Irish Water has confirmed it is to press ahead with one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in Ireland — the pumping of water from the Shannon river all the way to Dublin to supply the capital’s taps.
However, the €1.3bn project — which has already almost tripled in estimated cost in four years and fallen more than a year behind schedule — is facing further delays because the Government has failed to update the 75-year-old laws that govern water abstraction.
The European Commission warned in 2000 that Ireland’s laws did not comply with the Water Framework Directive, which insists on much more comprehensive regulation of abstraction together with the establishment of an abstraction licence regime.
Despite numerous warnings from state bodies, environmental groups, and legal experts since, the Government only gave the go-ahead for work to begin on the drafting of new legislation last November.
Irish Water said of the legislative vacuum that it understood the new law, the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill, would be published this summer and enacted by the end of this year.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government confirmed that was the target but added: “While Government is hoping to publish legislation in Q2-3 2018 there will first of all be an extensive public consultation process.”
Irish Water had initially hoped to have a planning application submitted under An Bord Pleanála’s fast-track procedure for strategic infrastructure last year and 330m litres of drinking water flowing daily along the 170km of pipeline soon after 2020 at a cost of €500m.
The company later pushed the application date out to late this year and increased the cost estimate to €900m.
It now says: “It is currently intended that the planning application will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála in 2019, legislation permitting.”
It says it hopes to have water from the Shannon being drunk in the greater Dublin area and parts of the Midlands from 2025, at a cost of €1.3bn.
The update comes in a report published by Irish Water today on the many submissions it received from landowners and other interested parties following its latest public consultation.
Around 500 landowners, predominantly in counties Tipperary, Offaly, and Kildare, will be directly affected by the project but more than 1,000 individuals and groups took part in the consultation which was launched after the preferred route of the pipeline — from the Parteen Basin in Tipperary to Peamount in West Dublin — was identified.
Nothing in the consultation has prompted any change to the route but Irish Water says it has taken into account the many varied concerns expressed about the impact of the project on land, livelihoods and the environment during its construction and operation.
Landowners who suffer “direct and measurable losses” will be compensated but it is also open to An Bord Pleanala to insert a “community gain” clause into permission for such projects, requiring financial contributions, the provision of amenities or other benefits in recognition of any inconvenience to local communities.
The report says a consistent and high standard water supply will be “the fundamental gain of this project for all communities in the Eastern and Midlands Region”. However, it adds that “a community gain proposal will form part of the planning application”.
Sean Laffey, head of asset management with Irish Water, said the project was urgently needed to supply the growing population and deal with sudden shortages such as those caused by recent droughts and storms.
“The future needs of Dublin and the Midlands can not be met by fixing leaks alone,” he said.
“Irish Water is now satisfied beyond doubt that the preferred Parteen Basin option is the correct scheme and its delivery is critical for the future.”
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