Special Areas of Conservation.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for coming to respond to the matter I have tabled on the protection of Liffey Valley parklands and the area around the Liffey. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the important issue of protecting the Liffey Valley parklands and to seek to progress the issue by obtaining an update from the Minister on the work of the Department on the issue, as well as his view on the need to co-ordinate the effort to maintain and embrace these lands.

I recently attended the very successful AGM of the Liffey Valley Park Alliance, an organisation founded some years ago to protect the lands. It works very strongly with the local community to further this aim. The commitment and determination of these individuals in trying to protect these lands is extraordinary, and they are committed to ensuring the lands are protected for the benefit of the community.

There are three principles arising from this issue. First, the Liffey Valley lands must be permanently protected and I would like some information in that respect. I have raised this point before and I would like to know what progress the Minister and his Department has made on it. What stage is the process at and does the Minister intend to introduce legislation to the Dáil and Seanad? Is he still in consultation, for example, with South Dublin County Council or has that period of consultation finished? The key question is whether there are plans to introduce legislation.

Second, it was pointed out at the recent meeting I attended that there is much potential for tourism in these lands. The Liffey Valley is one of the finest landscapes in the Leinster region and there is a strong feeling that this is not being harnessed. There is a belief, for example, that the maintenance and care is uneven and not of a consistent standard. That is critical because safety, maintenance and landscaping issues arise.

Third, in order to harness the potential of the area there should be co-ordinated management. The Minister of State is aware that the Liffey Valley lands cut across four different county council jurisdictions, making an holistic view of management very difficult. However, a report was commissioned by the Office of Public Works and one of the conclusions was that the OPW should be given a much greater role in managing the area, bringing together the various councils and ensuring a co-ordinated approach. That does not mean the OPW would do everything but it would take a co-ordinating role. The role of the councils would become clear and strategies and activities could be planned properly.

There is a precedent for this sort of management in the Lagan Valley area. That cuts across three local authorities but is now managed by a Government agency. It has been very successfully promoted and protected, both for local residents and as a tourist attraction. The commissioned report made these recommendations but why is there resistance to implementing its recommendations? Why has it not been acted upon?

I would like to hear the Minister's views on the concept of the co-ordinated management that is needed and I would like the issue to be progressed. There is already infrastructure in place, including a tourist structure and outdoor activities, but we need the Government and councils to work together to develop and promote the Liffey Valley in order to protect it and develop its potential. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's comments on the issue and I hope he can report some progress.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley. The city and county development plans of the relevant local authorities provide the primary land use protection policies for the Liffey Valley. In addition, parts of the Liffey Valley are already covered by special designations. For example, the area between Chapelizod and Lucan is protected by a special area amenity order, SAAO, and part of the valley is also designated as a proposed natural heritage area.

It is an objective of South Dublin County Council's current development plan to investigate the feasibility of extending the special amenity area order to further lands, including part or all of St. Edmondsbury and Woodville lands. The council's draft development plan for 2010 to 2016 outlines specific objectives to preserve and enhance the character and special features of the Lucan bridge to Palmerstown special amenity area, actively investigate the feasibility of extending the Liffey Valley SAAO to include lands from the Dublin City Council boundary to the boundary with County Kildare and pursue the expansion of the existing SAAO in the area as set out by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The protection of the Liffey Valley, which is a major amenity for the people of Dublin, and the extension of the SAAO are objectives which we share.

Accordingly, in September 2008 the Minister requested South Dublin County Council to arrange for an evaluation of lands between Palmerstown and Lucan bridge, the existing area of special amenity and the N4, Old Lucan Road and Old Hill Road in order to assess the suitability of some or all of these lands for designation as a new area of special amenity, having regard to the provisions of section 202 of the Planning and Development Act.

South Dublin County Council subsequently submitted a report on the matter. This has been considered in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and it is intended to request the council to give further consideration to the extent of lands that might be included in such an area. In February 2009, the Department requested Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council and Kildare County Council to carry out evaluations of lands in the Liffey Valley which fall within their functional areas in order to assess the suitability of some or all of these lands being designated as part of an extended area of special amenity. Responses have been received from each of these planning authorities and are under consideration.

In finalising its consideration of the relevant information provided by the planning authorities and taking account of other representations on the matter, the Department will shortly decide whether to issue a direction under section 202(2) of the Act regarding the making of a further special amenity area order or orders in the area.

On the broader question of the provision of a national park in the Liffey Valley, a strategy document, Towards a Liffey Valley Park, was prepared by consultants under the guidance of a steering group set up by the OPW and was published in November 2006. Fingal, South Dublin and Kildare county councils and Dublin City Council were also represented on the steering group. The document set out a strategy to provide an integrated management framework for the Liffey Valley and create a process for the establishment of a Liffey Valley Park composed of a necklace of publically owned spaces within the area. The report did not recommend the designation of the Liffey Valley as a national park, since the designation is a non-statutory designation used to encompass State lands. Nonetheless, there is scope to create and develop a non-statutorily based park in the area comprising State-owned and other lands. The Minister expects the local authorities concerned to progress this matter.

With respect to the Minister of State, I am disappointed with the reply.

I thought it was very positive.

I am particularly disappointed that my question on the need for a co-ordinated approach to the management of the Liffey Valley was not addressed. If we raise Adjournment Matters, I ask that the Departments concerned answer the points raised. I am disappointed that, while the report carried out some years ago was referred to, there was no reply to the key question of co-ordination. The Minister of State has not outlined his views on my questions about co-ordinating the protection and enhancement of the Liffey Valley and whether there is a need for a structure run or co-ordinated by the OPW.

I will raise this matter again on the Adjournment in order to get a reply to my questions. With respect, the Minister of State is replying on behalf of the Minister, but the Department has not addressed the key point in this Adjournment debate.

Having been a public representative for many years, I thought it was a very positive reply.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 April 2010.