Galway chamber welcomes decision on harbour firm’s plan
Chamber chief Frank Greene describes ‘compensatory’ directive ‘major step forward’
Galway Harbour Company has been given two months to propose measures to offset “negative effects” a major expansion of the harbour. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Galway Chamber of Commerce has welcomed An Bord Pleanála’s decision permitting Galway Harbour Company to identify a “compensatory” fragile habitat as part of its €126 million docks expansion plan.
Chamber president Frank Greene described it as a “major step forward”, and says the business grouping will continue to support the plan.
In the first ruling of its type in the State, the board has signalled that the harbour company can seek approval for a little-used derogation in the EU Habitats Directive for its application.
It has given the harbour company two months to propose “compensatory measures” which would offset the “negative effects” that the expansion would have on the Galway Bay special area of conservation (Sac).
Galway Harbour Company is expected to welcome the move, which effectively gives it scope to seek approval for its project under the “imperative reasons of overriding public interest” (Iropi) provision in the EU Habitats Directive.
The provision under Article 6 (4) of the directive was drawn up in response to several European court judgments, where appellants had argued that economic interests took precedence over protected habitats – including construction of a dyke in the Leybucht nature reserve in Germany to protect against flooding.
The European Commission has to approve the derogation to the directive – the cornerstone of its environmental protection legislation – and has only done so in about 30 cases to date across the community.
In its letter to the Galway Harbour Company this week, the planning board confirmed that it could not approve the strategic infrastructure application for a port extension under Article 6 (3) of the EU Habitats Directive, due to its “significant adverse impact” on the integrity of the Galway Bay Complex Sac.
It invites the company to confirm if it wishes to submit “proposals for compensatory measures to address the impacts on the integrity of the Galway Bay Complex SAC”, which should “offset the negative effects of the project, such that the overall coherence of the Natura 2000 network is maintained”.
The harbour company must “liaise” with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the appeals board will seek wildlife service views on the acceptability of the proposals.
The harbour company has been given a deadline of November 24th for this.
The plan to expand Galway harbour was the subject of an oral hearing earlier this year, following some 126 submissions – including objections by Shannon-Foynes Port Company and An Taisce.
The proposed four-phase plan involves the construction of new deep-water berths to the south of the existing port, a marina and nautical centre.
Construction of the first phase has been estimated to cost €52 million.
Project engineer Eamon Waldron, on behalf of the harbour company, told the hearing there were “severe constraints” to operations within the existing harbour, which is tidal with a shallow entrance channel.
The president of Galway chamber on Thursday welcomed the news that the planning process for the extension to Galway Port has taken a major step forward.