Environment has granted permission to the Shell Oil to construct a key section of onshore pipeline without approval from An Bord Pleanála under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.
Shell EP Ireland and its consultants RPS had said earlier this summer that the entire onshore section would be submitted to An Bord Pleanála under the new fast-tracking legislation, apart from two estuary crossings which are regarded as “marine” and come under the Foreshore Act.
However, the Department of the Environment has stated that a high-pressure section at the Glengad landfall which runs under Dooncarton Mountain, location of a 2003 landslide, and across a public beach used by locals and tourists is “exempted” from planning approval under the Planning and Development Act 2000. Clearly, the Government is quite willing to exempt multinational corporations from planning procedures in order to facilitate the opening up of Ireland’s resources to exploitation.
In the Tara / Skryne Valley, the Lismullen Monument, which was a designated National Monument, is to be buried underneath the M3 Highway. The 2004 National Monuments Act grants the Minister for the Environment the right to order a monument’s demolition after an excavation. Since the Lismullen Monument was undiscovered (according to the official story) until shortly before the offical commencement of works at the Highway, it is a fair bet that there are other monuments, which lie undiscovered around the Tara – Skrene Valley. These will be excavated, and demolished in their turn, to open up the Tara / Skrene Valley to whatever form of development is planned for the valley.
Heritage Council chief executive Michael Starrett described the landscape project as an important step towards the realisation of a national landscape strategy. “Landscape management is about accommodating change and development. It provides a much more holistic approach than the current model, to planning how we manage and develop the landscape where we live. It enables local communities to play an essential role in managing their own area, and has been very successful when introduced in other European countries.”
He said the project was about finding a successful model that could be applied to special landscapes across the State and another pilot was planned for the Burren, details of which will be announced later in the year.Separate studies published last year by the Heritage Council and Fáilte Ireland concluded there was an urgent need for clear guidelines on land use.
The studies also found that Ireland was the only country in Western Europe that had not specifically legislated for managing landscape on a national level. It is unclear whether the Heritage Council scheme will substitute for such legislation, or whether legislation will follow as a result. If there is no legislation, then the Heritage Council guidelines are not legally binding. According to Tarawatch, the Heritage Council recommended in 2002 that a national programme of Landscape Characterisation be undertaken. Draft guidelines prepared by the Department of Environment on landscape characterisation, which would have prevented this entire controversy, have been in circulation since 2000, and are only now being implemented. The essentials of this Tara Management Plan were urged by Mr. Starrett, at the Oireachtas Environment Committee in 2004, long before the public-private partnership contract for the highway was signed, and the decision to build the M3 in the middle of the landscape could have been easily altered. In fact, many of the same protections were already written into the two previous Meath County Development Plans, and have never enforced by Meath County Council. As a result, this announcement is a fine piece of publi relations, without meaning or operative substance.