I propose to take Questions Nos. 591, 648, 654, 673 and 729 together.
Under the Planning and Development Act, 2000, as amended (the Act), all development, unless specifically exempted under the Act or associated Regulations, requires planning permission. Section 4 of the Act and Schedule 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended (the Regulations), set out various exemptions from the requirement to obtain planning permission. Any such exemptions are subject to compliance with any general restrictions on exemptions set out in the Act or the Regulations and to the specific conditions set out in each class of exempted development in Schedule 2 of the Regulations. Included in the planning exemptions set out in the Regulations are those applying to the installation of solar infrastructure on a variety of building types, including houses, businesses, industrial and agricultural to which specific conditions are attached.
My Department, in the context of the Climate Action Plan and in consultation with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, has undertaken a review of the solar panel planning exemptions set out in the Regulations, with a particular focus on facilitating increased self-generation of electricity.
This review is now complete. Substantial changes to the current planning exemption thresholds for solar panels are proposed, as well as the introduction of new classes of solar panel planning exemptions relating to their use in apartments and in educational/community/religious buildings.
In light of the need to appropriately address aviation safety concerns arising from the “glint and glare” impacts of solar panels and the easing of the solar panel planning exemption thresholds, my Department is in the process of commissioning the development of detailed aviation safeguarding maps which will identify and delineate specific but limited areas in the vicinity of airports and aerodromes (referred to as exclusion zones) within which the exemptions will not apply. This mapping process will take approximately nine months to complete.
Whilst this work is ongoing, my Department proposes to advance interim regulations, adopting a temporary, albeit more stringent, radial approach incorporating initial defined exclusion zones around airports and aerodromes. These interim regulations, allowing for increased solar panel planning exemptions, will cover the vast majority of the land area of the country, only excluding those limited exclusion zones around airports and aerodromes.
The draft interim regulations have been reviewed under the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive 2001/42/EC and it has been determined that they are likely to have significant effects on the environment, necessitating the undertaking of a full SEA on the draft proposals. The SEA process, involving a public consultation on the proposals which will be launched in the comings weeks, has commenced and is expected to take between four and five months to complete.
Following the public consultation and consideration of any submissions received, and as required under planning legislation, the proposed exempted development regulations must be laid in draft form before the Houses of the Oireachtas and receive a positive resolution from both Houses before they can be made and the SEA process concluded.
Accordingly, the process for finalising the interim solar panel planning exemptions as referred to above, with interim exclusion zones around airports and aerodromes, is now expected to be completed in Q4 2021. As outlined, pending the finalisation of the aforementioned aviation safeguarding maps, these interim regulations will allow for the vast majority of the country to be covered by the proposed new solar panel exemptions apart from those areas in close proximity to airports and aerodromes.
Work on the development of the aviation safeguarding maps for airports and aerodromes is expected to be completed by Q4 2021. The final supplementary set of regulations - delineating the final exclusion areas around airports and aerodromes in which the exemptions will not apply - will be prepared thereafter and, subject to environmental reporting considerations, will subsequently be laid in draft form before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval in a timely manner.