DCSIMG

Criticism of Rural Renewal Scheme's lack of assessment of developments in early years

The Heritage Council has made its final submission to the Department of Finance on the Pilot Rural Renewal Scheme for the Upper Shannon Area.

The Heritage Council has made its final submission to the Department of Finance on the Pilot Rural Renewal Scheme for the Upper Shannon Area.

Its view is that the Pilot Rural Renewal Scheme for the Upper Shannon Area has clearly met its key objective to help stimulate development activity within the region.

However, developments promoted in the early years of the scheme were not assessed in detail in terms of the long-term impact (visual, cumulative or otherwise) on the environment and national and local heritage, and particularly the very real impact of large-scale schemes on the River Shannon Corridor Area.

The report provides a detailed assessment of the impact that the Pilot Rural Renewal Tax Scheme for the Upper Shannon Area has had on lands adjacent to the River Shannon and hence the heritage of the River Shannon Waterway Corridor; a 'waterway corridor area' of international significance.

The Council has recommended that future programmes and tax incentive schemes are designed with the protection, preservation, enhancement and effective management of our national heritage as a 'core' principle.

The economic, environmental and social benefits of a vibrant heritage sector are wide-reaching and any future scheme(s) should seek to consolidate and enhance the long-term viability and sustainability of this important sector, the report states.

The assessment focuses on the resulting impact of increased development pressures on the heritage within the River Shannon Corridor and the implications for the planning and development system within this area.

The Heritage Council highlighted at the time of the introduction of the pilot scheme in 1998, that the programme was introduced without a 'Baseline Audit' to inform the level and scale of development to be supported through the scheme and to ensure an effective and efficient monitoring and evaluation system.

In addition, the scheme was extended without the undertaking of any mid-programme evaluation.

It is the Heritage Council's view that the lack of a baseline audit and a mid-term evaluation makes it almost impossible to undertake a robust efficiency test of public finance contributions to the scheme.

In addition consideration of the true impact of the scheme on the national heritage is compromised by the lack of this information.

Lack of available information to inform the scheme

A review of the planning and development context in 1999 highlights the lack of available information to inform the scheme.

The planning and development framework in the EU and Ireland has evolved substantially since the scheme was introduced, including the introduction of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and the Wildlife Amendment Act 2000 and the Planning and Development Regulations 2001.

The average number of planning applications submitted to Leitrim and Roscommon County Councils per annum doubled during the scheme from 1,458 per annum during 1994-1998 to 3,089 per annum during 1999-2004.

The number of planning appeals dealt with by An Bord Pleanla also increased substantially during the same period.

Additional resources or funding were not made available

Consultation with the planning department and planning officers within Leitrim and Roscommon County Councils suggests that additional resources or funding were not made available either by the Council, the Department of Finance or by any other body, at the outset of the scheme.

Allocation of such resources would have allowed more detailed consideration of applications compensating to some extent for the lack of an initial baseline audit Leitrim and Roscommon experienced a population increase during the late 1990's and early 2000's indicating that the scheme has met its objectives to stimulate rural renewal and development activity within the region.

A significant number of permitted residential developments are either currently unoccupied/vacant or cater specifically to the seasonal holiday market

However, a comparison of the number of total planning applications submitted during the period of the scheme and the resulting population increase suggests that a significant number of permitted residential developments are either currently unoccupied/vacant or cater specifically to the seasonal holiday market.

Four detailed Case studies are provided (two case studies each for Counties Leitrim and Roscommon), in order to illustrate the long-term impact that the tax incentive scheme will have on the River Shannon Corridor Area. The case studies are Shannon Cove (Dromod), Leitrim Marina (Leitrim Village), Cortober (Carrick-on-Shannon) and Lough Key Forest Park.

These case studies indicate that earlier schemes were not subjected to a full environmental impact assessment and included elements of unauthorised development.

As the planning and development framework in the EU and Ireland has evolved, development proposals are now subjected to a stricter assessment and determination process.

The Heritage Council recommends that future programmes and tax incentive schemes are designed with the protection, preservation, enhancement and effective management of the national heritage as a 'core' principle.

The economic, environmental and social benefits of a vibrant heritage sector are wide-reaching and any future scheme should seek to consolidate and enhance the long-term viability and sustainability of this important sector.

Effectively, the Heritage Council was concerned that the tax scheme designation was a 'blanket zoning' of land within the qualifying/designated area.

The programme did not identify 'priority areas suitable for development', nor did it provide any strategic protection for designated areas including the corridor of the River Shannon.

In addition, it should be noted that the original scheme did not make any provision in the qualifying criteria for strategic environmental assessment or impact.

The programme did not exploit an opportunity to promote the use of sustainable design and building materials in any new build or refurbishment project supported by the scheme.

Research reveals that the following studies are required to inform the day-to-day strategic management of the project:

• Integration with the EU Wild Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) and the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and Wildlife Act 1976 (Amended 2000);

• In-depth baseline data and information to inform the pilot project including biodiversity and other heritage datasets relating to vulnerable and sensitive areas along the Shannon corridor area.

• Environmental assessment to ensure the protection of the unique heritage within the scheme area and the Shannon Corridor Area, e.g. landscape, ecological, etc.

• Landscape and historical character assessment to guide development supported by the scheme;

• In-depth capacity studies relating to infrastructure and utilities;

• Land use transportation studies to assess the overall capacity of development lands and to identify transport corridors and related phasing of development;

• Identification of key development/opportunities sites within towns and large villages suitable for medium and high-density development and preparation of development frameworks and briefs for same;

• Design guidance for new build and refurbishment schemes; and

• Design of numerous Village and Town Design Statements to provide a framework for development in small villages within the pilot area.

Recommendations

The following measures are recommended in relation to the management and staffing of the planning and development process in future tax incentive scheme

• Provision of adequate resources to be made available to ensure effective assessment and monitoring of planning applications and resulting developments within tax incentive scheme area;

• Provision of adequate resources to ensure effective enforcement procedures relating to tax incentive supported development;

• Appointment of qualified inspector to review and monitor building and environmental management practices within the scheme area.

Case studies

In order to assess the impact of the scheme on the River Shannon Corridor area, four case studies were examined

1. Shannon Cove, Dromod Village - Residential marina development comprising 33 no. detached units (4 & 5 bed), 32 no. apartments (2/3 bed) and 61 no. berths. Located at a prominent elevated site within an area of High Amenity Value (HAV) on the banks of Lough Bofin on the River Shannon.

2. Leitrim Marina, Leitrim Village - Residential marina and hotel development located on the site of the old Village Fair Green fronting the River Shannon (300m frontage) comprising 68 no. apartments, a hotel (10 no. bedrooms) with licensed bar, lounge, restaurant and leisure suite in five blocks (hotel plus Blocks A-D), 34 no. berths, tennis court and children's play area.

3. Capercross Development Ltd., Cortober, Carrick-on-Shannon - Large-scale mixed-use development consisting of townhouses, apartments, private marina, medical centre, travel lodge, petrol filling station, cinema/leisure complex, retail space and office space at prominent site on bend of River Shannon.

4. Newfound Consortium (Canadian), Lough Key Forest Park - Large-scale leisure development/eco-tourism resort at Lough Key Forest Park in Co Roscommon. The Consortium proposes to build a five star, 100 bedroom hotel and spa, 293 luxury golf and forest lodges/holiday cottages, an 18-hole championship golf course, equestrian facilities, a water-based activity centre, and a range of bars, cafes restaurants, a retail centre.

It is recommended that the following 'core' principles be adopted at the conceptualisation and design stage of any future scheme:

• In-depth Environmental Impact Assessment beyond designated thresholds to ensure protection and enhancement of our national heritage; and

• Design of Innovative sustainable design and energy efficient guidelines.

Any scheme of this type, to conform to current Best Practice and to ensure effective ongoing and evaluation of impact, must be based on:

• Integration with the EU Wild Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) and the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and Wildlife Act 1976 (Amended 2000);

• Environmental assessment to ensure the protection of the unique heritage within the scheme area and the Shannon Corridor Area, e.g. landscape, ecological, etc;

• Landscape and historical character assessment to guide development supported by the scheme;

• In-depth capacity studies relating to infrastructure and utilities;

• Land use transportation studies to assess the overall capacity of development lands and to identify transport corridors and related phasing of development;

• Identification of key development/opportunities sites within towns and large villages suitable for medium and high-density development and preparation of development frameworks and briefs for same; and

• Design guidance for new build and refurbishment schemes.

The following measures are recommended in relation to the management and staffing of the planning and development process in future tax incentive scheme areas:

• Provision of adequate resources to ensure effective enforcement procedures relating to tax incentive supported development; and

• Appointment of qualified inspector to review and monitor building and environmental management practices within the scheme area.

It is recommended that the following data collection requirements be introduced for future tax incentive schemes:

• Population targets to be established at the outset of any scheme;

• Annual mid-year estimates to be prepared for tax incentive scheme areas at DED level, in order to assist in overall monitoring and evaluation; and

• Statistics to be prepared showing trends in the resident and visitor population within the scheme area.

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page