Deputy Martin Kenny
Leitrim's Sinn Féin Deputy Martin Kenny will this week introduce a bill to the Dáil which could solve Leitrim's planning impasse for one-off housing.
According to Deputy Kenny the bill is a “simple solution” to the housing problem that has existed in Co Leitrim for over six years.
The proposal is to amend the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 to accommodate the granting of a wastewater discharge licence to allow for the development of single houses in rural areas.
Deputy Kenny explained, “For the past six years there has been an ongoing problem getting planning permission in rural areas, where the soil is heavy and fails the percolation test. All of these problems flow from strict 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 parts of Leitrim and many other areas with heavier soil.”
The EPA guidelines state that if the percolation test fails, there must be “zero discharge of effluent” but that is almost impossible and this has effectively imposed a ban on planning in Leitrim.
Deputy Kenny says, “The EPA guidelines also state that where the test fails, the local authority can issue a wastewater discharge licence. However, the interpretation of the legislation around discharge licences is that they should be used for multiple houses, as in a small housing estate.”
This interpretation is “effectively copper-fastening the ban on rural planning; even with the use of the most environmentally sound sewage treatment solutions.”
Deputy Kenny is proposing an amendment to the Water Pollution Act to change this and clearly accommodate the granting of a wastewater discharge licence for single houses in rural areas where the T-test fails.
He says he has consulted with EPA officials and with planning and environmental experts, in local authorities and private practice, for the past several months and “all agree it is a workable solution.”
The licence can be designed specifically for single house applications, where the conditions of the licence could include installing 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 these new EPA guidelines coming into effect.
The cost of installing such a treatment system with a wastewater discharge licence would be well under €20,000 and may require a small licence fee of approx €200.
Deputy Kenny is satisfied that this amendment is the best way to accommodate people in rural areas to build a home for themselves and their family and still comply with the EPA guidelines.
If the bill gets support and passes into law it will mean planning permission can be granted. If not, it is hoped to push the Government to find an alternative solution.