I thank the Members for their contributions. This amendment is entirely unacceptable to the Government. It seeks to establish the maritime area consent, MAC, as an environmental assessment tool. That is not what a MAC is.
The State owns or controls almost the entire maritime area from the high water mark to the outer limit of the continental shelf. Anyone who wants to carry out a development or activity in the maritime area must, therefore, obtain the consent of the State to be able to occupy a part of the maritime area. The Maritime Area Planning Bill provides that, prior to development taking place in the maritime area, a developer must obtain a right from the State in the form of a maritime area consent, MAC, to occupy a particular part of the maritime area. This is confirmed in section 75 of the Bill.
The MAC concept is new and I think it would be helpful to detail what a MAC is and is not. A MAC fulfils specific functions within the overall consenting sequence. A MAC is a right to occupy a part of the maritime area, conditional on securing other necessary approvals; ensures due diligence to ensure the MAC holder can undertake the proposal; manages the relationship between the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, and the holder through the MAC conditions; and is the gateway into planning permission. A MAC is not a lease - MAC obligations rest exclusively with the holders; permission to undertake works, development or activities – that is provided for under the Planning Act or in licensing; or an environmental decision-making process.
We have applied a single environmental assessment principle that is provided for under the Planning Act or in licensing. Section 79(5) of the Bill provides that, for the avoidance of doubt, the MARA is not required, for the purposes of determining MAC applications, to carry out an environmental impact assessment, EIA, or appropriate assessment, AA, or screening for an EIA or AA.
In developing the new regime set out in this Bill, we examined in detail the operation of the Foreshore Act and its interactions with the Planning Act. We have designed a new sequenced consent regime that separates the financial and estate management issues from the environmental and planning issues. Prospective developers will have to secure a MAC and then apply for planning permission. They will need to secure both before development can begin.
The MAC is the grant by the State of a right to occupy the maritime area. Planning permission is a development consent. They are different processes that serve different functions.
Furthermore, by reason of the provisions of sections 79(1) and (2), section 80(1) and the criteria which MARA is required to have regard to as set out in Schedule 5, it should be noted that the information to be provided by an applicant and the criteria to be considered and applied by MARA to an application for a MAC is limited to occupation-related and estate management aspects to be expected where the State is granting an occupation interest to an applicant.
There is a notable lack of reference to environmental matters and criteria, and that is intentional. The MAC is not the type of consent that should attract an environmental assessment in any form.
A MAC is conditional on obtaining development consent or planning permission for the proposed development, whatever that may be. If the developer fails to obtain the development consent, the MAC is terminated. There are therefore two related and interconnected consents being granted, one dealing with estate management issues and the other dealing with the development consent issues. The MAC deals with the estate management element. The planning permission, whether obtained from An Bord Pleanála or a coastal planning authority, deals with the development consent aspect and this includes all of the environmental aspects of the consent.
Senators should note that, at MAC stage, most applicants will still be at the point of developing their designs and plans for planning applications and will not have engaged in investment in those processes until they have some assurance that they will get a MAC from the State.
I cannot accept any proposals that seek to fundamentally change the nature of the MAC process or duplicate what exists under the current regime. We are creating a new, streamlined and efficient regime to better manage our maritime usages. The estate management and planning processes must remain distinct and separate in order for the new regime to operate effectively.
Furthermore, I have serious concerns that the proposed amendment could result in a body or organisation being established to pursue environmental protection objectives for a single month solely in order to meet the criteria of locus standi in judicial review proceedings. This is a significant deviation from existing provisions, including the provisions of the planning Acts and those proposed in section 131 of this Bill. This provision could unintentionally lead to abuses of the system and undermine the good work of existing and long-standing environmental NGOs. There is no justification for this.
We will keep all judicial review provisions under constant review, having regard to emerging requirements, case law and other amendments elsewhere, such as in any future review of the planning Acts. I will not, unfortunately, be accepting the amendment.