I propose to take Questions Nos. 523, 543, 589, 590 and 591 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. Project scoping feedback has been received from interested parties through the draft Request for Tender process and has been considered by my Department in the development of the final Request for Tender documentation. My Department intends to publish the call for tender shortly.
Whilst this work is ongoing, my Department has advanced 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. It is anticipated that the formal SEA process will commence, with consultation with the statutory environmental authorities to inform the content of the Environmental Report, following the completion of the screening for Appropriate Assessment by my Department’s Ecological Assessment Unit. The SEA Environmental Report will be published alongside a draft of the interim regulations for a period of public consultation of not less than 4 weeks. This public consultation is expected to commence shortly. A copy of the draft interim regulations and the Environmental Report will be made available for inspection over this period. Written submissions or observations will be taken into consideration before finalisation of the draft interim regulation.
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 expected to be completed in Q2 2022. 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 in the second half of 2022. 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.