PLANNERS ARE not required to take climate change or coastal erosion into account when approving housing on the Atlantic seaboard, a study has found.
Preliminary findings of a case study on the Mayo coastline indicate that there are no guidelines or obligations on planners to ensure that coastal properties are protected from these risks.
The study, led by researchers from NUI Galway, is focusing on a 40km stretch of coastline from Carrowniskey, near Louisburgh, to Newport in Co Mayo.
The initial findings of the Atlantic Network for Coastal Risk Management (Ancorim) initiative, which also involves Mayo County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta, were discussed late last month with European partners in Westport, Co Mayo.
Dr Kevin Lynch of NUIG’s Ryan Institute said that the 40km stretch was selected because of its geomorphological diversity.
The “microcosm of the Irish western seaboard” has open and sheltered bays, tidal flats, estuaries, dunes and urban areas along the relatively small geographic area.
“All of these features are prone to coastal erosion and to sea-level rise due to climate change, along with flooding,” Dr Lynch said.
“Planners have a lot of information now on flooding risks – due to recent experience and media focus – but climate change and coastal erosion are still seen as more abstract.
“National policies on both issues don’t seem to translate down to local level in county and town plans, with planners having very little information – and under no obligation either,” he said.
“Such plans are required to go out for consultation, but there has been loss of collective knowledge and expertise in departments and agencies at national level, due to staff movements.
“We examined a number of planning applications in our case study area,” Dr Lynch said.
“In one instance, a proposal to build a house was clearly risky, due to major flooding or sea-level rise and also erosion. The application was turned down, but not for any of these reasons – but because the applicant had not demonstrated social need,” he said.
The issue is particularly pressing given the proposals in the revise foreshore legislation to extend county council planning responsibility out to the 12-mile limit. Dr Lynch said that in many cases, local authorities did not have the resources now to hire consultants to assess complex planning applications for projects such as renewable energy.
The project has identified three key issues – erosion, water quality and planning. The €1.9 million initiative aims to “bridge the gap between climate change scientists and coastal zone decision-makers”.
Risks linked to climate change include not only flooding and coastal erosion, but also strong wind impact, water pollution and forest fires. Dr Lynch said the team was developing tools which aimed to facilitate planners in their job.
“The knowledge base and understanding is out there, but there is a need to connect up the information,” he said.
Prof Micheál Ó Cinnéide has urged planning authorities to have “due regard for risk in their decision-making” and says Ancorim is preparing an inventory of scientific resources and handbooks to facilitate this.
The Ancorim project is led by the southwest French region of Aquitaine and is supported by the EU’s Interreg programme.
A conference is planned for February 2012 to share three years of research in Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal.