That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the provisions of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 to provide for the granting of discharge licences by a water services authority for the development of single houses; and to provide for related matters.
This Bill seeks to amend the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 to provide for the granting of discharge licences by a water service authority for the development of single houses and to provide for related matters. For the past six years there has been an ongoing problem getting planning permission in some rural areas where the soil is heavy and fails the percolation test. All these problems flow from strict new Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, guidelines, which were adopted by the Government and lodged with the EU, as part of measures to prevent ground water pollution from septic tanks. This strict regulation on rural planning has led to rural decline and depopulation in some parts, mainly in County Leitrim and other areas with heavier soil. The EPA guidelines state that if the percolation test fails, there must be zero discharge of effluent. Zero discharge is impossible, and this rule has effectively imposed a ban on building in many rural areas. This part of the EPA guidelines rules out all reasonable engineering solutions or proposals to treat and dispose of the sewage effluent where the T-test fails, regardless of how high the treatment standard. The EPA guidelines also state that where the test fails, the local authority can issue a waste water discharge licence. However, the interpretation of the legislation at present around discharge licences is that they should be used for multiple houses or industrial settings, as in a small housing estate. In fact, the regulations refer to the discharge of over five cu. m of effluent per day, which is approximately the volume produced by six houses. This interpretation of discharge licences being only for multiple dwellings is effectively copper-fastening the ban on rural planning, even with the use of the most environmentally sound sewage treatment solutions.
I am proposing an amendment to the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 to change this and clearly accommodate the granting of wastewater discharge licences for single houses in rural areas where the T-test fails. I have consulted EPA officials and planning and environmental experts in local authorities and private practise, for the past several months on the appropriateness of discharge licences for single houses where percolation tests fail, and all agree it is a workable solution to this problem. The licence can be designed specifically for single houses where the conditions of the licence could include the installation of a mechanical sewage treatment system, from which effluent would pass through a polishing filter and be discharged into a reed bed and willow pond. This type of treatment method had been used extensively on sites with poorer soil conditions prior to the coming into effect of the new EPA guidelines. They work extremely well, with the final treated discharge water meeting the highest environmental standard. The cost of installing such a treatment system with a wastewater discharge licence would be well under €20,000, but may require a small licence fee.
In the past situations have arisen where people have opposed single houses in rural areas because too many were being built in close proximity to each other. However, the excess in one area should not be used to excuse a famine in another area, which is what we see in many areas of rural County Leitrim. In some parishes we cannot build houses, which means that no new young families can live in them. It is a devastating situation for those areas.
For several months now, I have been consulting with legal advice to establish the correct part of legislation to amend and to test that it will have the desired effect without causing any unintended consequences. We examined the planning and development laws, the pollution laws and EU directives and statutory instruments. I am satisfied that this amendment is the best way to accommodate people in rural areas to build a home for themselves and their families and still comply with the EPA guidelines. It may cost slightly more for the person building the house to comply with the licence, but at the same time it will protect the environment more than adequately and hopefully bring some life back to rural areas. I expect to get the support of all Members of the Dáil for this Bill, which, if passed into law, would mean so much to communities in depopulated rural areas.
I commend the Bill to the House and seek leave to introduce it.