Domestic Waste Water Treatment Services: Discussion.

I welcome before the committee a delegation from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to brief us on the subject of domestic waste water treatment. I welcome the officials, Mr. Christopher O'Grady, principal officer, building standards, and Ms Nancy Callaghan, building control section. I welcome also officials from the Environmental Protection Agency who will address the meeting including Mr. Dara Lynott, director of the office of environmental enforcement. Members have the list with the names of other representatives from the Department. Guests will be free to contribute to the debate as appropriate during the course of the meeting.

The format of today's meeting will involve a brief presentation by representatives followed by a question and answer session with the members. Before we begin the presentation I draw witnesses' attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I call Mr. O'Grady.

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to come before this committee to assist members in their deliberations on this important subject. From the Department's perspective, the issues raised in the committee's deliberations cut across three distinct sections - the planning, water services and building standards sections of the Department - but also have direct relevance to the Environmental Protection Agency. With the Chairman's permission, a colleague from the EPA will make some remarks after my contribution.

As a Department we would like to reaffirm our own, and the Minister's, commitment to protecting our scarce environmental resources and ensuring that the highest possible standards are set and followed to protect water quality, particularly in regard to septic tanks and proprietary domestic waste water systems. The Department is concerned to ensure that the maximum possible safeguards are brought to bear on such systems.

I will address the issue of planning in the first instance. The position is that waste water treatment matters have been addressed in the Planning and Development Regulations 2006, which came into force on 31 March 2007. These regulations now require, in section 22(2)(c), that where it is proposed to dispose of waste water from a proposed development other than to a public sewer, information on the on-site treatment system proposed and evidence as to the suitability of the site for the system proposed must be submitted as part of a planning application. The regulations also provide for a standard planning application form for use by all planning authorities, which includes a question on waste water treatment.

Moreover, as set out in the Department's circular letter of 31 July 2003, SP 5-03, concerning ground water protection and the planning system, it is the responsibility of planning authorities to monitor the degree to which those carrying out approved development meet their obligations to comply with the terms of planning permissions granted, and to enforce such terms where necessary.

In addition, it is open to local authorities to make and adopt by-laws to require periodic inspections of septic tanks and other on-site proprietary treatment systems under the general powers available to them under the Local Government Act 2001.

I want to refer briefly to the Department's Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines for Planning Authorities, published in 2005. These guidelines are aimed at achieving a balanced, sustainable planning framework for rural housing and they remain relevant and practical in helping to secure that balance. The guidelines reaffirmed the need for adherence to the 2003 ground water protection guidance to which I have just referred.

The guidelines consolidate the approach taken in respect of rural housing in the national spatial strategy, which aims to support rural communities and provide a framework within which rural communities can develop economically and socially, with inherent environmental consideration. The guidelines are clear in specifying that environmental and health and safety issues such as site appropriateness, wastewater disposal and road safety are overriding concerns in all planning applications.

In addressing planning I should inform the committee that development management guidelines for planning authorities were issued by the Department in June 2007. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist planning authorities in performing their functions in development management which, members may be aware, was previously described as development control. The guidelines give advice to planning authorities on all aspects of the planning process from pre-application consultation, lodgment of the planning application, decision making to conditions and enforcement. They are intended to promote best practice at every stage of the development management process.

With specific reference to enforcement, the development management guidelines request planning authorities to prioritise enforcement and ensure they maintain good information systems to make sure the enforcement regime is efficient and effective. They are also encouraged to draft conditions attached to planning permissions in an enforceable manner. A dedicated website has been established as a portal through which planning authorities can share expertise and technical insight on enforcement activities.

Moving to the water side of the equation, in addition to the provisions outlined in the planning codes, it should be noted that the Water Services Act 2007 places a duty of care on the occupier or owner of a premises to ensure all drains, manholes and treatment systems, including a septic tank serving the premises, are kept in such a condition as not to cause a risk to human health or the environment or to create a nuisance due to odours. An authorised person appointed by a water services authority may direct the owner or occupier to take such measures as are considered by the authorised person to be necessary to deal with the risk. Refusal to comply with such a direction or obstruction of the authorised person is an offence.

Turning to the building standards function of the Department for which I hold responsibility, the position is that the building regulations apply to the construction of new buildings, as well as to the material alteration, extension or change of use of existing buildings. It is important to emphasise that the regulations do not promote or discriminate against any building product or system. They are performance based and it is a matter for all products or systems to demonstrate compliance.

Apart from the regulations, technical guidance documents, TGDs, have been published giving guidance on how to comply with each regulation. Where works are carried out in accordance with the guidance, this will prima facie indicate compliance with the regulations. However, members should be aware that the adoption of an approach other than that set out in the guidance documents is not precluded, provided that relevant requirements are complied with and can be so demonstrated.

In the context of the committee's deliberations, Parts H and D of the building regulations are relevant. Part H sets out the legal requirements for drainage and wastewater disposal and includes requirements for septic tanks. Part H 2 entitled, Septic Tanks, requires that "a Septic Tank shall be - (a) of adequate capacity and so constructed that it is impermeable to liquids; (b) adequately ventilated; and (c) so sited and constructed that - (i) it is not prejudicial to the health of any person, (ii) it does not pollute, so as to endanger public health, any water (including groundwater) which is used as a source of supply for human consumption, and (iii) there are adequate means of access for emptying".

The relevant technical guidance document, TGD-H, which accompanies regulations H, provides guidance on how to comply with the requirements of Part H and calls up the following standards. The first standard concerns septic tanks serving single houses - a standard recommendation or SR6 of 1991 - recommendation for domestic effluent treatment and disposal from a single dwelling house issued by the National Standards Authority of Ireland. The second standard concerns septic tanks serving groups of houses, British Standard (BS) 6297 of 1983, entitled code of practice for the design and installation of small sewage treatment works and cesspools, AMD 6150, issued by the British Standards Institute. It is important to note that TGD-H also states:

There are other satisfactory wastewater systems for treating domestic effluent which are not referred to in S.R. 6 1991. These systems are based on biological action such as filtration or activated sludge. Each should be considered on its merits. It is essential that they be operated in accordance with manufacturers' instructions, including the necessary regular maintenance.

Part D of the building regulations sets out the legal requirements for materials and workmanship. It requires that all works must be carried out in a workmanlike manner and that all materials used must be suitable for the purpose for which they are intended and the conditions in which they are employed. Innovative materials or systems such as waste water treatment systems must have specified appropriate agrement certification from the Irish Agrément Board or equivalent certification from an approval body in a member state. I should, with particular reference to the committee's deliberations, inform members that the Irish Agrément Board is the national and European recognised body for certifying new building products or systems for which national standards are not in place and has been notified as an approval body for Ireland under the EU construction products directive. Accordingly, a septic tank or other treatment system which is in compliance with Part D dealing with materials and workmanship and which is installed in accordance with TGD-H dealing with drainage and wastewater disposal is deemed to comply with the building regulations.

A new European standard for small waste water treatment plants has been introduced and will come into force on 1 July 2009. This standard was adopted by the European Committee for Standardisation, CEN, and transposed in Ireland by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, as IS EN 12566-3:2005. It specifies requirements, test methods, marking and evaluation of conformity for packaged and-or site assembled domestic wastewater treatment plants used for the treatment of raw domestic sewage and serving populations of up to 50 inhabitants. IS EN 12566-3 contains the following definitions for two types of plant: packaged domestic waste water treatment plant which is defined as a prefabricated, factory built, wastewater treatment installation that accepts domestic wastewater and treats it to a declared quality; and site assembled domestic waste water treatment plant which is defined as a unit composed of prefabricated components, assembled on site by one manufacturer, that accepts domestic wastewater and treats it to a declared quality. The need for new systems to comply with this standard, together with recommended performance levels for treatment systems determined by the Irish Agrément Board, has been brought to the attention of local authorities by means of circular letters issued by my Department in November 2006 and January this year, respectively.

The Environmental Protection Agency published a wastewater treatment manual on treatment systems for single houses in 2000 and is currently finalising a review of the manual with a view to publishing a code of practice. With the Chairman's permission, Mr. O'Leary will, immediately following my presentation, outline what is involved in that regard.

It is the Department's firm intention to amend TGD-H of the building regulations dealing with drainage and wastewater disposal to replace standard recommendation No. 6 with the new EPA code of practice when the NSAI withdraws this standard recommendation. This will incorporate new and additional guidance in TGD-H based firmly on the EPA's code of practice.

The measures I have outlined clearly demonstrate that a significant number of safeguards are in place in respect of septic tanks and domestic wastewater treatment systems. Moreover, the Department is prepared to improve this area of control by proposing to include the finalised EPA code of practice under the building regulations. In accordance with established practice, the Department will also issue a circular letter to the 37 local building control authorities to draw their attention to the amended guidance document. If considered necessary, it will underpin the provisions of the EPA code by way of a circular letter to planning authorities. I thank members for their attention.

Mr. Gerard O’Leary

The EPA wishes to thank the committee for the opportunity to discuss its research work and guidance on the treatment of wastewater from single houses.

The standard for septic tank systems is standard recommendation No. 6, SR6, which was published by the NSAI in 1991 and which deals with septic tank systems. A septic tank system consists of a primary settlement tank - commonly known as a septic tank - and a percolation area. SR6 does not deal with proprietary waste water treatment systems.

The EPA published a waste water treatment manual on treatment systems for single houses in 2000 in which it recognised the role of proprietary waste water treatment systems. The manual provided guidance on different systems and the appropriate site conditions for their use. It introduced, for the first time, comprehensive site suitability assessment methodology for waste water treatment systems for single houses. It was prepared following completion of an EPA sponsored research project carried out by the civil engineering department, NUI Galway, which included an international literature review, studies of treatment systems and experimental work on percolation rates in soils. The Galway researchers are internationally recognised for their work on waste water treatment systems and have been published in peer reviewed international journals such as Water Environment Research, Journal of Environmental Engineering and Water Research and Agricultural Water Management. They have also sponsored research work for the civil engineering department, Trinity College Dublin which has also been presented at international conferences and published in peer reviewed international journals. Approximately 23 local authorities, excluding those in Dublin, require that the site suitability assessment be carried out in accordance with the EPA manual issued in 2000. Three local authorities still use SR6.

In 2000, when we were finalising the waste water treatment systems manual, FÁS, in conjunction with the Geological Survey of Ireland, Tipperary South Riding County Council and the EPA, developed the course, Site Suitability Assessment for On-Site Waste Water Management, which is open to consultants and local authority personnel and provides comprehensive training on the EPA manual issued in 2000. Approximately 900 participants have completed the course. It is expected a further 110 participants will undertake it later this year. Approximately ten local authorities have set up panels of approved assessors flowing from the course, two are in the process of doing so, while two others carry out the site assessment for a fee.

The EPA is revising the 2000 manual and intends to publish the revised document as a code of practice under section 76 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. This will provide guidance on implementation of EN 12566 in Ireland, to which my colleague referred. The draft code of practice has been prepared by the agency in consultation with the National University of Ireland, Galway, Trinity College Dublin and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The code is expected to be published later this year. Its key messages cover the importance of proper site assessment, taking account of local conditions specific to the proposed site such as drainage, groundwater and streams; the need for the design and installation of on-site waste water treatment and disposal systems specific to local conditions; and the need for the correct installation and ongoing maintenance of on-site systems and for certification.

I refer to key differences between the code of practice and SR6. The recommendation provides guidance on septic tanks and percolation areas. The EPA code of practice will also provide guidance on proprietary treatment systems. In essence, it will cover all treatment systems. It will contain comprehensive guidance on site suitability assessment, including standard forms and procedures for submission as part of planning applications and list stricter requirements for waste water treatment systems installed in areas with groundwaters that are vulnerable or at high risk.

The code of practice specifies performance standards for proprietary waste water treatment systems and will include the requirements of the latest European standards. Two specific percolation tests will be introduced - one for shallow bedrock areas and another for slow draining soils. The upper end of the acceptable range of percolation test results for septic tanks has decreased from 60 minutes to 50 minutes per inch. By way of comparison, the upper end of acceptable values for proprietary treatment systems is 75 minutes per inch. The minimum depth of soil required to treat waste water from a septic tank system has increased from 0.75 m to 1.2 m. This is consistent with the latest EU standards. The code of practice will specify a minimum depth of 0.9 m of soil for proprietary treatment systems. The draft EPA code of practice was issued for public consultation in 2007. The agency received more than 65 submissions from local authorities, practitioners, architects, engineers and system manufacturers. The EPA has reviewed all the submissions and is incorporating the necessary changes into the document and intends to publish the code of practice before the end of the year.

Each year the agency receives a very large number of queries regarding on-site waste water treatment systems. To address these queries we have prepared a leaflet dealing with frequently asked questions and this is available on the EPA website. This leaflet will be updated once the code of practice is published.

There are many on-site waste water treatment systems available for single houses and these are designed to treat the waste water to minimise contamination of soils and water bodies; prevent direct discharge of untreated waste water to the ground water or surface water; protect humans from contact with waste water; keep animals, insects, and vermin from contact with waste water; to minimise the generation of foul odours.

When on-site systems fail to operate satisfactorily, they threaten public health and water quality. When the waste water is not absorbed by the soil it can form stagnant pools on the ground surface. In such failures, humans can come in contact with the waste water and be exposed to pathogens. Foul odours can be generated. Inadequately treated waste water through poor siting, design and-or construction may lead to contamination of our ground waters and surface waters, which in many areas are also used as drinking water supplies. It is essential that this effluent is properly treated and disposed of.

Where waste water from a single house needs to be treated on-site we believe this EPA code of practice will guide people from the assessment stage through to the design, installation and maintenance of an on-site waste water treatment system in such a way as to prevent water pollution and protect public health.

I thank Mr. O'Leary and Mr. O'Grady for their presentations.

I thank Mr. O'Grady and Mr. O'Leary for their presentations. I know this subject will not grab headlines in the national newspapers tomorrow but its practical implementation is of interest to many people and leaders in the fourth estate often fail to understand how it impacts on people's lives. Depending on the extent of the problem it also has an impact on communities.

A study on the condition of our ground water has been undertaken. How bad is the condition? An answer to this question will supply us with background information on the state of ground water. What impact will the so-called savings, announced last week, have on the implementation of our water services programme for the next couple of years? I will come back later with some other questions.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I will speak about the ground water issue and the water services programme. The EPA runs a sampling programme of ground waters around the country. This is not carried out on a uniform basis. We collect the data from where the wells are. A process is now under way to put in more wells in order to fill the gaps. We have discovered from this sampling that there is a high level of contamination of ground waters associated with faecal contamination. This faecal contamination generally comes from two sources, human or animal. Approximately 30% to 40% of the samples taken would indicate such faecal contamination.

Is there a particular study which can be referred to?

Mr. Dara Lynott

We publish periodic reports on this subject which we can make available to the committee.

Mr. Gerard O’Leary

We publish an annual drinking water report each year. Our latest report was published in January of this year and it states that e.coli was detected in almost 36% of private group water schemes. Of the 688 schemes monitored, 246 were contaminated at least once during 2006, this being the most recent set of results. I must stress that e.coli can come from other sources besides on-site waste water treatment systems.

Mr. Kevin Forde

I was asked about the potential impact on the water services investment programme. I do not have any information to suggest that there will be a change in the level of investment or the priorities.

I do not mean to hound the departmental officials. We are on our holidays, after all. The message being given to the local authorities is that there is a problem. I am sure the Department is saying something to them. Perhaps the officials will give the committee some information in that regard.

Mr. Kevin Forde

We can do that.

They might tell us what they are saying to the local authorities.

Mr. Kevin Forde

Okay.

The biggest problem in this regard is the lack of consistency. The systems are not acceptable to the local authorities. Members of the Oireachtas and councillors find it hard to get their heads around this area. One type of system might work in certain areas, but a similar type of system might not work in the same type of terrain. I have a problem with the competence of the individuals who are submitting the planning applications. The rules governing proprietary systems are not being interpreted in a consistent manner. I refer to the conditions attaching to the construction of septic tanks and percolation areas, etc. Can the Department help the local authorities to be a little more consistent? We have a problem straight away if we are relying on local authorities to enforce these rules.

What does the average citizen know about septic tanks? I submit that, in most cases, he or she knows nothing. Citizens rely on the goodwill of the companies which supply and install septic tanks. They have to hope that such systems do what it says on the label. The new guidelines which are being drawn up should give responsibility for each system to its manufacturer, rather than to the individual living in the house. When one buys a product, one expects it will do what one is told it will do. If a septic tank system does not do what it is supposed to do, one will not know there is a problem until one gets a big smell one morning. In practical terms, one has to telephone the manufacturer or installer of the system to find out what needs to be done. In such circumstances, the consumer is usually fleeced by having to pay for a new system. He or she might have been able to do something about it if the system had been regularly maintained over the years.

I am concerned about the criteria which apply to performance-based systems. The scrum should be wheeled in relation to responsibilities in this regard. Why have the guidelines not been reviewed since 1991? Single houses which are served by septic tanks are still dealt with under SR6/91. Why has the National Standards Authority of Ireland been so slow to bring about these changes?

Local authorities are the biggest polluters in small developments in small villages. Over the last couple of years, developers have made proposals in respect of package plants. We will be delighted if such work continues over the next couple of years. These proposals would solve the problem for five or seven years, until the water services investment programme is implemented. The Department will claim that it is the fault of the local authorities. In turn, the local authorities will blame the Department. We will worry about who is to blame at another time. I am concerned about what will happen in practical terms on the ground. If package plants are of a sufficient standard and are approved by the EPA or some other body, they should be allowed to do the job. They would help to get some activity going in certain villages. I could bring a number of examples to the attention of the officials, but I will not bore them. I refer to villages in which sewage treatment plants or waste water plants will never see the light of day. That local authorities have failed to deal with this matter, to the extent that they now represent the biggest polluters, is a terrible indictment of our system of local government.

My antennae go up when I hear about FÁS courses. In this case, I refer to a course on site suitability assessment. The people taking the course will have to solve our waste water problems and manage the relevant services. What is the content of the course in question? How long will it last? What precisely will the people taking the course be doing? What qualifications do the approved assessors have? Are they inspectors or assessors? Could we introduce guidelines to be followed by local authority personnel when deciding on planning applications? We need to give that job to people who are a little more qualified and get rid of some of the rogues who are in the system at present.

Does anyone want to respond, specifically, to the comments before we call Deputy Cuffe?

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

Perhaps I might start, and I shall ask my colleagues from the EPA to elaborate on certain aspects. Deputy Hogan mentioned that responsibility should lie with the manufacturers and obviously these have their obligations under consumer law. However, in the context of this debate it seems to us that the standard feature of legislation generally is that the owner occupier of any property carries primary responsibility for compliance with all statutory requirements as regards the particular property. Accordingly, it is entirely appropriate that the legislation should assign primary responsibility to a householder for ensuring that the activities of the household do not give rise to water pollution, under the broad "polluter pays" principle.

For example, under the European Community's Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters Regulations 2006 - the famous nitrates regulations - a primary responsibility is assigned to each farmer for ensuring compliance in relation to his or her farm. The relationship between a property owner and the supplier of any goods or services to the property is a matter of contract and law between them, including consumer law. It is to be assumed that a property owner would have a well founded right of claim against any supplier who supplied products or services that did not perform to specification. Here again, we say the primary responsibility lies with the owner of the property, and this is the diktat in law at the moment.

The question was also raised regarding the powers of enforcement of local authorities. From our perspective, since 1 March 2008 the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has signed into law significantly new enforcement powers under the building regulations, specifically under the Building Control Act 2007, which are designed to give the local authorities an additional income stream to simplify the prosecution process and increase the level of fines that can come to them. Those fines can be retained by the local authorities and the expenses they have incurred in pursuing the enforcement regime can be secured by them through the courts.

Fines have been increased significantly. For example, the old fine of IR£10,000 for conviction and indictment, has been increased to €50,000 under the Minister's powers, which commenced on 1 March 2008. We have some sympathy with what Deputy Hogan has said as regards the importance of enforcement. Certainly, under the Building Control Act 2007, new possibilities have been brought into law in very recent times. I do not know whether our colleague from the EPA can say something about consistency across the State.

Mr. Gerard O’Leary

I have written down a few comments, so I shall come to some of them in terms of the sequence. I shall first take the question as regards why we waited until 1991. When we were set up - I was involved at the start - this was one of the first requests which came to the EPA from local authorities, to provide some guidance for them to deal with these proprietary waste water treatment systems. We went about it in a systematic way, in that we had a very detailed research study that looked at what was happening internationally. We brought documents forward as drafts, even during the 1990s. As the Deputy said, there are a considerable number of actors in this area and we wanted to produce a guidance document that had an input from the various sectors. However, at that stage we believed we needed to have this initiative to be able to produce a guidance document that would cover septic tanks and the associated percolation areas as well as all waste water treatment systems.

With regard to competency, I agree there is a need for this. We recognised it was not good enough to produce guidance, but had to support it with appropriate training, not just for the people submitting planning applications for also for those who would be assessing them. In terms of the FÁS course, which runs for seven days and has an associated field work content, there are representatives from the universities, the Geological Survey of Ireland and the EPA acting as tutors to demonstrate how to assess a site, and in terms of choosing a particular system. Consequently, it effectively underpins everything contained in the EPA manual published in 2000. It deals with information collected from sites, standardises the percolation tests and takes one through a process in which ultimately one makes a decision on a recommendation, based on all the information one would have collected both on and off-site.

I wish to tease out this issue further because it will come back to members. The process will depend on a person who undertook a seven-day FÁS course in the company of a couple of other people with technical expertise, to adjudicate on a planning application based on historical data and survey work or analysis that he or she has carried out during those seven days.

Mr. Gerard O’Leary

As for completing the course, there is an exam at the end and the person in question is obliged to go out on-site, produce two site assessments and be interviewed by three people before it is signed off.

I am worried about consistency across the board in local authorities in that regard.

Mr. Gerard O’Leary

I refer to a recent development among local authorities. I mentioned that a number of them now have panels of assessors who have come from this course and will single out one local authority in particular. Limerick County Council manages such assessors by seeking information on both sites they have approved and sites they have failed. Moreover, the council interviews them on a fairly regular basis to ensure they are competent for the job. However, I agree with the Deputy that more consistency is required across the board among local authorities in this regard. This is the reason we hope the picking up of our code of practice regarding building control regulations will help achieve such consistency.

Mr. Dara Lynott

In respect of awareness, we consider that in tandem with the publication of this new guidance, a raising of awareness must take place, in respect of both the people who carry out such assessments and the homeowners themselves. The key message we will attempt to disseminate concerns the responsibility that also rests on the homeowner to ensure proper maintenance of septic tanks. A number of studies were carried out in 2000 and 2002 that indicated that a substantial number of septic tanks never are maintained.

As a final question, do the witnesses accept that homeowners buy or build houses in good faith and engage building contractors to do the job? They do not have a clue in this regard, or if they did, they would do it themselves. They do not have a clue regarding the required standards and it is not their job. While I expect an accountant to be familiar with accountancy, I do not expect such a person, while at home, to be familiar with engineering or to know about best practices pertaining to septic tanks. The manufacturer, whoever certifies the septic tank, the builder of the house or whoever subsequently gets certification under the building regulations should be held responsible and not the homeowner. Do the witnesses agree? Do they understand that despite the websites available or the information supplied by the EPA and the Department, homeowners will not have the required technical expertise? Unless there is a smell the following morning, they will not know whether anything is wrong.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I fully agree with the Deputy on the need for proper certification. This should be done with experts who know what they are doing. However, the point I was making pertained to the ongoing maintenance of a system and that systems are not static for a period of time. Every two years, septic systems should be pumped out to maintain their proper operation.

On the same point, is a system that does not fail covered by HomeBond? I appreciate the witnesses do not represent HomeBond. However, when a structural failure manifests itself in a house, one can revert to the builder and if those builders are registered with HomeBond, they must correct the defect. Is a septic tank or proprietary treatment system that is not working properly after two years covered under HomeBond? Does anyone from the Department's building regulations side know whether this is the case?

Ms Sarah Neary

While I cannot speak for HomeBond--

I understand that.

Ms Sarah Neary

- - in my opinion, it does not. HomeBond covers structural guarantees. While other specific matters arise pertaining to fire and water penetration, basically it is a structural guarantee.

Surely a house's sewerage system is essential to its fabric. One cannot live in a house without one. We will return to this point and I refer to a householder who does not know. The operation of waste water treatment may be more essential than, for example, a roof or a foundation. I am shocked that it is not covered by HomeBond, as it would provide home owners with protection. Is my belief correct?

Ms Sarah Neary

No service in a house is covered by HomeBond, as its failure would not be considered a major structural defect. One's boiler, water system or immersion is not covered.

We will write to HomeBond to clarify what is covered and what is excluded. The construction of a waste water treatment system is essential. We have learned something.

I support the Chairman's remarks, as guarantees on the functioning of a septic tank must be in place. Septic tanks are a 19th century solution that, in many instances, are governed by 19th century regulations. In the past 20 minutes, I have read and re-read Mr. O'Grady's presentation on Part D of the building regulations, which require that all works must be carried out in what is described as a "workman-like" manner. The more one reads the requirement, the more confused one becomes. What is "workman-like"? It means nothing.

We need a more rigorous and regular inspection system for septic tanks. Once planning permission has been given for a septic tank, we have no control over the situation. The contamination of ground water is a ticking time bomb that, in some instances, has already exploded. I do not want to apportion blame for the illness suffered by hundreds, if not thousands of people in County Galway in recent years, but animal or human waste contributed to the problem. One can still see cattle standing in the middle of Lough Corrib from which the water in question is extracted. If one casts an eye around its shore, one can see houses scattered like snuff at a wake. The State, through the local authorities, must put in place a regular inspection system for septic tanks.

It was mentioned that 40% of test wells were contaminated by fecal coliforms. However, we are blind to this outrageous figure and are not facing up to a significant influence on human health. We tend to address once-off pollution issues such as large industrial activities, but we are ignoring the elephant in the corner, namely, the hundreds of thousands of septic tanks in respect of which there is no regular inspection system. If up to 40% of the test wells were contaminated by human or animal effluent, it is time to put in place a more rigorous system. I would welcome the Department's opinion on whether a regular inspection system should be established.

Local and planning authorities and professionals are under considerable pressure to ensure that percolation tests are passed. I have watched as a JCB's bucket dug a hole and water was put in. One would almost recite a decade of the rosary while waiting for the water to disappear - not too slow, not too fast. Irrespective of whether one likes it - one can be as professional or workman-like as one desires - there is significant pressure when a family wants a home. Given the danger that local authorities are accepting percolation tests from the applicants' agents, perhaps we should ensure that the authorities carry out the tests. We need to tighten up the inspection system.

When I examined septic tanks, I was advised it would be all right to throw in a dead pigeon. We must move on from Victorian solutions to these technologies. They comprise a serious source of pollution. While I welcome the move towards more modern regulation in this area, we should bite the bullet and, whether it is a biannual or a triannual inspection, there is a need for a rigorous inspection system. I would welcome the EPA and the Department's views on this matter.

I specifically support one point raised by Deputy Cuffe. He mentioned that two local authorities carry out the assessment for a fee, one of which is my local authority, Laois County Council. I was horrified to learn here that is not standard practice nationwide. There is a conflict of interest if the person seeking the planning permission engages somebody to do the work. There is no independence if the work is done by such people and they are paid by the person who wants to live in the house. There is a conflict of interest before one starts. Given that two local authorities have come to the correct conclusion a long time ago, is that not the best practice? If so, can it be included in the code of practice instead of seeking a compromise. I suggest this issue be re-examined. It is not a problem for Laois County Council which charges a high fee to cover the cost of doing the work. It is not a drain on the local authority because one would have to pay a private contractor in any event. I see a fundamental conflict of interest between a person being paid by the applicant carrying out the test and the planning process. I ask the delegation to take that into account. It is a broad issue for the Department.

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

As a general principle, we are here to listen to members of the committee and we are hearing some very strong signals which we will be happy to consider. We start from the basic premise that the law is the law and that the citizenry would normally comply with the law. We have a suite of building regulations, the Water Services Act, the nitrate regulations and the Environmental Protection Act. It is fair to say that one would assume the majority of the citizenry would comply with those strictures and those disciplines. In so far as they do not, there is a suite of enforcement procedures, a suite of fines and so on to seek to promote that compliance. I say that as a general principle.

The notion that the septic tank system in its own right is wrong, is not commonly held across jurisdictions. Once complied with properly, it is a well accepted system right across Europe and, subject to proper site investigation, design and installation, this type of system performs satisfactorily, reducing the contaminants to the acceptable levels. That is a statement of fact. As I said, it is accepted right across Europe. Our planning regime requires that site characterisation is undertaken before planning permission is considered and conditions are applied thereto. It would be unfair to say there is not a system of checks and balances in place that give some indication that the welfare of society is being addressed under the legal regime that exists at present.

Having said that, the suggestion from the Deputy that there should be regular inspection from the local authority system brings with it the whole question of resources which is not for me to address in this forum. Nevertheless, it is an important consideration of how we might approach this problem. There must be some comfort in a situation where the Building Control Acts of 1990 and 2007 allow a sophisticated regime of building regulations for 12 Parts, including Parts D and H which I have mentioned, and that we are committed, via the Minister, to calling up the code of practice that our colleagues in the EPA are finalising. That code of practice draws from academia and a very robust public consultation process and seeks to promote best practice, linked to a strong awareness commitment given by our colleagues from the EPA. That connectivity between, on the one hand, the elaboration of best practice and, on the other, the law of the State via the building regulations must offer some comfort to legislators such as the members of this committee.

The Deputy raised the problems that emanated in Galway last year. As citizens as well as civil servants we can empathise with the problems that arose but under the water services investment programme action has been taken and work will commence this year to replace the old Terryland plant. A figure of €22.1 million has been assigned to address that problem some 12 months after it emerged.

The source of Galway city water is the Corrib, as the Deputy mentioned, and a number of sewerage schemes in the Corrib catchment have been approved for funding, also under the current water services investment programme, quite apart from the replacement of the old Terryland plant. These include Headford, which is essentially completed, Dunmore, Tuam, Oughterard, Claregalway, Milltown and Corofin.

Galway County Council will also provide a scheme at Clonbur under the devolved rural water programme, which is part funded by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Sewerage schemes within the catchment that have been already completed with departmental funding include the phase 1 scheme in Tuam, Moycullen, Cong, Ballyhaunis, Ballinrobe and Claremorris. The water services investment programme also includes funding of €12 million towards water conservation in the city of Galway.

Without trying to deflect the discussion on the Galway situation, the jury remains out as to what took place there. Clyptosporidium is frequently linked to the calving and lambing seasons which were taking place at the time this problem emerged. In the short period since the problem emerged, significant interventions are being taken to address the water quality problems of the county and city of Galway. That is my initial reaction to the Deputy's intervention.

I am not suggesting we do away with septic tanks. I am simply suggesting that we put in place better systems of compliance. I am at a loss as to the reason the Department can say that a majority comply when we do not have the raw data. We do not have a system in place to see what is coming out of septic tanks. There is huge emphasis in the Department's response on, literally, end of pipe solutions. We should try to ensure that ground water is not contaminated in the first instance. That is why we need a much more sophisticated 21st century system of regulation for 19th century technology. I am not saying we should get rid of older forms of technology but we need a much more rigorous system, and given that figures show 30% to 40% of wells are contaminated, there is doubt as to whether a majority comply. I doubt that a majority of those households that rely on a septic tank inspect them every two years. I do not believe it happens and we need a system that ensures it does happen. At a time when we are spending hundreds of millions of euro on water treatment plant, ultraviolet screening and the most sophisticated of measures, I am simply suggesting that we move the enforcement a little bit further up the pipe to ensure the land of Ireland does not become polluted in the first instance. That would be a quantum leap in the regulatory system and I do not see evidence of that in the regulations coming forward today. They are much better than S.R.6 and are moving in the right direction but first and foremost we need a regular inspection system.

On the measure proposed regarding indemnity, with any septic system perhaps an insurance policy covering ten years should apply. Without mentioning manufacturers' names there are many new sophisticated systems but the general public should have some assurance that those systems will operate safely. An insurance policy covering ten years would help but we must have a much more rigorous regulatory system.

The data are available. The Geological Survey of Ireland has stated that perhaps a third of the land of Ireland is unsuitable for conventional septic tanks. These figures are in the public domain. We have a great deal of catching up to do in this respect. We need to take a deep breath and move to adopt a more rigorous regulatory system.

I welcome Mr. O'Leary and thank him for his presentation on this important issue. Water pollution or contamination is not in anybody's interest. While many people are involved in the delivery of these services, the issue of water pollution has not come to a head and nobody is taking responsibility for it. I heard this morning that neither the EPA nor the local authorities are taking responsibility for addressing this problem and that they are inclined to throw back the issue to the person building a house or the individuals concerned. I am concerned about that.

The manufacturers of treatment plants must take responsibility to ensure they operate properly. What inspections are carried out on them or to whom are the manufacturers responsible? Does the Department have an input into ensuring that these treatment plants operate as they are supposed to in terms of water treatment? I would like a representative of the EPA or one of the other representatives to address that point.

The provision of such systems has a major impact on rural life, especially for people trying to secure planning permissions to build one-off houses. Such systems should work properly and the health and safety aspect should be addressed, even if that results in the systems being more costly. Provided such treatment plants are manufactured properly and work well, they could be used to address the needs of small villages that will not have the facility of a proper treatment plant for an area provided by a local authority in our lifetime. Those are the points I wished to highlight.

The EPA might refer to the proprietary treatment systems in general without going into the details of specific manufacturers. Is it satisfied they are all of an appropriate standard?

Mr. Dara Lynott

With regard to on-site systems, we fully recognise there are some locations in the country where no system will work because of the particular geology or soil which is not suitable for on-site systems. Planners refuse planning permission on that basis. With regard to individual systems, the EPA does not approve them nor do we give preference to any particular system. We rely on other bodies to do that. Bodies such as the IAB will certify that a system will perform to the specification as set out. By 2009--

The IAB is the Irish Agrément Board. Mr. Lynott might advise us about that board?

Mr. Dara Lynott

The Irish Agrément Board is an independent agency that has an accreditation remit, namely, to examine a product, to specify it can do what it proposes and issue a certificate verifying that.

Is it a State body or private body?

Mr. Dara Lynott

I am not sure of its exact status, it is part of the NSAI.

Could the EPA do that work?

Mr. Dara Lynott

We do not do any of that work.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I do not believe we would have--

If it did that, it would result in there being two fewer agencies.

Mr. Dara Lynott

- -the testing facilities and expertise required.

To move on to the next stage, by 2009, there will be a European standard, the EN 2566, in place, to which we referred earlier. The guidance document we will publish this year will be fully complaint with that new standard. We will request that any systems put in place meet that standard. That is all I want to say at this point.

In view of scientific and technological advances, it is difficult to believe it is not possible to develop a treatment plant that will work on any terrain. Is it possible to treat sewage by means other than percolation into the ground?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There are a number of ways by which the water can be removed. Essentially, we are trying to convey water, by hydraulic means, away from particular areas. If one does so by running it through the soil and if the latter is extremely hard, the water will not go anywhere and the system will not work. If there is a river nearby, it can be discharged into it - to an appropriate standard - but a permit to do so must be obtained from the local authority. The third option is to hold the water, with no discharge, and pump it up out of the ground. The fourth option is a local sewerage system into which people may tap. It relates to how one carries water away from a particular site.

That is the point I am trying to make. Refusals of planning permission should not be based solely on the fact that sewage cannot be treated. There is always a means to treat it.

God help the planners in Cork County Council when Deputy O'Sullivan supplies them with all this information next week. They will be in trouble.

I was merely clarifying a point.

Mr. Lynott dealt with the point I was going to make, which relates to the comment by Mr. O'Leary to the effect that "The minimum depth of soil required to treat wastewater from a septic tank system has increased from 0.75 m to 1.2 m." That is a depth of almost 4 ft. I come from the midlands. There is some extremely good land in County Westmeath which is credited - particularly the area around Mullingar - with producing the best beef in the world. Nevertheless, there might be three to four inches of arable soil in certain areas but below this the soil is impervious. Even if there is only a small amount of rainfall, there will be a run-off, particularly in areas where rivers run adjacent to land where slurry or waste of that nature is present.

Is Mr. Lynott stating the puraflow system which depends of percolation does not offer a ray of hope to those who want to build either on infill sites or in the country where, as stated, there might be a three or four inch layer of arable soil above another layer of impervious soil? I was born in a rural area but now live in a town. I am, therefore, strongly supportive of the construction of rural dwellings. Is Mr. Lynott stating the only option is to remove the waste and treat it elsewhere?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Mr. O'Leary also stated, "The code of practice will specify a minimum depth of 0.9 m of soil for proprietary treatment systems." Such systems can deliver a greater level of treatment than septic tanks and, therefore, less soil is required.

The only point I would make in that regard is that 0.9 m is almost 3 feet. I was referring to areas where the layer of arable soil would be approximately one tenth of that figure.

Mr. Dara Lynott

I refer the Senator to Mr. O'Leary's comment to the effect that two specific percolation tests will be introduced - one for shallow bedrock areas and another for slow draining soils. These relate to what are termed "mounded systems". Where soil is not present, it is allowed to be brought onto a site and mounded to artificially provide for a depth of soil that would allow a system to be used. That is a method that can be brought to play on sites where there is not a significant depth of soil.

Is there a ray of hope for those who want to build?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There is.

Is the importation of soil onto a site permitted under SR6 or the EPA guidelines?

Mr. Dara Lynott

Under the newer guidance document, not SR6.

Mr. Lynott has stated 23 local authorities operate according to the EPA manual, while six use SR6. The inconsistency among local authorities is what we are getting at. They draft county development plans. Depending on the water table, some have absolute rules and will accept no system. Guidelines are fine but practices vary from county to county, which is a problem that will have to be addressed. How many houses have their own water supply? A public water supply is not available in a number of rural areas. There is a difference between a septic tank or a proprietary treatment system being permitted on a site serviced by public mains versus sinking a well. If one sinks a well and installs the treatment system nearby on the same site, there could be a few on the same road and the risk increases. This issue has not been mentioned. Mr. Lynott referred to water quality protection and group water schemes. How many are living in houses dependent on their own well?

Will the new guidelines still permit SR6 to be used in order that a proprietary treatment system will be required only in areas where groundwater is vulnerable or at high risk? The EPA states SR6 provides guidelines but the code of practice will lay down stricter requirements for wastewater treatment systems installed in areas with vulnerable groundwater. Would it be good practice to install a proprietary treatment system in lieu of every septic tank? Presumably, that would be an improvement. Has the EPA considered this? I acknowledge this would involve a cost and I am opposing my own constituents in raising the issue. However, septic tanks are installed where the soil is suitable and proprietary treatment systems are installed in vulnerable areas. Would such systems not provide a higher standard for all houses not connected to public water supplies?

Mr. Dara Lynott

The 2004 CSO report estimated 138,000 households in Ireland had a private water source and, additionally, that approximately 50,000 dwellings obtained their supply from private group water schemes, giving a total of approximately 190,000 households.

Therefore, approximately 10% of houses are covered by group water schemes. Almost all of them are in my county if that is the case. I do not know from where that figure came but I could not accept its validity for a split second. Large villages in County Laois do not have group water schemes.

Mr. Dara Lynott

According to the CSO, the figure is 190,000 households.

What is Mr. Lynott's view on using proprietary treatment systems as standard?

Mr. Dara Lynott

There is caution. Our interpretation is that anywhere there is vulnerable groundwater, extra care must be taken, both with septic tank and proprietary treatment systems. In vulnerable groundwater areas one might need extra soil for septic tank and proprietary treatment systems. However, one does not need as much soil for proprietary treatment systems as for septic tanks. I can only answer the question in a general way. We recognise that proprietary treatment systems provide for a greater level of treatment. However, they also need to be maintained. They are not "walk away" systems. They need electricity and regular maintenance. Unfortunately, there is insufficient awareness of this, as Deputy Hogan pointed out. As the system is under the ground and unseen, it tends to be forgotten until it gives trouble.

Do they require more maintenance than a traditional septic tank?

Mr. Dara Lynnott

In rural areas the electrical supply might not be as robust as in urban areas. Some require chemical addition and, I am sure, solids removal periodically. Pumps wear out and after five or ten years need backup. They need the same regular servicing as central heating boilers.

Has a study been made of pollution for which local authorities are directly responsible? In my own constituency I know of instances of sewage going into streams. I am sure this is a national issue.

Mr. Dara Lynnott

The Environmental Protection Agency regularly publishes reports on the environment, one of which is the urban wastewater treatment plant report which assesses Ireland's compliance with the urban wastewater treatment plant directive which sets requirements of treatment based on the size of group schemes.

Did the report specify locations?

Mr. Gerard O’Leary

We assess the performance of all wastewater treatment plants to the directive's standard.

The process by which approval must be given under the water services programme is cumbersome, although I know there are various reasons for this. It is because of capital budgetary matters as much as the process itself. The kicking to touch by the Department and local authorities on various projects of a certain size and value seems to go on for a long time. Could the process be rationalised? Could applicants not be told directly that money was not available in a particular year and may be available in the following one? It takes a considerable time for a process to reach design or tender stage. An average of four or five years seems long.

Mr. Kevin Forde

I will deal with this question, although I do not deal directly with the water services investment programme. There is a system under which local authorities prioritise projects and submit their priorities to the water services investment programme. In that way, investments are prioritised.

At that stage they are in the system. However, it can take up to four or five years to have a design accepted by the Department. Is it a budgetary matter?

Mr. Kevin Forde

I imagine there are budgetary factors, as well as project control factors. Larger projects would be affected by EU procurement regulations which have substantial timelines built in. There would be delays in that regard. If the Deputy knows of delays in other areas, I can follow up on them.

The biggest delay is caused by the concept of bundling. One town's project may be ready to proceed but it may be bundled with ten others.

It is unbelievable. That was a great stroke. I must compliment the Department on it.

It was a great invention to stop work.

It certainly slows down matters. No wonder my good friend, Mr. McCann, has gone elsewhere.

Mr. O'Grady wishes to speak.

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

The issues raised by the Deputy are very valid reasons and he is entitled to a response. Given that we do not have the information with us, I undertake to provide a note to the committee on the general procedures pertaining to the investment programme and the committee might then come back to us.

I would much prefer to see a system similar to the planning system where a person will obtain planning permission well in advance of developing a site and he or she will have everything in order. I would prefer if the Department said it did not have the money this year but that everything is put in place to be ready when the money comes on stream. At least I could then tell my constituents that everything is ready, subject to the funding being provided. I refer to the situation in Galway where they were unable to draw down the money at the time because they were not ready. The local authorities are unwilling to invest in design consultants and these other high cost services before approval is granted because they do not want to carry the can for a couple of years. There is scope for rationalisation.

What authority will attach to the code of practice of the Environmental Protection Agency? Will it be the case that some local authorities will adopt it and others will not? Is there any means of avoiding the inconsistencies? Will the code of practice be put on a statutory basis or will it be a case of waiting to see whether councillors agree to it when the next development plan is being discussed? It is a pointless exercise if half the counties ignore the code of practice.

Ms Sarah Neary

I will first put this in the context of the building regulations. Reference was made to the workmanship regulation and that work should be carried out in a workmanlike manner. While this may sound like going around in circles, this is the letter of the law and this is how the regulation is written. The guidance which accompanies the building regulations is much more prescriptive and refers to best practice documents. Building regulations part D guidance refers to British standards and workmanship on building sites in general. Part H of the building regulations refers to on site wastewater treatment plants and it is more prescriptive in that it refers to septic tanks. However, the guidance document refers to SR6, which deals with the installation. One of the issues raised by Deputy Cuffe was how one defines workmanship, but SR6 defines the procedure for installation and maintenance of septic tanks. He also raised the issue of percolation areas being either inadequate or excessive. SR6 contains guidance whereby one can bring in imported material and build it up.

County councils do not like that even though it is in SR6.

Ms Sarah Neary

With regard to the proprietary or mechanical systems currently on the market, the Irish Agrément Board certifies them and 29 are currently certified. In general, local authorities would accept an IAB certificate for products. This gives some consistency as to assessment. This will also deal with insulation so that would be a specific installation requirement for that product and maintenance requirements.

When the EPA code of practice is available, part H of the building regulations will be revised. We will then need to be cognisant of the content of the code of practice. This will be part of the building regulations and we intend to refer to it in the guidance once it is published.

The limitations of the building control system or the building regulations is that it applies to the design and installation of on site wastewater treatment plants. It does not have powers to regulate on operation or maintenance, only construction. Does that answer the Deputy's question?

Is Ms Neary saying that the building standards will be amended in order that they refer to the new code of practice?

Ms Sarah Neary

Yes.

I wonder about the specifics of the code of practice. I accept that the code will be referred to. Is there something stronger than a code of practice? Can the Minister issue guidelines to a local authority to be followed when implementing the code of practice? Can Ms Neary talk me through the subtle differences in that regard?

Ms Sarah Neary

When something is referred to in the guidance document, it is deemed to be prima facie evidence of compliance with the regulations. One can use other methods of showing compliance with the regulations. It is a difficult and costly process. It does not seem to happen often in practice. De facto, it becomes law when it goes into the guidance document. That is how it operates in reality. When the text of the code of practice is referred to in the guidance document of the building regulations, it will become a requirement.

How long will it take for the code of practice, having been issued, to be included in the guidance document? Will it take six months, a year or two years? Ms Neary might not have that information. Perhaps she can give us an idea. Is much work involved in it?

Ms Sarah Neary

We will conduct a complete review of Part H.

It will get bogged down in that.

Ms Sarah Neary

No. We are committed to referring to the document as soon as possible.

Ms Sarah Neary

It is hard to put a timeframe on it. Perhaps my colleague, Mr. O'Grady, can do so.

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

I think--

Does Mr. O'Grady understand this line of questioning?

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

Absolutely.

We are trying to get a bit of consistency.

We will not hold it--

None of us has that.

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

The Minister will review the text of Part H in the context of the document as a whole. He will then seek the advice of the statutory Building Regulations Advisory Body. The advisors will suggest how he should proceed. If the body decides to deliberate over two meetings, that will make it a three-month process. The Minister will then make a decision. He will be obliged to go to public consultation, which is another six-week process.

It will take years.

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

I understand it will take approximately 12 months. Under the Internal Market rules of the European Union--

The EU has to come into it yet.

Mr. Christopher O’Grady

- -we are obliged to give three months' notice to the Union to enable it to adjudicate on whether anything we are doing would interfere with those rules. It is a complementary system. The consultation with the EU can take place while the public consultation process is taking place. Time will not be lost during that process. As we have been closely involved in the elaboration of the code of practice at EPA level, we have a keen understanding of what the code will say. Therefore, I suggest that it would be fair to estimate, as an educated guess, that it will take a year to complete the whole process.

Can anything be done in the meantime in terms of the county development plans that are drawn up by local authorities? The Minister has intervened in respect of zoning on a few occasions. I do not want to go down that route. I understand from my own local authority that people from the local government sector have advised that standardised sections, in line with regional guidelines, should be included in county development plans. Could anything be done to encourage a uniform approach in county development plans to the issues we are discussing, which relate to rural housing? Can such an approach be built into county development plans?

Ms Aileen Doyle

Yes. The planning authorities will be able to take the code of practice on board as soon as it has been included in the technical guidance document. They are currently having to operate within the SR6/91 and 2001 systems. When the draft code becomes the official code of practice, it will be capable of being taken on board immediately. We will issue a circular letter to local authorities as soon as the code of practice is adopted as part of the technical guidance document. We visit local authorities in our capacity as officials. We are constantly in touch with them. We will encourage them to take on board the code of practice as soon as possible. As each county development plan comes up for renewal, we can ensure that it is amended in line with the code of practice, as adopted, if that is required.

Does the Department get each draft development plan as it is being drawn up?

Ms Aileen Doyle

Yes.

It is then able to comment on it and it does so.

Ms Aileen Doyle

Yes, absolutely.

I suggest that the Department could intervene at that stage, before the document is completed. If the local authority is doing something that is inconsistent with the Department's view, the Department might remind it of the guidelines at that stage.

Ms Aileen Doyle

Absolutely.

There is a period when there is an opportunity to correspond with him during the process.

Ms Aileen Doyle

Yes.

We have discussed planning permission at length, which has been useful to the committee. It is one of the issues that exercises the minds of politicians because we have to deal with the practical reality of people dealing with planning permission. It is something of a lottery in many cases and the reason for today's meeting is to try to remove that element of the process in order to introduce more certainty into planning applications.

We will conclude the meeting. I thank the representatives of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the EPA. We will meet further representatives of the EPA at next week's committee meeting.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.40 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 22 July 2008.