On 26th March 2021, my Department received a copy of a planning application, together with a Natura Impact Statement and a statement of case for imperative reasons of overriding public interest ('IROPI') from An Bord Pleanála ('the Board') pursuant to section 177AA(1) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended ('the 2000 Act'), in respect of an application by Galway Harbour Company to the Board for permission for a strategic infrastructure development.
The planning application in question relates to the proposed extension to Galway Harbour and the development will result in direct and permanent loss of habitats in the Galway Bay Complex Special Area of Conservation.
Pursuant to Section 177AB(1)(a) of the 2000 Act, as it applied at that time, the Minister was required to request the views of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (formerly the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) as to whether the compensatory measures proposed in the planning application are sufficient to ensure that the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network is protected. On this basis, Minister O'Brien issued a letter on 27 April 2021, to Ms Catherine Martin, TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, requesting her views as to whether the compensatory measures proposed in the application are sufficient to ensure that the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network is protected.
However, certain Heritage functions, including the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media's consultative functions under the 2000 Act, were transferred to this Department on 24 June 2021, under Statutory Instrument number 302/2021, thereby rendering the consultative functions relating to IROPI planning applications between the Heritage Division (including the National Parks and Wildlife Service ('NPWS')) and the Planning Division of the Department an internal Departmental matter.
Following these transfer of functions, and pursuant to Section 177AB(1)(b) of the 2000 Act, on 3 August 2021, NPWS requested that further consultations would be required with An Bord Pleanála, who would need to consult with the applicant, and subsequently, that a modified proposal should be submitted to the Department for further review. This request was sent to the Board on 3 September 2021.
It should be noted that there is no statutory time period set for completion of any of the steps in Section 177AB of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. It is now a matter for the Board to respond to the request for consultation, having consulted with the applicant, Galway Harbour Company, with respect to the issues raised by the request. In this regard, I am not in a position to give a timeline for completion of the present stage of the IROPI process in section 177AB(1) in this instance.