MINISTER FOR Environment John Gormley is planning new legislation which would transfer responsibility for foreshore licensing to An Bord Pleanála under a new fast-tracking system.
A marine spatial plan will also be drawn up in tandem with the legislation, similar to the national spatial strategy onshore.
The marine spatial strategy would inform planners with a view to ensuring competing projects do not conflict, or do not have a negative impact on sensitive habitats such as Natura 2000 sites around the 7,800 km-long coastline.
The new legislation will involve revising the 1933 Foreshore Act, responsibility for which has been transferred to the Department of Environment since the beginning of this year. The marine spatial plan does not require legislation, and Mr Gormley's department has already been in touch with the Marine Institute on data collection and analysis.
Mr Gormley confirmed at the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) conference in Galway last week that there were 700 foreshore license/lease applications with his department - a backlog which, he pointed out, his department had inherited from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The renewable energy sector and the aquaculture sector have expressed frustration with continuing delays caused by the backlog. Given that the Government has set a target of supplying 40 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, Mr Gormley is believed to be anxious to integrate foreshore licensing for offshore wind and wave installations with the Strategic Infrastructure Act's consent process.
Under the revised legislation, which could be in place by next year, Bord Pleanála's strategic infrastructure unit would deal with the foreshore applications for projects of a certain size. Smaller projects would continue to use the normal planning channels, but planners would be empowered to adopt an integrated approach to the onshore and offshore dimensions where applicable.
The 1933 Foreshore Act requires that a licence must be obtained from the State in advance of any works on State-owned foreshore. It applies to jetties and slipways, marinas, fish farms, coastal wind and wave projects, and to larger projects such as the Corrib gas pipeline, the Ringsend incinerator and the liquefied gas terminal on the Shannon estuary. It also applies to the State's first full-scale test site for wave energy at Annagh Head in north Mayo.
Mr Gormley told wind energy interests in Galway that he aimed to provide a "quality service for all stakeholders - Government, infrastructure providers, State bodies and the general public" through a new model. This would include a "plan-led policy framework for the approval of activities and developments in the marine environment", and integration of estate management on the State-owned foreshore within the wide planning system.
He also aimed to provide for a "single stage consent process for project approval", which would give "greater certainty of timeframes, including mandatory pre-application consultations, a rigorous assessment of environmental impacts, and full public participation".
IWEA chief executive Dr Michael Walsh has expressed concern that a lack of co-ordination between State agencies and consequent bureaucratic delays "threatening delivery of over 80 per cent of planned projects in a potential €20 billion and 20,000 plus job industry".
He has called for an energy "czar" to manage the Government's National Renewable Energy Action Plan if renewable targets for energy are to be met.