Thursday, 11 February 2021

Questions (90)

John Paul Phelan

Question:

90. Deputy John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the actions that can be taken to allow Waterways Ireland to carry out standard maintenance works on canal and river tracks to ensure that public access to these amenities is protected despite recent prohibitions by the National Parks and Wildlife Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7506/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I am informed that the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department has not prohibited ongoing routine maintenance works along the waterways under the remit of Waterways Ireland. The Deputy's information in this regards would appear to be erroneous.

Waterways Ireland has an open and proactive relationship with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the fulfilment of their respective statutory functions.

Waterways Ireland has responsibility to manage seven waterways which are partially or wholly contained within nature conservation sites. These sites include those designated under:

- the Birds and Natural Habitats Regulations (2011) (e.g. including the Barrow Navigation within the River Barrow and Nore SAC);

- proposed Natural Heritage Areas designated under the Wildlife Act (2000, as amended) (e.g. Royal and Grand Canal);

- and waterways which are not designated, but are subject to other requirements of wildlife legislation.

Maintenance works along its waterways are informed and guided by legislative requirements and best practice, as applies to all landowners. The maintenance and management of its waterways are undertaken in accordance with exemptions provided under the Planning and Development Regulations (as amended) and the Birds and Natural Habitats Regulations (2011, as amended).

However, in certain instances where Appropriate Assessment is required these exemptions no longer apply. Waterways Ireland is then obliged to apply for planning permission to the relevant County Council (including for emergency works), as these are the competent authorities to complete the Appropriate Assessment, as stipulated in the aforementioned legislation.

Waterways Ireland has taken the proactive step to progress the development of a schedule of maintenance activities for the Barrow Navigation, as a result of the above planning implications in fulfilling its statutory remit. This will detail the necessary maintenance needed over a 5-year period, recognising the requirement for Appropriate Assessment, with the production of a Natura Impact Statement. This will then be submitted to the relevant County Councils (as the competent authorities) for planning permission.

The process is being undertaken with the assistance of specialist environmental and planning consultants to ensure an open, transparent and independent assessment. Public and stakeholder engagement will also be a core element of its approach.