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Complaint lodged with European Commission over Government inertia regarding Howth heathlands

howth 1

Press Release

Thursday 18 Jun 2015

Dublin Independent MEP, Nessa Childers has lodged a formal complaint to the European Commission, against the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government and local authority Fingal County Council, for their failure to adequately protect heathlands on East Mountain, located on Howth Peninsula, County Dublin.

In her letter to Commissioner Karmenu Vella, who is responsible for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Ms Childers said: ‘Heathland is under threat throughout Europe, and as a result has been listed as a priority habitat for conservation.  The area which is the subject of this correspondence is the largest area of lowland dry heath in Ireland.

‘It is my contention that the Irish State, should take a stronger and more proactive role in protecting the area, and central to my complaint is the preservation of the open heathland on East Mountain. This is of concern because since 2011 fencing has been installed on the heathland, despite being contrary to the terms of the Howth Special Amenity Area Order.

‘The state in the year 2000 signed into law a very strong protection for East Mountain, but this protection needs to be policed. It would be an immense loss if this area protected under the Habitats Directive were to disappear due to inertia in the face of private interests.

‘I do not make this complaint lightly, and I believe the local authority and the Department of the Environment need to take a more pro-active and robust interest in protecting this special place.  We do not want to suddenly discover, because of aspects of Irish Planning Law, the area eventually loses its protected status.

Text of full complaint to the European Commissioner:

Commissioner Karmenu Vella

European Commission

Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200

1049 Brussels, Belgium

Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

8 June 2015

 

Protection of Heathland on East Mountain, Howth

Dear Commissioner Vella

I wish to lodge a complaint against the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government in Ireland, and local authority Fingal County Council, for their failure to adequately protect priority habitat, the dry heathland on East Mountain, located on Howth Peninsula, County Dublin.

Background

The Howth Peninsula is close to Dublin City.  The most outstanding natural feature of this area is the coastland, sea scape, and the heathland on East Mountain.

A major feature of any heathland is open countryside, and the lack of disruption to the landscape.  Historically the area of heathland on East Mountain was open land, with no enclosures, with minimal small scale development; hence the survival of this habitat into the late 20th century.

Heathland on Howth Peninsula

Heathland is under threat throughout Europe, and as a result has been listed as a priority habitat for conservation[i].  The area which is the subject of this correspondence is the largest area of lowland dry heath in Ireland.

Because of its special habitat, the area is protected by the Howth Special Amenity Area Order (Howth SAAO)[ii] and the location is shown on the Howth Special Amenity Area Order Map B., and it is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) [iii]

It is further proposed that this coastal area on the Howth peninsula be included in a UNESCO Biosphere, as it is proposed to extend the currently designated North Bull Island Biosphere[iv] to cover more of Dublin Bay[v].

The proposed Dublin Bay Biosphere would bring together a number of important coastal habitats – estuaries, wetlands, marshlands, sand dunes, cliffs and heath – that support a wealth of wildlife including mammals, birds, fish, insects and plants.[vi] The heathlands of Howth Peninsula would be an integral part of this biosphere.

The local authority, Fingal County Council, in its Development Plan 2011-2017 [vii] includes the following statements:

 

“The strategy for Howth Peninsula is to ensure that conservation and preservation of its sensitive and scenic area, in particular through the implementation of the Howth SAAO.”

 

“Howth Head is a Special Amenity Area and there are also several Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas located on and around the peninsula which must be protected into the future.”

 

Threats to the habitat of East Mountain

The protection of East Mountain Heathland, the subject of this complaint, is a requirement under Irish Law as follows:

S.I. 133 / 2000:  The Howth Special Amenity Area Order ( Howth SAAO )

S.I. 600 / 2001:  Local Government Planning and Development Regulations

The SAAO for Howth includes Objective 2.4 ‘To preserve existing areas of Heathland and Maritime Grassland”, and policy 2.4.1 states:

“Development which would reduce existing area of heathland and maritime grassland will not be permitted except for reasons of overriding public interest.”

In recent years however, commencing circa 2011, the land in question has been subject to the introduction of extensive fencing and enclosures (see Picture 2) that in my opinion fail to meet special area amenity order criteria for exemption of fencing (see Picture 3)

The Howth SAAO Schedule 3.1.2 vii states:

 

 “Concrete posts and wire fencing and other forms of wire fencing are acceptable where there is a need for stock-proof fencing provided that the fence is inside a hedge or wall which is in accordance with the guidelines.”

Heathland requires an open uninterrupted landscape, and if this encroachment is left unchallenged by the Irish State, under Irish law it has the potential over time to allow a precedent, resulting in the introducing of more intrusive infrastructure, subdivision of heathland, and subsequent loss of habitat protected under EU law.

The lack of action regarding this fencing was raised too by local elected councillors at their meeting in January 2015:

 

“That this committee recommends that the Council investigate the

erection of fencing which encloses heathland at the East Mountain Howth

and take any appropriate enforcement action.”  See Appendix I.

The local authority recently issued a warning letter regarding the erecting of this fencing: ENF 15/64B, 12 May 2015.

Compliance with EU Directives relating to habitat

This complaint is not about the Irish planning process per se, and therefore has been submitted to the Commission notwithstanding the issuing of the recent planning enforcement notice.

Instead my complaint addresses the wider issue of preservation of the open heathland on East Mountain and compliance with EU Directives relating to habitat, and to alert the Commission to the fact that if the fencing is allowed to remain it could herald the end of the heathland. This is because under Irish planning law an establishment of a right to exist over time, could inadvertently allow these structures to remain and lead to more development on priority habitat.

It is my contention that the Irish State, should take a stronger and more vigorous role in protecting the area.  The Irish state in the year 2000 signed into law a very strong protection for this area; it would be an immense loss to Irish, and European, habitat if this area protected under the Habitat Directive were to disappear due to inertia in the face of private interests.

Yours sincerely

 

Nessa Childers MEP

 

References

[i] EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC)

[ii] Howth Special Amenity Area Order

http://www.fingalcoco.ie/planning-and-buildings/development-plans-and-consultations/studies-and-reports/howth-special-amenity-area-order/

[iii] http://www.fingalcoco.ie/environment/conservation-and-biodiversity/

[iv] The North Bull Island Biosphere (1981) is currently under review to meet UNESCO requirements

[v] https://consultation.dublincity.ie/planning/dublin-bay-biosphere

[vi] https://consultation.dublincity.ie/planning/dublin-bay-biosphere/supporting_documents/DublinBayBiosphere_LEAFLET.pdf

[vii]http://www.fingalcoco.ie/media/2.4.1%20Development%20Plan%20Written%20Statement%20%20Full%20Document.pdf

Appendix I

COMHAIRLE CONTAE FHINE GALL

FINGAL COUNTY COUNCIL

HOWTH/MALAHIDE AREA COMMITTEE MEETING

(Services B – Strategic & General Matters)

WEDNESDAY 7TH JANUARY 2015

ITEM NO. 25

EAST MOUNTAIN HOWTH

Motion: Councillor C. O’Callaghan

“That this committee recommends that the Council investigate the

erection of fencing which encloses heathland at the East Mountain Howth

and take any appropriate enforcement action.”

Report:

The Inspectorate Division will investigate the erection of fencing at the East

Mountain Howth. However, having regard to the Order of the High Court

made on 5th September 2013, to proceed with enforcement action would be

considered to be in contempt of the High Court Order.

 

Appendix II

 

Chronology

1996              It became known that, despite the area being zoned ‘High Amenity’ under the County Development Plan, 147 hectares (300 acres) of land on Howth East Mountain was purchased from the Howth Estate by a developer.

7 October 1996   In order to protect the area from development, the then Minister for the Environment directed Fingal County Council to prepare a Special Amenity Area Order:

“I am determined that Howth should be conferred with the highest protection afforded by law so that it is preserved forever for the people of Dublin” Brendan Howlin TD, Minister for the Environment , quoted in The Irish Times, Monday, October 7, 1996

16 May 2000       The SAAO was signed into law:  S.I. 133 /2000

2011 to 2013           Extensive fencing erected in an area protected by Habitats Directive

2015                      This extensive fencing remains in situ which under Irish planning law could eventually establish a right to remain.

Note: This is an text only version of the complaint forwarded to the European Commission, with one change to insert the following corrected text: warning notice regarding the erecting of this fencing: ENF 15/64B, 12 May 2015.