General Scheme of the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill: Discussion

We will commence pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the marine planning and development management Bill. From the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage we are joined in person by Mr. Conor McCabe and Mr. Bernard Nolan, with Mr. Tom Woolley joining remotely off campus. From the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications we are joined on campus via video link by Ms Martina Hennessy and Ms Anne-Marie Clancy. The opening statements have been circulated to members as well as slides from last week's briefing, along with the briefing material received from the Library and Research Service.

I welcome and thank the witnesses for their attendance. I will ask the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make its opening statement and will then ask the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to make its contribution. Members will then be invited to ask their questions. If we can keep it to five minutes for the first round of questioning, we will get around the room, once or twice.

Witnesses attending in the committee room are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentations they make to the committee. This means that they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Chairman to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction.

For witnesses and members attending remotely, there are some limitations on parliamentary privilege and as such they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of the proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons, or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

The opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on the Oireachtas website after this meeting. I invite Mr. McCabe to make an opening statement on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting the Department to meet with the committee to discuss the marine planning and development management Bill.

I am the principal officer in the Department's marine planning policy and legislation unit. I am accompanied by Mr. Bernard Nolan, assistant principal and, by video link, Mr. Tom Woolley, marine planning adviser, both of whom are also members of the unit.

In order to support a marine that Ireland can use, enjoy and benefit from socially, environmentally and economically, the Government is putting in place a comprehensive new approach which will result in the biggest reform of marine governance in a century. Two key work programmes for which my unit has responsibility are the national marine planning framework, NMPF, which sets out overarching and sectoral planning policies to shape marine development and activities to 2040, and the proposed marine planning and management Bill, which underpins the new planning system. As the Bill is a key enabler of Ireland’s decarbonisation goals, the programme for Government has committed to prioritising the passage of this balanced and Aarhus-compliant Bill through the Oireachtas by April.

The maritime area comprises approximately 490,000 sq. km and extends eastward in excess of 200 nautical miles in parts. This area is seven times our land area: Ireland is 85% water. The current marine consent system only covers the foreshore area, which covers some 12 nautical miles offshore. A planning system generally comprises three main elements: forward planning, development management and enforcement. The existing system lacks coherence and consistency. There is no forward planning framework, multiple development management systems are operating independently and enforcement is fragmented. This Bill is the State’s vanguard response to the pressing need for reform of marine governance. The draft Bill gives legal underpinning to an entirely new marine planning system for a coherent, end-to-end forward planning, development management and enforcement regime.

Our marine planning system will move towards being plan-led through the NMPF. The NMPF is a parallel document to the national planning framework, NPF. Both of these spatial plans are concerned with the long-term future of our land and sea areas and with identifying opportunities for protection, growth and development so that our land and marine areas can be managed in the best interests of the public. The NPF recognises the importance of integration and co-ordination with the land planning regime at national, regional and local levels.

In future, it will be equally important in turn that national, regional and local terrestrial plans are consistent with the NMPF, and they will be required to do so under the provisions of the proposed Bill. Many activities and uses that take place on land or in the sea can have impacts on the land and the maritime area. This Bill will require that these interactions be considered. This Bill provides for strategic marine activity zones. Any Minister can bring forward zone designation proposals, subject to public participation and collective Government decision. Once approved, the zone becomes part of the NMPF. This ensures there is a joined-up approach to marine forward planning, with binding considerations for decision makers.

The proposed Bill will replace the antiquated Foreshore Act 1933 with a new maritime area consent, MAC, to manage the occupation of the maritime area. This means that a MAC will be issued by the relevant Minister. On receipt of the MAC, a developer can then, and only then, proceed to An Bord Pleanála or a local authority for planning permission as appropriate. This streamlines the application process into a two-stage procedure. This sequential regime, with clearly delineated roles for Ministers and planning authorities, streamlines the existing disjointed system and ensures a single environmental assessment. Following a recent decision by the Government, an independent enforcement body will be established to assume the marine planning enforcement role. The Department is currently reviewing advice from the Office of the Attorney General concerning the establishment of this agency and will update the Bill accordingly.

The pillars of the Aarhus Convention are the foundation on which the marine planning and development management Bill regime stands. Effective and meaningful public participation is a fundamental feature of the new regime at policy and project levels. Participation at a policy level maximises the opportunities for the public to influence how decisions are made. Pre-application requirements ensure visibility of projects and early consideration of issues by developers.

Established planning procedures provide the formal engagement opportunity in the context of comprehensive project information.

Marine planning and development management will deliver a better planned and better managed maritime area, with a co-ordinated, inclusive and coherent approach to decision-making and governance, including the long-term vision for proper management, enforcement and environmental protection of our seas. I thank the committee members for their interest, and we are happy to answer their questions.

Ms Martina Hennessy

I thank the committee for the opportunity to provide some context on the importance of the marine planning and development management Bill for the offshore renewable energy sector. I am the principal officer in the offshore energy environment and consenting unit of the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications. I am accompanied today by Anne-Marie Clancy, who is an assistant principal in the unit.

The Government has committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, which was recently published, will commit Ireland in law to move to a climate resilient and climate-neutral economy by 2050.

The target of delivering 70% of Ireland’s electricity by 2030 from renewable sources will play a key role in delivering on our overall energy and climate targets. Onshore wind, which supplied almost one third of electricity in 2019, has underpinned recent progress in greening our electricity supply, with renewables accounting for 38% of electricity generated in 2019. The programme for Government has further increased the level of ambition, committing to 5 GW capacity in offshore wind by 2030 off Ireland’s eastern and southern coasts. It also includes a commitment to explore the longer-term potential for at least 30 GW of floating wind in the Atlantic.

As our colleagues said, our sea area is seven times our land area, one of the largest sea-to-land ratios of any EU state. Consequently, the offshore wind sector has very significant potential to substantially contribute to meeting our energy and climate needs. Targets set out under EU Green Deal and recently published offshore energy strategy affirm this direction, with increased focus on the potential offered by technology developments in the areas of wind, wave, tidal energy and green hydrogen.

Investment required to meet the 5 GW target by 2030 is estimated to be of the order of €10 billion. This has the potential to deliver many high-quality jobs, while also contributing towards the sustainable growth of our economy.

Offshore renewable energy, ORE, projects typically take eight to ten years from inception through planning and development to become operational. Certainty and stability are crucial for triggering the significant levels of upfront investment required for these large-scale projects. The delivery of a streamlined, modern and up-to-date regulatory planning framework is one of the essential steps to enable this and is a priority for this Department.

We have been working closely with colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the development of the marine planning and development management Bill. In tandem, we are building out the State consenting process that will be required for the ORE sector.

We believe the approach set out offers a robust regime for the effective management of our significant maritime resources, while ensuring appropriate protections for the marine environment, with public consultation a fundamental feature. The provisions specific to ORE will enable the transition to a plan-led regime in the long term, while also enabling projects that have been initiated under the current foreshore regime to progress under the marine planning and development management Bill.

It is important to note that these relevant projects will be required to apply separately for both marine area consent and planning permission under the proposed new regime. These applications will require full assessment against all financial, technical and environmental standards, with public consultation and environmental assessment key components at the planning permission stage.

We view the proposals within this Bill, taken together with the marine spatial planning work being progressed by Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as offering significant advantages in moving to a planned, holistic approach to the sustainable development of our marine resources. In this context, it is important to note that strategic marine activity zones can allow for shared use by different sectors. In the case of ORE, we can learn from the many successful examples in Europe of a range of marine activities coexisting alongside wind farm developments.

The sharing of information and constructive engagement by all marine users will be critical to achieving this coexistence and this Department is fully committed to initiatives in this area, including those proposed to engage with fishing communities in the first instance.

In summary, the offshore renewable energy, ORE, sector offers significant potential for greening our energy supply and meeting our climate goals while also enabling the sustainable growth of our economy. The timely establishment of a robust, transparent and effective planning regime for our maritime resource is essential to enable the ORE sector to become established while also improving the management and protection of our valuable offshore resources. That concludes my statement and we are happy to respond to any questions the committee might have.

I welcome our guests and thank them for the briefings we received in advance of the meeting. It is important to say, on behalf of the Government, that this is a key commitment in the programme for Government and how we tackle climate action. Much human activity has an impact on our environment and there is a balance of compromises in many ways. If we are to continue our current level of human activity on the planet, we will have to look for ways for it to be sustainable. Offshore renewable energy is one of the key ways we can do this. Inevitably, there will be compromise but any such compromise would be far better than many of the fossil-led ways in which we have provided energy to our society.

This legislation will also provide major opportunity for Ireland. The operations in the UK have approximately 15% or 16% of all ORE activity on the planet, so we can see the potential for a small island nation like Ireland to be able to tap into a renewable resource. Not only do I welcome it, I encourage the Departments to do everything in their power to ensure the programme for Government commitment to legislate for this within the first year is realised. We must do our bit as well.

There are areas of some concern. How will the projects picked for the transitional period be dealt with? The second question relates to community benefit. It is a concept that is well understood by many public representatives and often there is an immediate impact. For an offshore project like this, it is harder to define what is a community. Does a visual detraction necessarily mean there must be a community benefit for the area? Should it be a community benefit for the State in how it uses energy? There are no hard and fast guidelines but I know in Scotland there is a figure of 20% that is used.

My last question relates to the 18-week period. Is there some discussion that this could perhaps be pushed to 26 weeks or is the Department opposed to that?

Mr. Conor McCabe

We will address the third question if our colleagues address the first two parts of the contribution.

Ms Martina Hennessy

Relevant projects have been designated as part of the transition and it is important to note that they have already been involved with significant work over a number of years in the Irish Sea. The transition protocol was simply put in place to provide certainty for how they now progress to the Bill's regime. They will still have to go through a full assessment, both under marine area consent and as part of the planning permission application made to An Bord Pleanála, assuming this Bill is enacted.

The fact that they have been designated as these transitionary relevant projects just provides some certainty that the work they have already undergone as part of the foreshore regime will count towards them entering into the process that will be put in place for this Bill. That will involve full financial and technical assessment as part of the marine area consent. An Bord Pleanála will assess all the environmental aspects, which covers the questions raised by the Deputy.

The designation as a transition project does not confer any particular advantage on these applications other than that they can go through the planning system and that we recognise the work the applicants have already done under the foreshore regime.

I will ask my colleague, Ms Clancy, to take the Deputy's second question on community benefit.

Ms Anne-Marie Clancy

The programme for Government notes the need to bring communities with us as new energy infrastructure is installed. It also states that we will do this to ensure that community energy can play a role in reaching at least 70% of our renewable electricity, including ensuring there is a community benefit fund in respect of onshore and offshore renewable energy. All offshore wind developments will be supported via the offshore renewable electricity scheme. These developments will all be required to establish community benefit funds prior to the project operation. Owing to the larger scale of offshore wind developments, their contributions are similarly expected to be significantly larger than those of onshore projects. To ensure good governance and effective disbursement of these funds to the local marine and coastal communities, a good practice principles handbook will be published by the Minister. This handbook will add to the renewable electricity support scheme terms and conditions and firmly establish local community participation in all fund decision-making.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

I will take the question on the 18-week timeframe. The 18-week timeframe is what is currently in place for strategic infrastructure on land. Some consideration was given to whether a 26-week period would be more realistic, but we have not identified or firmed up a timeframe on that.

The Department is not opposed to it at this point.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

To extending the timeframe to 26 weeks?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

No. We just have not nailed it down. Having an 18-week target is only one element of ensuring that developments are considered properly and fully. A number of key enablers in respect of the national marine planning framework - the framework itself, the plan, the guidelines and the spatial platform - will help make stronger applications, and the stronger an application is the better and quicker it can go through the system. In addition, there will be early engagement of developers before they even come to the MAC stage with impacted stakeholders to make sure that issues arise early and can be identified and dealt with early rather than later in the process. Likewise, there will be a formal pre-application process with the board, where the developer engages with the board to determine precisely what should go into an application. There are responsibilities on the State and on developers in ensuring that a development is properly assessed in a timely manner.

I thank both Departments for their presentations. I will start with just a comment and then ask five specific questions. I might have some additional questions in the next round if we get to it.

This is once-in-a-generation legislation. It seeks to put in place a comprehensive planning regime for foreshore and deepshore. It is the single longest piece of legislation I have ever dealt with, which means we have a particularly onerous responsibility to make sure we scrutinise it fully and get it right. It is important to emphasise that this is not just about wind but about how we treat our entire marine area. Therefore, it is not just about windfarms but also about aquaculture, fisheries, biodiversity - all those activities. It is probably unfortunate - and it is no criticism of anyone here - that we are dealing with the planning Bill before we have considered the planning framework in terms of the process because the planning framework, if I understand it right, is the overarching context within which any planning legislation and planning decision would have to take place. It is important Members understand that we have a legal obligation to produce that planning framework by March of this year. Part of that includes having both a spatial and a temporal plan for the marine within which decisions such as decisions on planning applications can then be made. In that context, my questions are as follows.

There is some concern that the marine planning framework in its draft form is not fully compliant with the marine spatial planning directive, particularly Article 8.1 of the directive, to have a spatial and temporal plan for the marine.

How satisfied are both Departments that when the final marine plan is in place, it will fully comply with the directive, particularly Article 8.1?

I have raised a concern before with respect to the marine protected areas. We were meant to have 10% by this year but we have chronically failed to do that and we have a very ambitious target of 30% by 2030. Can the witnesses update us on progress?

In the absence of having properly designed marine planning areas, in parallel with the planning legislation, what is the potential for conflicts of interest between applications for wind farms, for example, and concern over marine biodiversity in what could be marine protected areas? Could these conflicts end up in judicial review thus delaying, for example, some of the seven transitional projects or other projects after that?

I am very concerned about the consent process and the absence of an environmental impact assessment, EIA, and public consultation. Have the witnesses been given advice by the Attorney General to say that the non-inclusion of environmental impact assessments and public consultations in the consent decision complies with both the Aarhus Convention and the EIA directive? Can they explain why fishing and aquaculture have not been covered in the general scheme? Is there an intention to include deep-sea mining and liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminals?

Finally, when will the report of Dr. Tasman Crowe will be published? The Department and the Minister have seen it but we, the public and other organisation with a vested interest have not. The report is materially relevant to a lot of these discussions.

Mr. Conor McCabe

There were a lot of questions there and we will try to work through them. I will take the questions on marine protected areas and on fishing and aquaculture. My colleague, Mr. Tom Woolley, will take the question on Article 8.1 and compliance, and Mr. Bernard Nolan will take the question on the consent process.

In terms of progress made with marine protected areas, it is not an area of my responsibility but my Department has responsibility for it. As the Deputy has rightly said, a report has been submitted to my Minister by an expert group chaired by Dr. Tasman Crowe. He is considering the report with a view to publishing it for public consultation in the short term, that is, within the next couple of months, I gather. On the back of that public consultation, the expectation is that legislation will follow in 2021.

In terms of fishing and aquaculture, fishing is a European competence so it would not be appropriate to put it into this regime. There is potential for aquaculture to come into this regime at a later date but that is a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The regime, as we have tried to construct it, is not just geared towards offshore wind, telecommunication cables, etc. It is geared so that any marine activity could come under this regime, which was very much at the forefront of our minds when we constructed it so aquaculture could well come in, in the foreseeable future.

What about liquefied natural gas, LNG, and deep-sea mining?

Mr. Conor McCabe

Deep-sea mining is not currently part of the Bill. I think that policy decisions will be made along those lines over the coming months. Just because something is not included in this Bill does not mean that it will not be included at a later date.

I will ask my colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to answer the question on LNG.

Ms Martina Hennessy

In terms of LNG, there is an energy security review being undertaken by my Department. A technical assessment piece must be undertaken initially and public consultation will follow. The outcomes of the energy security review will inform policy in a number of areas, including LNG. No decisions will be made on applications in that area until the security review has been completed and policy decisions have been made.

Deputy Ó Broin asked a question on Article 8.1 of the marine planning framework.

Mr. Tom Woolley

I thank the Chairman for welcoming us here today and I thank the Deputy for his question.

In terms of Article 8.1, the requirement is about setting up maritime spatial plans that identify the spatial and temporal distribution of relevant existing and future activities and uses in the marine waters.

We have worked extensively in developing a plan, first in the baseline report that identified the data and evidence to be used in constructing a plan and then in the draft plan, which was consulted on, with the consultation closing earlier this year. We have worked hard to include as much of that information as possible. One of the questions we asked during the consultation on the baseline report was exactly how spatial people wanted the plan to be. The overriding response we received was that people would prefer a strategic focused plan at this stage. While it is true that the plan does not include many varied spatial policies which state that in the next 20 years we want this activity in this exact space and that is how it is going to work, what we have done is respond to stakeholder direction and outline clearly, for the first time in Ireland, the distribution of the multiple activities that happen in Ireland's maritime area.

We worked very closely with the Marine Institute on a series of quite detailed and, in some cases, minute maps that appear in the MNPF. The aim of that and communicating the spatial distribution of those activities is to ensure that all users of the maritime area are aware of what is happening where. To support that effort further, we are working again with geographic information system, GIS, colleagues in our Department and the Marine Institute to develop a digital tool that will communicate those maps, which we hope to have in place to accompany the launch of the NMPF. Not only will we have the static maps that show distribution of activities in the maritime area in the PDF and paper version of the plan at the launch, we are also committing to ensuring that data is kept up to date in line with the plan. While the plan policies stay in place and they are relevant for the 20-year period of the plan, the best available data and spatial information that people could use in applying the plan in their decisions are updated regularly.

We hope that approach will address Article 8.1 thoroughly. We have been working closely with, and looking at the work of, other jurisdictions on this to inform how we approach spatial representation and support tools for marine spatial planning. We hope we are pursuing routes to ensure that we are meeting that Article. For the time being, at least, we are satisfied that we are meeting that requirement.

On Dr. Crowe's report and the Attorney General's advice on the EIA and consent-----

Can we come back to that, Deputy? We are way over time.

Senator Cummins is next.

I will be brief. I thank the witnesses for appearing before the committee and giving their presentation. As has been described, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set the framework that will ultimately guide our policy over the coming decades in this critical area. It will be responsible for delivering our renewable energy into the future and meeting our very ambitious targets in this area. I welcome the comment on the Bill that more items can be added into the future. It is not just for wind, even though that is the way it is being understood. With regard to the five relevant projects that have been picked, could the witnesses give me an idea of how they were arrived at? I am more interested in future projects and the pipeline of projects that exist that will ultimately be able to use this legislation in the future. I am from Waterford and there is an extensive plan for offshore wind energy between Helvick and Dunmmore East.

That plan is in process but where does it fit in with the next stage of this process and the timelines around that, which will be reflected in how long it takes us to get this legislation through the Houses? I would appreciate an outline of those projects and future projects.

Ms Martina Hennessy

I am happy to take that question. The five relevant projects the Senator referenced are very much the initial number of projects we see being necessary as part of a pipeline. If we are to reach the 5 GW target by 2030, more projects will be required because the current projects that have been identified will only deliver half of that target if they get through the full planning system but there are no guarantees of that. It is important we view that 2030 target as a milestone. It is not a ceiling or an endpoint. The ambition is that whenever this Bill is enacted we would see a range of projects progress through the planning system whereby there would be a staggered delivery of projects over a period up to 2030 and beyond. We would expect the current relevant projects if they begin to go through the planning process, if this Bill is enacted, start to come on line from around 2026 onwards.

There are a number of reasons the initial focus is on the east coast. The current technology that offers the best commercial opportunities is based on fixed turbines. The east coast has shallow water that is best suited to fixed turbine devices being installed. There is a necessity to be able to connect to the grid. While EirGrid is building out its roadmap to support the extension of offshore renewable energy projects it will primarily be focused on the east coast and then move on to the south coast over the next decade or so to enable connection to the grid.

The greatest demand is on the east coast. There are a number of reasons the developments are concentrated initially on the east coast. The south and west coasts, because they have deeper water, are more suited to different types of technology that are at the earlier stages of development such as floating wind power and there are also opportunities for tidal and wave energy. Those developments on those coasts will offer future development opportunity beyond 2030 to get into the export market.

We envisage the initial project would start to progress through the marine planning and development management, MPDM, regime, once the legislation is enacted. We are working on identifying the next batch of viable projects. That is an important consideration. We have to examine what has the potential to be delivered and become operational. We are still working through the criteria to identify what those projects in the next batch need to look like to progress through the planning system so that we would start to build this pipeline to enable delivery to 2030 and beyond. I hope that answers the Senator's question.

Has that work commenced on the next batch of projects? When will we see sight of those projects? It is the follow-on projects specifically that I am interested in and the timelines for those.

Ms Martina Hennessy

We are starting to work through the criteria for identifying those. In the next six to 12 months it will start to become clearer which projects fall into that group. Progress is still being made under the foreshore regime with the application for site investigation licences for projects. Work is still progressing on a number of fronts. I expect we will have more clarity in the next year on those.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for attending today and for their presentations. Anything that would help our environment should be encouraged and assisted. It was stated in one of the presentations that work is taking place with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and an energy review has been carried out of Ireland's energy requirements. Local Government and councils played their part in the planning framework to make houses more efficient, putting in air to water heat pumps, geothermal systems and solar panels.

When it comes to a lot of these systems such as air to water, it goes back to the energy reviews. The current air to water system within a housing system only covers a house up to roughly 2,000 sq. ft and after it is being said that three-phase electricity is needed. If one does not have that then one is backing up the heating system through the immersions and through the ESB. Energy ratings are fine on paper but when the temperatures drop below -2°C or -3°C, a lot of these air systems do not work as efficiently as they say they will on paper. The energy ratings seem to be based on a platform on which everything is nice and calm.

I welcome the investment in offshore and onshore wind generation. The witnesses are saying it is starting on the east coast and we see from the point of view of ratings that a lot of energy comes from fossil fuels. The hospitals and schools are on fossil fuels because there is no other alternative. We have worked out throughout the years that anything that is being upgraded is in a highly populated area, such as Dublin and the large cities. They seem to be getting the first run at this, even though the wind farms and so on are going up in the countryside, where we live and where they are visual to us. To me, it is in the rural areas that this should be provided because they are doing their bit by supplying the land and having to look at these wind farms. They should get the first bite at the cherry and get some rewards for what they are doing to help the likes of Dublin and the other areas. I would like to see the rural areas, where we are working with the Government to create energy, to get the good energy ratings. If I drive an electric vehicle, I have to travel 20 miles to get to the nearest plug-in point from where I am living so it is not viable for me. The wind farms are in the countryside and the rural areas.

From an energy point of view, it was said that our targets for this year are 10% and for 2030, they are 30%. Ambitiously, the target for 2050 is 70%. I believe that is ambitious, especially when I consider that we do not have the proper energy ratings that are wanted for this country. As ambitious as these targets are, I welcome them and I will do whatever I can that is within my power to help. I would like to see it spread throughout the countryside. Electricity is expensive at present and it is outweighing a lot of the costs for people to run on fossil fuels. If we are encouraging people to work with energy, we need to make it efficient. We do not want to have a one-stop-shop that can dictate prices to people who are making the changes towards electricity and are going a greener way.

Does someone from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications want to make a comment on energy requirements versus energy efficiency?

Ms Martina Hennessy

The Deputy's points are well made. What we have spoken about to date is just one aspect of work that is under way within the Department. We are looking primarily at the generation of renewable electricity, which is one component of the larger energy picture. The Deputy is correct that there are a lot of other aspects we have not referenced here.

On coastal communities and those in rural areas, we see huge potential with renewable energy projects to bring benefits through generating new jobs. For example, we know that one of the projects that is planning to go through the planning system on the east coast has designated Arklow as where it will base its operation and maintenance activities. That would generate 70 to 80 jobs, which would be high quality jobs. We see the industry offering that potential around coastal communities more broadly. Then there is the community benefit my colleague has already spoken about, where that fund will be set up and will look at benefiting the broader community. The details on that are still being developed. There are other initiatives within the Department that may be relevant here. A big one would be the retrofit programme, which is seeking to aid households in upgrading their homes in order that they can become more energy efficient.

The generation of renewable energy from clean and efficient sources is just one part of the story. There is also a lot of work going on in the Department in terms of grants to support households to become more energy efficient and to gain the benefits from reducing their energy costs over time. Those are some elements, but we can certainly get more information for the Deputy on any of those other programmes if he is interested in them.

I thank the witnesses for the presentation, which was very interesting. From what I have seen to date, the Bill will be transformative in the context of transitioning the way from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is an exciting prospect for the country. Going forward, this Bill will play a large role in making Ireland energy self-sufficient. Further ahead, we could become an energy exporter. Currently, my understanding is that we import approximately €6 billion worth of energy, but it might be higher now. Therefore, if we reverse importation, we can be in a position to create thousands of jobs that are sustainable. My question is a simple one: apart from the construction and maintenance of this energy supply, how much of the manufacturing side and the procurement of the turbines can be supplied here in Ireland? A lot of stuff will be imported, so how much can we provide?

Ms Martina Hennessy

There certainly is huge potential for job creation and for the sector to promote economic growth around the coast in regions away from the urban centres. We do not see it being realistic that we would get into the actual building of wind turbines in this country. We do not have that type of heavy industry. Neither do we have the expertise or knowledge that is available in certain countries that are world leaders in this area, but we do see huge potential work in deploying wind turbines. I refer to centres where the components are brought to be assembled and then taken offshore. There would be ongoing work in operations and maintenance where there would be ongoing job requirements. There is also the supply chain. Enterprise Ireland has been doing a lot of work in recent years to build up the SME sector where there are particular technical jobs and expertise in different areas to support the overall industry. Enterprise Ireland has been doing work to get those companies more involved in work in the UK, in advance of the industry taking off in this country, so that they build up some of the expertise and knowledge. There are opportunities on a range of fronts that would benefit regions and coastal communities in particular.

Mr. Conor McCabe

A development plan is being devised at the moment. Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth 2 is the second iteration of it, the first dating to 2013. It seeks to capture opportunities and interventions that the State could perhaps make in developing activities around the coast, including offshore renewable energy among others. The Department is working closely with the Marine Institute on this. We hope to find a point of interaction between the spatial and investment in the same way that Project Ireland 2040 has worked so cohesively in that regard. The next iteration of this will be regional plans where we can look at aspects of that. We have a relatively new industry being brought to the country in offshore renewable energy and we must look at how we can capitalise on it in the areas it is operating from to achieve maximum societal benefit. We must also look at areas such as research and development, not just the hardware building. That is the next phase.

I might add to that as well. I believe there was a publication by the offshore renewable energy industry as well on the potential value to the Irish economy of the entire industry. Arklow was mentioned. I know that 80 jobs are to be created in Arklow. I see an opportunity for a lot of coastal towns like Arklow to benefit in some way through the entire process of manufacture, from construction to design and maintenance. Every one in these plants at some stage will have a decommissioning stage as well.

There is ongoing opportunity for employment and value uptake in those coastal communities. I wish to add another point on community gain, a point raised by Deputy McAuliffe. I think the community gain for the coastal community was referenced. We have to consider that the marine environment is seven times larger that the terrestrial environment, and that the marine space is all of Ireland's space, so I would not like to see community gain just being directed at coastal towns or villages. The entire country should benefit from any community gain in that, especially as the transition to renewables will also see the reduction in the more traditional fossil fuel reliant industries, which tend to be concentrated in midland areas, so there are opportunities for that community gain to supplement just transition funds also. I wanted to make that point.

I thank the witnesses for coming in today; it is appreciated. There are two areas on which I wish to ask questions. First, this is a very significant Bill in terms of what it is doing to facilitate wind turbines and actions being taken around climate. That is very welcome and significant. In addition to having a climate change crisis, we also have a biodiversity crisis, and it is that side on which I want to focus.

On the issue of marine protected areas only being at the 2.4% designation currently when the commitment in the programme for Government is 30%, is there a concern that not having that in place in advance or in tandem with this legislation could lead to judicial reviews, and therefore delays in the planning process in respect of wind turbines, in particular? Is that a concern and has it been looked into? Is there advice on that?

Second, the Bill does not cover commercial fishing and aquaculture, which is a concern particularly in respect of the damage done to the marine environment and biodiversity by bottom trawling or dragging, and that can lead to pollutants entering the food chain as well as causing damage to biodiversity. The witnesses were asked about that, and they said that it cannot be covered in this Bill because fisheries is a competence of the EU. The EU Common Fisheries Policy specifically states that member states have the opportunity to design fishing conservation measures. Therefore, would that not allow this Bill to cover the area of fishing conservation measures and commercial fishing in that respect?

Mr. Conor McCabe

I will start with the Deputy's final questions and I thank him for his comments. Fisheries is outside my area of responsibility, so I am not going to answer any questions on it, because it is a matter of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his Department. As I said previously, we are building a regime, and it is not a stand-alone regime that will be used only once. We will want to use it many times, so there is always the option for other activities that are not included at this point in time to become part of that regime at a later date, however the two activities that the Deputy mentioned are under the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, so it is for him and his Department to make that call.

The second point I would make, which is almost a subpoint, is that regardless of whether an activity is included in this marine planning and development management Bill, all marine activities are subject to the national marine planning framework. Fisheries, aquaculture, wastewater treatment and things that are not obviously named in the marine planning and development management Bill are all covered. Some 16 sectoral activities are covered, so regardless of whether aquaculture is included in the Bill, any decisions taken, policies created, programmes or developments must take into account and meet the objectives of the national marine planning framework. It is already legislated for under Part 5 of the Planning and Development Act 2018, and we are restating that in the marine planning and development management Bill, so decision-makers are legally bound to take the national marine planning framework into account.

In terms of the marine protected areas and the potential for judicial reviews, I do not wish to comment on that, simply because the Minister is currently considering a report of the expert group led by Dr. Tasman Crowe, which Deputy Ó Broin mentioned earlier. I understand that the report will be published in the next couple of months, and a full public consultation will be held on it. I presume that is the appropriate arena in which to focus on those issues.

I thank Deputy Cian O'Callaghan for raising the issue of marine protected areas because it is important to reach that target of 30%. That is an objective for us. It is a considerable increase from the previous 10% target.

I apologise for missing the presentations. I was speaking on the Order of Business in the Seanad so it was unavoidable. I want to check if I am reading this right. Am I correct in saying there is no obligation to do an environmental impact assessment, EIA, as part of the public consultation? Reference was made to developer engagement with impacted stakeholders. What is envisaged by that? Who would the impacted stakeholders be and what statutory basis do the witnesses consider that to have? Going back to the question the Chairman raised about community benefit, is there potential to include something like a local employment clause or an obligation to take a percentage of workers from the live register within the Bill and give it a legal and statutory basis?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

I will take the questions on the public consultation, the EIA and the pre-application engagement. To be clear on how the new regime is intended to operate, it is a two-stage procedure. The first stage, the maritime area consent, MAC, looks very closely at the property, the person and whether that person can actually do what he or she is proposing, and then agrees the financial terms. That MAC is then subject to a development consent which would be considered by An Bord Pleanála or the local authority, depending on the development type. The larger scale offshore stuff would definitely be considered by An Bord Pleanála. The formal environmental impact assessment is within that development consent procedure, and that also includes the formal opportunity for public participation in the development consent decision-making. Related to that, and this might relate to some earlier questions as well so hopefully this will give some clarity, before a developer applies for a MAC obligations are set out that it will have to engage with impacted stakeholders. It is not possible to set out who those stakeholders will be in primary legislation because we are building a regime for a variety of scales, from slipways all the way up to wind farms. The level of engagement required in any particular case might be quite different but the principles are the same. The purpose of this is to identify issues of importance for the public and identify the potentially impacted marine users. The national marine planning framework will help do that and when the guidelines are developed, they will provide even more detail regarding who might potentially be impacted.

At the moment, public consultation in the context of development consent is quite often adversarial and we have found that under the Foreshore Act, there is an established application and there is opposition to it. This Act seeks to mitigate that by placing the obligation on developers to engage with impacted stakeholders before a MAC application is made. This has a number of purposes. It ensures early and widespread awareness of proposals, it ensures developers engage with the stakeholders, and there is clarity among the public on what the proposal actually is. Issues of concern are identified very early in the process by the developer at the project concept stage and necessary considerations, accommodations and synergies can be built into the project design rather than bolted on later. We will be setting this out in the statutory obligation within the guidelines themselves. However, we are also examining the possibility of putting it in as a set criteria in the MAC that if the Minister was not satisfied with the level of public or stakeholder engagement relevant to the project, the application would be deemed incomplete and would not even pass the first gate.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Senator for her questions. Before I hand over to my environment colleagues on the community gain aspect, I will ask Mr. Tom Woolley to come in to give a brief overview of the planning guidelines.

I will give a specific example of some of the stakeholder engagement we see as important. We will have the primary law and the NMPF, and then supplementary issues will go down into a more granular level. We are establishing an offshore renewable energy and fisheries working group, the first meeting of which will be held this December. From that we hope to develop a communications protocol between both sides - I hate to use that word - which we hope they will all sign up to. That will serve as a point of information and knowledge sharing between both sides. That is just one example of how we envisage these kinds of stakeholder engagements happening, and how we are going to try to engineer it as much as possible.

I ask Mr. Woolley to come in on the broader planning guidelines because he will be leading out on them.

Mr. Tom Woolley

I will provide a short overview. At the moment we are committing in the NMPF to establishing initially two sets of statutory guidelines that we will work on in earnest following the publication of the NPF. These will focus on development management. As Mr. Nolan pointed out, the marine planning and development management Bill and the NMPF will have an effect on a huge range of decision-making. They will have an impact on lots of different scales and types of development and activity, and on planned development and policy development upon which the NMPF also has an effect.

Given that complex picture, one role for the development management guidelines is, first and foremost, to see who is affected and what are the processes that are needed to consider the plan. Beyond that, the guidelines would look at the individual policy areas and pick out areas, and new areas in particular, that these development decision-making processes will need to account for.

We spoke earlier about stakeholders. It is important to note, for example, that the Bill changes the people who will make decisions in the maritime area from the foreshore team to An Bord Pleanála and the local authorities. Traditionally, those two organisations have been very land focused. Now they will be working with marine stakeholders. Therefore, there is something for development management guidelines to say about who typical marine stakeholders might be, where they might be found and how they might be contacted. For example, standing groups might be used for engagement. In principle, it is about helping that transition and helping development management to move as envisaged by the marine planning and development management Bill. That is the development management side of things.

I will now turn to the offshore renewable energy aspect. Offshore renewable energy is a relatively new and emerging sector in Ireland. Again, there is a lot to be said for supporting transition. There are new assessments that need to be thought about, such as visualisation assessments. We need to reflect on how to establish the best available evidence to accompany decisions and identify how people can get involved with the processes related to offshore renewable energy. Both sets of guidelines will be subject to consultation and assessment as required under the nature directives, the strategic environmental assessment directive and others as necessary. We will seek to include all relevant people to inform the development of those guidelines to make sure everyone is involved in setting a course for making the changes and making the progress required in Ireland's maritime area.

I apologise for being late. I was in the Seanad. There was no disrespect intended but I could not be in two places at the one time.

I thank all the witnesses for the briefings that were provided. This is a really important Bill. It is an important commitment from the Government's perspective because the Government committed to enact the marine planning and development management Bill within its first nine months. I am happy to support the Department's work in this regard.

It is very important for the country. We have big targets for renewable electricity, specifically to try to achieve 70% renewable electricity by 2030. As it is an enormous item of legislation for a lay person to work his or her way around, I thank the witnesses and everyone who has contributed to help us with our task. The explanation provided earlier about commencing on the east coast was very helpful. There does seem to be a very logical progression there. It is welcome and I am happy to support that.

Earlier, an energy security assessment or review was mentioned specifically on a question about future uses for this legislation or the legislation permitting future maritime activity such as that associated with LNG or other activities. When is that assessment or report due to be delivered?

I take the point about fisheries being a matter that is both under European competence and for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Should the committee request a statement from the aforementioned Minister on the proposed legislation? I appreciate the officials' saying that it is another Department and it is welcome that they have described the stakeholder forums which they are looking to establish. However, for the purpose of this committee progressing this work, it would be useful to receive guidance from the Minister.

The idea of community gain is really important. There will be broad community gain for all of us if we can achieve our renewable energy targets and if we can move away from our reliance on fossil fuels. With each application that will be made under this legislation there will be both environmental and economic benefits. It may be a case of how long is a piece of string but has any assessment been attempted to quantify the potential in this regard? What mechanism can be employed to try to secure a firm commitment that each commercially profitable application approved will deliver specific community gain in a localised manner? That should not be the dominant issue but it would be an important precedent for us to try and achieve if it is possible.

Mr. Conor McCabe

Community gain and the energy security review are matters for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

Ms Martina Hennessy

The energy security review is looking at the totality of our energy requirements. Members will appreciate that while we are looking at investing significantly in offshore renewable energy, and we have a lot of onshore wind too, wind is not 100% reliable so there must be other sources of energy to provide backup when we do not have enough wind blowing to enable us to meet our energy requirements. That review process has begun. I understand the outcomes are expected towards the middle or end of next year. The policy position around what other energy sources we may need to have and what policies we need to enable that to happen, will become clear. At that point, should there be a requirement for additional areas to be brought under the remit of the marine planning and development management Bill, that is something that can be looked at then. Until then, no decisions will be made to move towards other sources such as LNG to provide backup.

I will ask my colleague, Ms Clancy, to respond on community gain.

Ms Anne-Marie Clancy

A key part of the State aid clearance for the renewable electricity support scheme for offshore wind is that a community benefit fund will be required to be established by all projects successful in the auction. The contribution for each of those projects is set at €2 per MW hour. These funds will then be aligned to incentivise investment in local renewable energy, energy efficiency measures and climate action initiatives. For context, under the recent offshore renewable electricity support scheme, the community benefit fund will deliver in or around €4.5 million per annum to sustainable initiatives targeted at those communities living in proximity to the projects. This will be amended and scaled up for future offshore projects.

The witnesses might circulate the committee with details on how the community benefit fund is spent. I note the current amount is €4.5 million and that will change going forward. I ask them to elaborate on how the scheme operates. For example, is it administered by the local authority or the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI? If the committee could be circulated with those details that would be great.

Will the energy review consider the potential for hydrogen and storage of wind energy?

Ms Martina Hennessy

Hydrogen is at a very early stage of development. It has not been developed sufficiently to allow it to be commercially operational at this point in time. It is something we see happening in the future. The energy security review will not be looking at that specifically, but that will come into play in a number of years.

We move now to the second round, starting with Sinn Féin followed by Fine Gael, the Green Party and the Independents.

I have a number of follow-up questions. With respect to Mr. Woolley's answer in regard to Article 8.1 of the directive that in response to consultation feedback there was less a focus in the revised draft on the spatial and temporal aspects of it, surely, Article 8.1 is legally binding and, therefore, whatever about people's views of the detail there is a requirement under the directive to have that detail in it. I ask Mr. Woolley to respond on that issue. It is important we do not have a planning regime and framework that falls foul of a legal obligation under the relevant EU law.

With regard to the marine planning framework, when will the environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment and public consultation around that be undertaken? My understanding is that this is also a legal requirement in the process. I am confused as to the relationship between the strategic maritime activity zones - I am finding the acronyms tricky to deal with - and the marine planning framework in terms of how we ensure consistency and public consultation in regard to the zones. I ask one of the witnesses to talk me through that process.

I asked the following very specific question in the first round but it was not answered. Has the Attorney General provided advice that the consent regime is compliant with the EIA directive and the Aarhus Convention in terms of not having an EIA requirement and public consultation? I want to return to the point raised by Deputy O'Callaghan, which I also raised, in regard to the marine areas of protection. I am genuinely concerned that the lag here is going to cause a difficulty. While we are rightly pushing ahead on the need to have a planning regime for renewable energies, we are potentially doing it to the detriment of biodiversity and, again, the requirement under Article 1 of the directive for sustainability. How can the witnesses reassure us that notwithstanding there is a different timeframe for the publication of the Crowe report and the necessary legislation for the marine protected areas, we are not going to end up with that lag and we will not be in a situation where planning applications, for example, for wind farms are being carried out in the absence of having the marine areas of protection fully in place?

I ask the witnesses to also explain the differences between the two general schemes. I am still unsure as to whether the general scheme that is on the website of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is identical to the one that was published last year or whether there have been amendments to it. If there have been amendments, can the witnesses tell us what they are? If not, can they tell us what went to Cabinet in the memo that was agreed?

I support Senator Fitzpatrick's suggestion that a statement be sought from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I appreciate this is not within Mr. McCabe's area of responsibility but it would be remiss of us not to fully interrogate that issue as part of the planning regime.

I would certainly like to see that.

Finally, Mr. McCabe may not want to answer this but I presume it is the view of the Department that it would be better if aquaculture was included so that there would be a comprehensive regime and that is why it has included the option of bringing it in at a later stage.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

I will answer the question on EIA, appropriate assessments, AA, Aarhus compliance and the Attorney General's office. We are working very closely with the Attorney General's office in the development of the legislation and all aspects of it -----

Was that a "Yes" or a "No" to the question?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

We are working very closely with the Attorney General. The Deputy asked whether there is specific advice relating to public consultation at the strategic maritime area zones, SMAZ, stage but I must clarify an issue. There seems to be a little bit of confusion around this. There is public consultation in the overall regime. There is EIA and there is AA-----

I understand that fully and am not confused about it at all. Is there Attorney General's advice to say that the absence of public consultation in the consent portion of the architecture and the absence of an EIA requirement is consistent with the Aarhus Convention and the EIA directive? It is a straightforward question.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

There is not specific advice in the particular format outlined in the question.

Okay, that is perfect.

Mr. Tom Woolley

I wish to provide some assurance with regard to Article 8.1. The plan does have policies that refer to and have a spatial element. For example, the offshore renewable energy section talks about the need to ensure that those seeking to conduct activities in Ireland's maritime area are precluded from the development of offshore renewable energy in areas that are subject to ongoing application. There is a map accompanying that policy which sets out the lines and the polygons so people understand exactly where applications are being considered. Similarly, there is a map accompanying aquaculture which provides people with insights into where permissions are in place for people to conduct aquaculture activity relating to fin fish, shellfish or seaweeds, and there is a policy stating that if people are going to do things in these areas, even if it appears no-one is engaged in aquaculture there, they need to be aware that there is a permit in place for those activities and they need to speak to the relevant people to make sure there is compatibility. Some of the work we have been doing in ports and shipping, for example, involved working very closely with the Marine Institute which contacted and worked with the ports across Ireland to ensure that the jurisdictions that port authorities control are brought together in a national map for the first time. We are incorporating that into the plan and we have policies tied to those spatial areas to make sure that conflicts are managed appropriately and that consultation happens as early as possible, with the right people and at the right time. I hope that provides some assurance that the plan is spatial where it can be. In taking that approach, we have responded appropriately to Article 8.1.

For every single matter that the plan engages with and for every activity that the plan has policy for, the level of information available, be it spatial or otherwise, varies wildly. We had a discussion earlier about hydrogen and there are certain industries that do not have a strong policy background yet but we make reference to them in the plan because we know they are coming but there is not really something that can be said spatially with certainty at the moment. Where we can, we have been spatial and have set things out. They are on best available knowledge on the activities as they happen. Over time, that spatial specificity in relation to the plan and policies will be built upon through guidelines and the SMAZ process which the Deputy identified and on which Mr. Nolan can elaborate.

In terms of environmental assessments, we consulted on those with the draft plan beginning last November and closing in April. We had substantial comment on those which we are factoring into the plan revisions.

I thank the witnesses for today's briefings and those we received last week, which provided really useful background information for those of us who are new to this space. I have two questions and a quick comment.

My first question relates to the terms of enforcement. I welcome the decision by the Government to put together an independent enforcement body which will assume responsibility for marine planning enforcement. I am hoping to get a little more information about how that body will be established, the timelines for putting it together, its terms of reference and its potential make-up, to ensure it is representative of all the stakeholders in that area. I appreciate that the Attorney General is providing legal advice on that but I would welcome the Department's view on how to set this new body up for success because that is imperative.

With regard to the relevant projects which will have to apply separately for MACs and planning permission under the new proposed regime, can the witnesses confirm whether a twin-track approach is involved or whether these applications must be made in a particular sequence? If the latter is the case, is it envisaged that this may slow down the process of getting permission to start construction or installation?

Public consultation and the consideration of environmental impact are paramount. I agree with the points raised by Deputy Ó Broin in that regard.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Deputy for her comments and questions. The decision by the Government to establish this enforcement agency is very recent. We are at the stage of scoping it out. We will obviously be including it in the primary legislation. We are developing that legislation with the Attorney General at the moment. The good news is that this is not the first time an enforcement agency has been established. We have a couple of blueprints, such as that of the Environmental Protection Agency. We will be talking to such bodies, on a very practical level, and to existing players in the industry. Work is in progress at the moment with regard to the nitty-gritty.

Are there any timelines in place?

Mr. Conor McCabe

We hope to have the issue scoped out in the next few months with a view to understanding what exactly is required. There is a deadline for the establishment of the body on a practical basis because it must be in place before the first MACs are issued under this new Bill. I expect these to issue in 2022. I do not want to tie myself to that deadline but that is what we are aiming for. I hope that gives the Deputy a sense of the timeline for the establishment of the enforcement agency.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

With regard to the Deputy's other question, the process is sequential. The MAC comes first and deals with the property terms and the issue of the fit and proper person, which relates to the question of whether a person has the financial and technical capabilities to do what they propose to do. This consent is essentially a gateway to planning. It is rather different from the consent process under the Foreshore Act 1933, which is much broader and more technically complex. This is meant to be a very tight and defined procedure which will deal with a number of limited areas with a target timeframe of 90 days, although I envisage that most applications will not take 90 days to process.

Does the Department have anything further to add with regard to environmental assessment and public consultation? Is there anything else the witnesses wish to add?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

I will just reiterate that the public is not excluded from the MAC process. The public is integral to the process but the consultation takes place before the application is made.

Did that answer Deputy Higgins's question? We will now proceed with Senator Boyhan, myself and then Deputy Murnane O'Connor. At that stage everyone will have spoken and we can go to a third round if there is time. People may indicate if they wish to speak. That was the process we agreed to follow.

I welcome the witnesses to the meeting. I put on record my thanks for the document on frequently asked questions, which was very helpful. It is a very complex Bill in many ways. I would love to see a dumbed-down simpleton's guide to the Bill because we have to communicate with coastal communities. I think that is really important.

I am not sure whether the witnesses are privy to the briefing paper prepared by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. I suggest they contact their Minister and get a copy of it. It is an excellent piece of work and I want to acknowledge the enormous effort the service put into it, as it does with everything. I will start by referencing a few points from that paper. Some of these comments do not really require an answer, but I will share them with the committee.

One issue concerns the functions of An Bord Pleanála and those of the coastal planning authorities. We need greater clarity on that relationship. Many of the witnesses will be aware of the controversy surrounding the strategic housing development, SHD. The common complaint concerns the right of citizens to appeal. We are talking about An Bord Pleanála having a function in major infrastructural projects. That will always be an issue of contention and concern. I am concerned about it. I was a director of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company for ten years so I know the challenges and difficulties of foreshore and coastal development. I am also aware of the great potential there. I think this Bill needs to be tweaked in places but on the whole I welcome it. It is a very positive contribution. This is something that should happen. I would like to touch on the issue of shareholder engagement. We know from the general scheme that the Bill has not been subject to public consultation at this stage. I am concerned about that. Perhaps the witnesses would comment on it. I apologise if they have already covered this.

I refer also to the community benefit scheme for offshore renewables. One of the previous speakers spoke about developing a communications protocol for it. That is important. This is a really important aspect of the Bill. Perhaps we could hear more about it.

I share the witnesses' concerns about aquaculture. I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine, which is due to meet this afternoon. I can commit to raising this issue with that committee. We need to be aware of what is going here. I will suggest an examination of this by the other committee. It is very important that we provide bits and pieces of consultation on that.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin spoke about the general scheme of the marine planning and development management Bill, which is featured on the website of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Has it been amended since it was originally posted on the Department's website on 9 December 2019? If so, perhaps the witnesses could comment on the changes. What is the status of the general scheme featured on the website?

I also wish to raise the issue of consultation. The Irish Environmental Network and other environmental NGOs have a huge role to play in this. This committee is interested in engaging with them. It is important that the Department also taps into that rich source of information and commitment. I have some questions in this regard. Why do we need strategic marine activity zones if we have proper spatial plans? Can the witnesses give me the rationale? Moreover, why has there been no public consultation on the designation of strategic marine activity zones and maritime area consent? Finally, is there any role for the Office of the Planning Regulator in the development of this legislation?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

There were several questions, so I apologise if I miss some of them. I ask the Senator to alert me if I do. I am not 100% sure, but I believe a further version of the general scheme of the Bill was published. That included changes to formatting and corrections of errata, but no substantial changes. We have not drafted a fresh version to reflect the major changes in policy development that have happened in the course of drafting. We have identified the major changes in the answers to frequently asked questions.

Several members of the committee referred to the scale of the Bill. Thanks to sterling work by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, the eventual legal text will be a far shorter and more concise document than the general scheme. It will be able to do many things which we thought would require specific provisions. Our hope and intention is for the eventual legal text to be much shorter, more concise and more legible. I think everyone will be happy to hear that.

On consultation, I reiterate that there is consultation on strategic marine activity zones, in respect of their designation and in the strategic environmental assessment. There will, therefore, probably be consultation on the double within that process for different purposes. Regarding the maritime area consent, there are good reasons for there not being consultation within that process, mainly concerning what is under consideration at that stage in the process. There simply will not be that much meaningful information.

The questions people will ask will be specific, such as about the visual impact of a development, the impact on a certain species and the pollution impact. That level of information will not be available until the environmental assessments are done, until there is a detailed project design and until the complete application is made to An Bord Pleanála. It is at that point that the most meaningful consultation can happen, as well as the appropriate environmental assessment. As I mentioned, however, we have a pre-application process, which happens before the MAC, to try to draw out at the earliest possible stage what those potential issues will be.

Briefly, will there be a role for the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, in this area?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

There will be a role for the OPR. Precisely how that will interact with its terrestrial role is something on which we are trying to nail down the fine detail. However, there will be an oversight role for that organisation regarding certain aspects of all of this process.

Mr. Conor McCabe

The local authorities will have an enhanced role in respect of marine planning and development. By default, that will become part of their corporate development plans. The OPR will also have an expanded role in the oversight of marine planning as part of those corporate development plans. There is also a role in that regard in respect of research and training. It is not just the new breed of marine planners who will be needed to facilitate this system but also local authority elected members, which is something that is being worked on continuously.

I thank Mr. McCabe. Senator Boyhan wants to clarify a point.

Two points. On the role of the OPR, I think that is great because training is an important part of the remit of that organisation. Regarding the general scheme of the Bill on the website, and I accept it has been acknowledged that there have been changes which have not yet been updated, I ask that the relevant updating, if it is at all possible, be done this week. It is important that if people are looking at the Department's website that it should have the most up-to-date information. If that can be done and if it is practical and possible, I ask the Department to take it on board.

I thank Senator Boyhan. He also referred to two helpful documents which have been produced, namely, the frequently asked questions section, which I know has been recently updated, and the briefing paper produced by the Library and Research Service. I also thank Senator Boyhan for committing to raise the issue regarding the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It has been mentioned by several Deputies and Senators, and the committee will write to the Department to ask it to make a submission on this matter as well.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I have a further point about the Irish Environmental Network and consultation and interaction with it. In 2018, we established an advisory group for the national marine planning framework made up of the pillars of society, if one likes, from the public sector, economic, social and environmental areas. We have met at least 11 times in the last two years and that group has advised us on issues concerning marine planning etc. The Irish Environment Network, Coastwatch Ireland, Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and Sustainable Water Networks Ireland, SWAN, are part of that group and have been an ongoing part of this process.

It is my slot now. Several members referred to how large this Bill is and that what it seeks to do is significant in the management of our marine area for future development. That concerns not just commercial development, but also how we manage the precious environmental resource aspect. It is an indicator of its importance that the sea area is seven times greater than the land. The impact a healthy marine environment has on us on land cannot be stressed enough.

I am constantly trying to compare terrestrial planning to marine planning, just to have some place to start off and judge this matter on. One of the most important and core principles of our planning system is how democratic it is.

Anybody can make a submission on a planning application and appeal to An Bord Pleanála. If people seek to go further they can avail of judicial reviews. People also get input into county development and local area plans, so there is a good democratic process available.

Will the witnesses confirm that there will be a number of opportunities for public consultation on how we are managing our marine system? The national marine planning framework had a public consultation stage and it is now at a draft publication stage. Will there be a second round of public consultation on that, as there might be with a county development or regional spatial plan?

The marine spatial plans are like regional plans within that so will there be a public consultation aspect to them? We are dealing with the marine Bill today and there is a public consultation aspect to the development permission aspect. Is there also a public consultation aspect to the strategic marine activity zones? It is really important that there be such consultation, although I cannot see where there is a deficit currently in public consultation. I want to be sure I have those aspects correct.

Mr. Conor McCabe

Yes.

Over the national planning framework is a strategic environmental assessment. Does this have a strategic environmental assessment?

Mr. Conor McCabe

Is the Chairman referring to the Bill?

Mr. Conor McCabe

The Bill has not undergone a strategic environmental assessment. It is the one "No" in answer to all the Chairman's questions. Any policies that have informed the Bill and any policies that will come after the Bill will all undergo strategic environmental assessments. The Bill is informed by policies and plans that meet strategic environmental assessments.

All the different parts have an element of public consultation.

Mr. Conor McCabe

It is a very strong element. I can focus on the national marine planning framework as an example, as it is being finalised ahead of the March deadline. In effect, it has been out for two public consultations. The baseline study was released at the end of 2017, went through full public consultation and it led to the draft national marine planning framework, which was launched last November. My colleague, Mr. Wooley, mentioned earlier that there was also a strategic environmental assessment published at the same time, along with a Natura impact statement and an appropriate assessment. They were published on the same day.

That public consultation was elongated to mid-April this year. We did a series of roadshows around the country to inform people and get feedback. There was also the statutory consultation, when members of the public could offer submissions. We have done an extensive amount of work to analyse those submissions in order to bring together a final document. We are currently doing that. We will reach our deadline of the first quarter of 2021. The final national marine planning framework will be launched at that point. We have done two public consultations on it and we will not be doing another at this point. That framework is a living and iterative process.

It is like a development plan and will be reviewed after four years.

Mr. Conor McCabe

Absolutely. There is so much activity. This might address Deputy Ó Broin's point on marine protected areas and we will interact with those in future. We are conscious that this is all one maritime area and we cannot bring all plans in together and at the same time. We do not have that luxury. We cannot wait for other plans to come along as this is too important and we must get it right in order to create a decision-making framework. However, any marine policy or plan that comes after this will be informed by the national marine planning framework and the framework itself will take this into account in future iterations as it goes along. I plan to review the national marine planning framework in the first couple of years of its lifetime because of the amount of activity happening all at one time, whether it relates to marine protected areas, ports or an offshore renewable energy development plan.

There is much happening over the next 18 to 24 months and we will have to capture that again in the next couple of years. We are committed to a six-year cycle but it will be shorter in the first iteration. It is an ongoing process, which is an important point to make.

I have a follow-up question.

Mr. McCabe mentioned the ORE and fisheries working group or engagement group. Is there a similar ORE and environmental NGO working group or fisheries group being established? How are the environmental NGOs involved in this process? By the way, we have invited them to attend on Thursday. We will have witnesses from An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust and Coastwatch.

Mr. Conor McCabe

As I mention on an ongoing basis, we have consulted such bodies as part of our advisory group, as we have with the IWEA, the MRIA and other bodies that have come or will come before the committee. We have not worked out the formal consultation process. The first out of the traps was the fisheries and ORE group. It is probably the most important as regards the industry that is already there and consulting with the industry that is being introduced into the maritime area. It is certainly something we can look at as an ongoing template to bring other groups in or to structure them as one group interacting with another.

Ms Martina Hennessy

May I add something to that? One of the significant pieces of work we are undertaking, which will kick off shortly, is an update to the offshore renewable energy development plan. As part of that, we will have extensive stakeholder input and involvement. It will look at the future strategy on ORE development, particularly as there have been technological advances since the last one was completed. When the last one was undertaken, there was extensive input from all stakeholders, including the environmental NGOs. We see them having a significant role to play in the new plan and we will initiate work on that very shortly.

I thank the witnesses. A lot of my questions, particularly those about public consultation, have been answered. We all believe public consultation is important. In what way has Covid affected the Departments? We have seen for nearly a year now that in local authorities all the planning meetings have been cancelled and things have been going online, so there has been a huge delay in the past few months. Do the witnesses feel this might have had an effect?

We need clarity on the timelines needed in the Bill in order that projects can plan with certainty. It is all about timescales now. This legislation is so important and so needed. Are greater resources being provided to put the administrative functions in place? Is there any update on that?

Enforcement is another matter I have been asking about and was going to ask the witnesses about. I see that the challenges are forward planning, development, management and enforcement. Those are huge challenges. One of our witnesses spoke about community and community funding. That will be welcome because it is so important that our communities are involved in this.

I also welcome the fact that there are targets for 2020 and 2030 and more projects, particularly on the east coast. All of us have to play our part in our environment. This is creating jobs. Timescale is important. All of us are doing what we can to support this legislation. I thank the witnesses. A lot of my questions, as I said, have been asked.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Deputy for her comments and questions. I will take the ones on the consultation, the impact of Covid and the resources required into the future.

On a very practical basis, we were in the middle of a public consultation when Covid kicked in. We had already visited 11 coastal locations around the country, from Killybegs right down to Tralee, and we were working our way up the east coast when Covid kicked in. We had to suspend our public engagement part, but at that point we ran the first ever Civil Service public consultation online, so we reacted quite well. We also changed the end date for final submissions to April. I think the original date was at the end of February. We took into account the public's reaction to that. I am confident enough that the team reacted really well. There were very practical considerations in that the Department had to move resources to more urgent areas.

That certainly created a time lag but thanks to the good work of the team we will come in on time in terms of both the Bill and the national marine planning framework or NMPF.

In terms of the resources required, we have two reference points. One is a recent air wind report that pointed to the fact that 30 human people are needed into the future to run the marine planning system. We are undergoing our own review that will look at the resources required in our Department, post the Bill, in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, again post Bill, in An Bord Pleanála and in the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, most likely. The report and review should be carried out over the next couple of months so we will be in a better position to answer that question. The air wind report is a good report. .

Mr. Bernard Nolan

There was a question on timelines. Can I presume that is timelines for the application process?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

As we mentioned earlier, there is a 90-day target timeframe for maritime area consent. It will either be an 18 or 26-week timeframe for An Bord Pleanála decisions.

I confess that I have learned a lot while preparing for our scrutiny of this Bill. I greatly appreciate the briefing documents, opening statements, presentations and I have also read documentation from law firms that have put out a view on this matter. I find myself very excited about the employment potential and seismic shift in our nation to develop so that a whole new industry opens up, and one that was never envisaged before.

I have had to move between meetings but I watched this debate on the monitor in my office. Most of my questions have been answered and I apologise in advance if my next question on competencies in professional pathways has already been addressed. Is there a pipeline of professionals available so we have a successful marine industry? Have the Departments engaged with universities and colleges? Is there a sufficient number of courses? Are courses wide enough? Should we have a chat with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science about this industry? What courses do we need to develop? It is only in the last two years that I have noticed that the children of my peers are studying marine biology with a view to a very definite future in Ireland and not having to travel to Fiji or somewhere like that to develop this work. Therefore, I am curious about education and professions.

Senator Boyhan addressed my concern about competencies and whether we need additional personnel in local authorities. The witnesses have addressed the matter but perhaps they have something further to say. My query is about education.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Senator for her very kind comments. She asked a very good question and we take education very seriously. We want to make sure that when the system is launched that it can stand on its own two feet and there are people who can really make it work properly. With that in mind, we plan on working very closely with the Irish Planning Institute and the Office of Planning Regulation. Earlier I mentioned to Senator Boyhan that the planning regulator will play a lead role in the training that is needed, particularly in the local authorities system. I am very keen to work with universities or third level institutes. My colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communication might want to comment on this but part of the supply chain will consider that aspect in terms of the future knowledge that is needed in this society. I agree that the next few years will be a very exciting time for us. It is not often that a brand new industry is brought into an economy or society so we want to prepare and make sure that we have the right foundations to support the industry.

Ms Martina Hennessy

On that point, there is work going on at a senior level across the various Departments that may have a role to play in working towards building on the potential opportunities that are available. At a senior level we have discussed opportunities with officials in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

We have been discussing opportunities with officials from the Department of Transport with a view to potential ports development, and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has a role to play in terms of the supply chain. We are also seeking to engage with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science because, as the Senator pointed out, there are opportunities for skills development and to align the courses that may be available to maximise the opportunities for employment in the sector into the future. That work is at an early stage, but we will seeking to progress it in the next number of months.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

The Senator mentioned the local authority competencies. We have engaged with the Local Government Management Agency and set up a number of working groups to help manage the transition and to help the local authorities to become more marine conscious in their considerations.

I do not doubt the ability of the local authorities to adapt, learn and grow. Where do councillors and people like me get this sudden knowledge from? I am fortunate that we are briefed so well. I thank the witnesses and congratulate them on a fantastic piece of work.

That was a good point on the potential for job creation in the long term as we transition away from fossil fuel dependent employment to a new industry with a long-term future. The ORE representatives will appear before the committee on Thursday and it will be a good opportunity to discuss their requirements with them.

There are four minutes left. I have a question and Deputy Gould also has a question. Regarding timeframes, I realise the MAC is time limited when consent is given. Is the development permission also time limited? Again, I am comparing it to land development, whereby permission can be given and somebody can sit on a site for a long time knowing that the demand is there and that it increases the value. I know the person does not own it, but is development consent time limited as well?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

The maritime area consent will have a time limit, an appropriate period of time in which to secure the planning permission. The developer will get the MAC and then try to get the planning permission. If permission is refused, the MAC will terminate or if a period of time elapses, the MAC will also terminate automatically, unless there is a good reason to extend. That possibility exists. There will be a time-bound period in which to secure development consent, after which the MAC terminates. Again, somebody else can come in and use it. Likewise, there will probably be an appropriate period - we have to nail down precisely how this works - in which to begin construction. That will likely be tied closely to the lifetime of the development consent. I believe the standard in planning is five years. It would be tied closely to that. However, there will be limits and there will be strong levers on behalf of the State to prevent any type of land hoarding, squatting or-----

It is similar to the use it or lose it.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

Yes, essentially.

Thank you. I call Deputy Gould.

I was watching the proceedings online and I thank the witnesses. For me as a new Deputy, this is quite a robust Bill. There is a great deal of detail in it and much to take on board. Can the witnesses outline what were the changes between the first general scheme and the second general scheme? One of the witnesses mentioned the frequently asked questions.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

If I can clarify, is the Deputy talking about something that was published in July or December? There were various iterations leading up to the final version. I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy-----

That is not a problem.

Mr. Bernard Nolan

The Deputy is asking about changes since the December version.

Is that the final version?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

It is the final version, but we have developed certain aspects of it significantly since the publication, through the detailed drafting and further policy development. We set out broadly what the changes are in the frequently asked questions document. We have not developed a fresh general scheme since December because the structural changes were so significant. We have not done a separate new general scheme since December.

When will the new general scheme be released?

Mr. Bernard Nolan

We had not envisaged preparing one because we are focusing on the preparation of the legal text.

The legal text will explain what it does. We will have additional explanatory material detailing exactly what the legal text and each section will do, which, we hope, will be in a much more concise and digestible format than the massive scheme, but it will still provide sufficient information to be able to consider it properly.

Mr. Conor McCabe

We are looking at a timeline for publication, depending on the committee's report and matters that have to be taken into account, of around January. The three key areas that have changed between the publication of general scheme which the Deputy is referring to and now are very recent changes. That was set out in a memo in October, which Deputy Ó Broin mentioned. It relates to the amalgamation of the planning interest stage with the maritime area consent stage. There is now a single maritime area consent. That brings it down to a two-stage process. The maritime area consent will be from the appropriate Minister and the planning permission will be from the appropriate planning authority, be it An Bord Pleanála or the local authority.

I thank the witnesses. I advise Deputy Gould we are over the two hours allocated therefore I cannot permit further discussion. I am sure the Departments are open to our writing to them if we wish to get clarity on any aspect of the legislation. I thank Mr. Bernard Nolan, Mr. Conor McCabe, Ms Martina Hennessy, Mr. Tom Woolley and Ms Anne-Marie Clancy for giving of their time today and for giving of their time to give us a briefing last week. It is a large Bill and there is a desire to progress it and we need to do that. The committee will address and apply itself to doing that in the timeframe.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.02 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Thursday, 26 November 2020.