Minister moves to protect Clare bats


MINISTER OF State for Housing and Planning Jan O’Sullivan has used her powers to warn Clare County Council that she will intervene to protect a colony of lesser horseshoe bats hibernating in a cave near the village of Quin.

In an unprecedented move, Ms O’Sullivan has served a “notice of intent” to issue a direction requiring the council to amend the South Clare Local Area Plan, adopted on June 11th, so that land adjoining Poulnagordon Cave would remain in agricultural use.

It is the first time a Minister has used powers under section 21 of the 2010 Planning Act to issue such a warning. Previously, Ministers availed of section 31 of the 2000 Planning Act to issue directions requiring local authorities to amend their development plans.

Ms O’Sullivan’s draft direction proposes to set aside a resolution by members of the council to zone lands in Quin as residential, with the effect that they would revert to open space and agriculture zoning in line with the South Clare plan as originally drafted.

The reason given for this intervention is “because of the site’s proximity to Poulnagordon Cave, which is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU habitats directive for the protection of a colony of hibernating lesser horseshoe bats”.

According to the draft direction, Clare County Council’s assessment concluded that this was necessary to protect the cave and its bat population, which is “particularly sensitive to human disturbance, light pollution and habitat fragmentation or loss”.

The county council, which is expected to discuss the Minister of State’s intervention at its meeting today, must now publish her “notice of intent” for public consultation within two weeks of its receipt last Friday, and allow for a consultation period of up to two weeks. After the four-week public consultation process is completed, the county manager must report back on the submissions received.