Developers will breathe a sigh of relief when EU-designation status to protect the freshwater pearl mussel in Co Cork is lifted.
All major development along the famed Blackwater River had been halted by an EU directive in 2014.
The mussel cannot breed in polluted waters and the EU had stepped in to suggest that the local authority, and Irish Water, would have to drastically improve sewerage treatment in the region, if further development was to be allowed to go ahead.
The county council and the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht had to conduct studies on the prevalence of the freshwater pearl mussel in the river.
They discovered the species had not bred locally for a number of years in the main channel and that it could not be considered a sustainable population.
Cllr Gerard Murphy (FG) said the outcome would allow the department to amend the conservation objective for the Blackwater SAC (Special Area of Conservation).
“The designation had serious consequences for all kinds of development in the Blackwater catchment area and has, up to now, delayed all types of potential housing and commercial development,” Cllr Murphy said.
“If that designation was enforced, it would see the virtual sterilisation of development in most parts of North Cork.”
Scientists advised that there was no evidence of breeding in the past 20 years.
Cllr Murphy said Minister Heather Humphreys, who is aware of the surveys, was expected to shortly declassify the EU directive.
“The final decision to deregulate has yet to be decided by the minister responsible, but Ms Humphreys’ former department has communicated to the county council, and it will be taken into consideration by its planning department,” Cllr Murphy added.
Council officials confirmed the correspondence with the department. However, while the main river will be declassified, the stringent regulation will remain in force for one of its tributaries, along the River Allow, north of Kanturk bridge, where the freshwater pearl mussel shows signs it can form a sustainable population.
This area is currently protected, with work being carried out under the EU Life programme administered by IRD Duhallow.
Sediment build-ups can also have an effect on the mussel, and one of the schemes on the Allow is river-bank preservation. River banks have been strengthened in several areas.
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