Category Archives: Personal Submissions

Submission to the National Roads Design Office on the Carr’s Hill Interchange proposal

Project Engineer,
M28 Cork to Ringaskiddy Motorway Scheme,
Cork National Roads Office,
Richmond,
Glanmire,
Co. Cork.

29th November, 2015.

 

RE: Proposed Carr’s Hill Interchange and associated works

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to proposals for a new interchange at Carr’s Hill to facilitate the anticipated upgrade of the existing N28 to motorway status.

The N28 connects the Strategic Employment Area of Ringaskiddy to Cork City and beyond. As of An Bord Pleanala’s decision last year to grant planning permission to the Port of Cork for relocation and construction of new facilities at Ringaskiddy, the N28 will also need to connect port traffic to the rest of the country. This is a significant ask for a road that is already suffering extreme congestion. Much investment has gone into the Ringaskiddy cluster and both the relevant authorities and the local population put tremendous store by what Ringaskiddy can deliver for employment and the economy generally. There is widespread support for upgrading the N28 such that it may ease current traffic congestion and help Ringaskiddy to become more efficient in every way.

Despite this widespread support for the upgrade of the N28, the current proposals for the Carr’s Hill Interchange and associated works have engendered an unprecedented level of concern. Socio-economically, the local population is dominated by working families who are well educated and who contribute significantly to the local economy. They are busy people who devote the majority of their lives to their children, their work and to the commuting associated with both. Typically, these people simply do not have the time to engage in public consultations.

There is a clear message being delivered to the Cork National Roads Office when these people, in their hundreds, have expressed their massive concern about the Carr’s Hill Interchange proposals. These are people who live in the N28 corridor and who have an incomparable level of familiarity with the regional and local roads within the N28 corridor. They use those roads every day, at all times of the day. They use them for school deliveries, for getting to work, for shopping, for going to church, for calling to friends. With the single exception of the Greenway along the former railway line connecting Passage West to Cork City, the regional and local roads in the N28 Corridor are notably devoid of cycling infrastructure. The pattern of development is too linear to facilitate easy walking. Housing in and around Rochestown in particular is on steep hills. Local facilities are few and far between. Those that are available are generally at the bottom of these hills. It follows that, of necessity, these people are highly car-dependent.

This is one of the primary reasons that extreme congestion is not seen just on the N28. It is seen throughout the N28 corridor. Those who live with and negotiate that congestion every day are those most qualified to voice opinions on the proposed Carr’s Hill Interchange and associated works. I concur strongly with all of their concerns.

  

  • Inadequate size of roundabout at Maryborough Ridge

One key element of the Carr’s Hill Interchange proposals is the closure of the Mount Oval and Maryborough Hill slip roads. The Cork National Roads Office advises us that these slip roads are not to motorway standard. It is proposed that the thousands of commuters who use these roads every day will instead use the new Carr’s Hill Interchange. This means that Mount Oval residents would come out of Mount Oval, turn right, go up Garryduff and turn right down onto the new roundabout at Maryborough Ridge. Maryborough Hill residents would come up the hill to use the Maryborough Ridge roundabout. Carrigaline, Passage West and Monkstown residents who currently travel up Moneygourney to access the Maryborough Hill slip road would use the Maryborough Ridge roundabout instead. Many Douglas residents choose not to sit in the congested mess that is Douglas village traffic every morning and access the N40 by the Maryborough Hill slip road. It is simply not possible for the roundabout at Maryborough Ridge to accommodate this level of commuting traffic at peak. The roundabout is too small. It was not designed for this. The approach roads are too narrow. Neither the roundabout nor Maryborough Hill will ever accommodate more than one lane of traffic. The Carr’s Hill Interchange proposal falls at this very first hurdle. The Maryborough Ridge roundabout and its approach roads are too small.

 

  • Unacceptable volume of traffic through Maryborough Ridge

To drive all this traffic through Maryborough Ridge is extremely unfair. Maryborough Ridge is a residential estate. It was always planned that a distributor road connecting Maryborough Hill to the N28 would run through it. But even the proposal for that distributor road generated concern when the development was at planning stage:

The proposed through road will become a link road serving the N28 and will result in large volumes of traffic travelling through a built up area at high speed ad will cause segregation of the overall estate into the future. Also such a proposal endangers users of the open green areas adjoining and pedestrians wishing to cross the through road.”

These were the comments of the Assistant Area Engineer of Cork County Council in April, 2004 when the construction of Maryborough Ridge was being considered by Cork County Council. These were concerns expressed about envisaged local commuter traffic even when there were other existing local alternatives by which the local traffic could access the N28. It is incomparable to what is proposed now by the Cork National Roads Design Office. The levels of risk to residents, noise and air pollution are incomparable. It is entirely unsustainable to propose bringing this level of traffic through a residential estate.

 

  • Closure of the Mount Oval slip road is unacceptable

The proposed closure of the Mount Oval slip road is unacceptable. The reason it is unacceptable is simple: the development of 800 houses at Mount Oval would not have been approved by the planning authority without the existence of that slip road. The road through Foxwood was always intended as a distributor road to the N28 and was shown as such in a 1999 variation of the 1996 County Development Plan. This variation was prompted by the Bacon Report. It signalled an acceptance of higher density development for suitable sites and made specific proposals for improved road access to lands that were accepting higher density development. The Mount Oval development was considered to be one such parcel of land.

In his comments in February 2000 on the planning application for Mount Oval, the Chief Planning Officer of Cork County Council said that: “This spine of distributor roads will facilitate traffic movement in the area with the off-ramp access from Sli Charrig Dhonn providing an alternative to the local road network. The connection through Foxwood … comprises an integral part of the original estate layout – the section of road through Foxwood has no frontage development and has obviously been designed to link into the spine/distributor road system.

The use of the word “integral” is highly relevant.

It was again reflected in the comments of the An Bord Pleanala planning inspector: “The construction of the spine road, while it will facilitate traffic management in the wider area, is an essential element of this development”.

The planning application for high density development in Mount Oval would have been looked at in an entirely different light were the spine road with off-ramp access to the N28 not available. This is because it was widely acknowledged by developers and both planning authorities that the local roads were in need of essential upgrading. It is 16 years since the first major planning application for Mount Oval was lodged. In all this time, with the exception of the short stretch from Garryduff to Maryborough Hill those local roads have not been upgraded in any way. But traffic has increased significantly in that time. So dependence on the Mount Oval slip road is greater than was ever envisaged. Frankly, the Roads Design Office has no authority to propose closure of a road that was deemed essential to permitting high density development. It would be far more appropriate were the plans for the upgrading of the N28 to incorporate proposals to develop the long-promised on-ramp to Mount Oval rather than to eliminate the existing essential off-ramp.

 

  • Congestion and inadequacy of local roads around Mount Oval

Because the roundabout at Maryborough Ridge would suffer intolerable congestion and because the journey to that roundabout would increase commuting trips by several kilometres, it is inevitable that local traffic would divert to the Rochestown Road. Mount Oval residents will come down Clarke’s Hill or Coach Hill to access the N28 via the on-ramp at the Rochestown roundabout.

The R610 is already massively congested. In his frustration, one resident of Passage West videoed and timed his movement along the R610 in the morning peak. Typically, it took him 7 minutes to travel 900 metres. Delays are caused largely by the pinch point that is the Rochestown roundabout. Cork County Council attempted to improve through-flow by providing an extra lane onto the roundabout west-bound. This helped ease congestion for a while but has shown no capacity to keep pace with car use generally. Tailbacks every morning stretch from the Rochestown roundabout to Hop Island. The R610 cannot accommodate more traffic. Drivers of cars on the R610 always co-operate with traffic from Clarke’s Hill attempting to join the Rochestown roundabout queue. But to expect cars waiting at the bottom of Clarke’s Hill to turn right through that westbound stream of traffic without any visibility of what is coming on the eastbound lane is utterly unreasonable.

 

  • Inadequacy of right-hand turning lane at the bottom of Clarke’s Hill

It is equally unreasonable to offer a right-hand turning lane at the bottom of Clarke’s Hill as a solution to the increased number of cars that would leave the N28 at the Rochestown road off-ramp. It would be insufficient. This right-hand turning lane is needed already to ease the tailback in the evening peak to and through the Rochestown roundabout. This congestion in turn creates a tailback on the N28 off-ramp. It is not right that provision of this essential right-hand turning lane should be considered only in the context of the N28 upgrade.

 

There are additional issues for cars attempting to leave the N28 off-ramp to get onto the Rochestown roundabout. Visibility is appalling. It is impossible to see traffic coming from the Douglas direction until it comes past the bridge supports. If increased commuter traffic were to use the Rochestown off-ramp in an attempt to avoid the longer route associated with the proposed Carr’s Hill Interchange, it would be essential to improve visibility and safety at this location.

 

  • Clarke’s Hill and Coach Hill cannot accommodate additional traffic

Clarke’s Hill and Coach Hill cannot safely and sustainably their existing volume of traffic. This has not been acknowledged in any part of the proposals by the National Roads Design Office. In fact, Coach Hill has not even been mentioned. At present, Clarke’s Hill is so narrow that a bus and car cannot pass simultaneously at the bend at the top. The pinch point in the middle of Coach Hill is sufficiently wide for only one lane of traffic. Visibility at the bottom of Coach Hill is appalling, particularly for right-hand turning traffic. It is not a panacea to say that upgrades for both Clarke’s Hill and Coach Hill are at design stage. Upgrading of these roads has been planned since Mount Oval was granted planning permission. In the intervening 16 years, it still has not happened.

 

  • Increase in noise pollution

What about the residents of Wainsfort, Newlyn Vale and all those who already have heavy traffic in their back gardens? All those whose exposure to noise already keeps them awake at night? Many of these are people for whom an existing tolerable situation was made far worse by TII’s recent destruction of trees along the Bloomfield Interchange and N40. The National Roads Design Office proposals do not contain one reference to existing noise levels currently endured by adjacent residents. That these noise levels will be intensely augmented by the volume and nature of traffic proposed for the M28 is a fundamental consideration. It is not a defence to say that the project is simply at route selection stage; that these issues will be assessed as part of the Environmental Impact Statement for the overall project. These are issues about which people have tremendous concern. Yet when one resident of Wainsfort asked at the public briefing about proposals to provide noise screening to his property as part of the overall upgrading project, he understood from an RPS representative that the Wainsfort section of the N28 may be regarded as existing development rather than a new development and may therefore not even be subject to assessment as part of the Environmental Impact Statement. This is entirely unacceptable.

The proposed leading of all N28-bound local traffic through Maryborough Ridge would also create significant noise pollution for the residents of this estate. Again, it is not adequate to propose noise barriers along either side of the distributor road through the estate. Noise barriers have an unpleasant visual aspect and would cut residents on the south side of the road off from neighbours, play areas and facilities in the northern part of the estate.

 

  • Increase in air pollution

The M28 is to carry a significantly higher proportion of heavy vehicles than the existing N28. Port of Cork figures indicate that by 2033, there will be an overall increase of over 3,350 HGVs travelling to and from the Ringaskiddy port facilities each day. That excludes either further port or industrial development in Ringaskiddy.

 

Air pollutants from cars and trucks are found in higher concentrations near major roads. People who live, work or attend school near major roads have increased incidence and severity of asthma, cardiovascular disease, impaired lung development in children, pre-term and low-birthweight infants, childhood leukemia and premature death. Particles largely generated by diesel exhausts have been shown by recent research carried out in the Netherlands to cause problems at levels well below those stipulated in current EU air-quality directives. It found that for every increase of 5 µg/m3 in annual exposure to PM2.5, the risk of death for men rises by 7%.

Yet yet this proposal for the Carr’s Hill Interchange involves accommodating a massively increased number of HGVs on a road running particularly close to residential housing in Rochestown. It plans to concentrate all N28-bound local traffic through the Maryborough Ridge housing estate. The proposal from the National Roads Design Office does not even mention the new school campus to be provided for both primary and secondary school children in Maryborough Ridge. It is not acceptable that the risks from heavy traffic are not assimilated into the route selection stage of a proposal such as this. It is essential that the adverse effects of air pollution on vulnerable residents are minimised from the outset by good design. Only residual effects should be dealt with by mitigation.

 

 

  • Proposal fails to comply with government policy

At the most fundamental of levels, this proposal for the Carr’s Hill Interchange is wrong. In 2009, the government produced an 11-year policy document for the future of transport in Ireland. This policy document, Smarter Travel: A New Transport Policy for Ireland, outlines the actions that must be achieved across all sectors in society to achieve defined goals towards reduced emissions from transport and modal shift.

Through this policy document, the government promises society that “individual and collective quality of life will be enhanced. It commits to actions which will help to “reduce health risks and the incidence of accidents and fatalities”. Above all, the government pledges that “land use planning and the provision of transport infrastructure and services will be better integrated”.

Despite these commitments from government towards more sustainable transport, the key elements of the Carr’s Hill Interchange proposal are to:

  • Eliminate two key local access ramps to the N28
  • Replace the two key local access ramps with an interchange system comprising four roundabouts and a longer distance of several kilometres
  • Attempt to force all local commuting traffic to the one point of access to the N28
  • Bring all local commuting traffic through a residential estate.

The on-the-ground reality of these proposals would lead to:

  • Traffic diverting to an already over-congested regional road in an attempt to avoid the unwieldy proposed interchange
  • Increased levels of noise endured by a significantly larger number of residents
  • Increased levels of air pollution endured by a significantly larger number of residents
  • Increased traffic congestion on local roads causing increased commuting times, increased driver frustration and, in turn, increased emissions from crawling traffic.

Each one of these outcomes is contrary to the government’s policy as outlined in Smarter Travel. It is well understood that the purpose of TII is to provide national road infrastructure and services. But the N28 does not exist in a vacuum. There are 7,000 people working in Ringaskiddy. These people do not live on the N28. They must all make their way their way to work and school on regional and local roads connecting to the N28. If the provision of a faster, more efficient N28 impacts negatively on those regional and local roads, the only beneficiary will be HGVs travelling to and from the port. Longer travel times and more congestion impacts negatively on worker mentality, worker delivery and worker wellbeing.

TII would be justified in saying that regional and local roads are within the remit of the local authorities. But fundamentally, Smarter Travel commits to better integration of land use planning and the provision of transport infrastructure. The National Roads Design Office with its close links to both Cork County Council and TII would be in an ideal position to plan for an upgraded N28 whilst delivering improved options to daily commuters on an over-subscribed regional and local road network.

Sadly, the current proposals are diametrically opposed to the Smarter Travel aims and make a mockery of the TII mission statement: to “contribute to the quality of life for the people of Ireland and support the country’s economic growth”. Certainly, it is important to facilitate industry and the port. But industry cannot function without the people that are the power behind the economic growth that industry is designed to drive.

 

Conclusion

The Carr’s Hill Interchange proposals are unacceptable. They would increase congestion on roads that would result in longer journey times for local commuters, thereby wasting time, generating stress, increasing sick days, diminishing family life, diminishing leisure time, fostering obesity and adding to noise and air pollution in established residential environments.

If an interchange is required for the M28, then it needs to increase commuter options, not eliminate them.

Traffic between Ringaskiddy and Cork City does not have to move fast; it simply has to move. I can see little logic in encouraging HGVs to hurtle into the Bloomfield Interchange only to be halted by a one-lane loop onto the N40 eastbound. Far safer to control their speed from further out. Some residents have suggested that if the motorway were to finish before the Maryborough Hill on-ramp, it would allow retention of the Maryborough Hill and Mount Oval slip roads. This appears to be a sensible option. It would allow HGV and other Ringaskiddy-related traffic the benefits of the motorway whilst retaining existing commuter routes for local traffic.

This proposal provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to sort out several long-standing problems in the road network in and around the Bloomfield Interchange:

  • Provision of the long planned Mount Oval on-ramp would reduce congestion on local roads and increase overall traffic efficiency for communities along the N28 corridor.
  • At present, traffic coming from the city and attempting to come off the N40 at the Rochestown off-ramp has to cross merging traffic coming from Mahon and the Jack Lynch Tunnel. Considerations to improving the safety of this treacherous manoeuvring would be very welcome.
  • As mentioned above, visibility at the bottom of the Rochestown off-ramp for traffic wanting to exit onto the R610 is very poor. This needs to be improved for increased safety.
  • Drivers attempting to exit from the Rochestown Church direction endure intolerably long delays whilst giving priority to traffic coming from Douglas and from the N40. Those enduring these delays several times each day deserve consideration as part of this project.

Please be open to the feedback received from all those so concerned about this Carr’s Hill Interchange proposal. It is not the right solution. There are better solutions which will encompass a wider range of needs and which will deliver far greater overall better value for money and quality of life.

Yours faithfully,

_____________________________________________

Marcia D’Alton, B.E., M.Eng.Sc.
Independent Member, Cork County Council.

 

 

 

My submission to the Shannonpark Masterplan

Senior Planner,
Planning Policy Unit,
Cork County Council,
Floor 13,
County Hall,
Cork.

8th November 2015.

 

RE: Proposed Amendments to the Carrigaline Electoral Area Local Area Plan – Shannonpark Framework Masterplan

 

Sir,

In respect of Proposed Amendment No. 4 to the Carrigaline Electoral Area Local Area Plan which is to give effect to the Shannonpark Framework Masterplan, I appreciate the opportunity to make the following observations:

  • There is a significant housing need both nationally and in County Cork. I recognise that Cork County Council has earmarked these lands at Shannonpark for a significant housing development to respond to that need.
  • It would be a grave injustice to the future Shannonpark community if the quality of standards of housing quality or environment were to be in any way compromised in an attempt to respond to the urgency of this housing need.
  • Although Shannonpark is legitimately regarded as situate on the outskirts of Carrigaline, existing poor road infrastructure and resultant significant traffic congestion will in reality distance the Shannonpark community from Carrigaline town centre. It is recognised that the recommendations of the Carrigaline Area Traffic and Transportation Plan are to improve that infrastructure. However, again reality is that this plan was drafted eight years ago. The road network between Shannonpark and Carrigaline has seen little real improvement in that time, whilst the volume of traffic using it has significantly increased.
  • Bearing this infrastructural deficit in mind, it is vital that the new community being planned for Shannonpark in this Framework Masterplan would incorporate a range of housing types: from bigger homes for larger families to small one-bedroom bungalows for the older resident. The proposed neighbourhood centre concept is also welcome with a view to minimising short car trips.
  • However, despite welcoming the neighbourhood centre concept, this Framework Masterplan must not lose sight of the CASP Update 2008 aims for Carrigaline as outlined in the Carrigaline Electoral Area Local Area Plan. It clearly states that the focus for Carrigaline is consolidation of the town centre. The Framework Masterplan outlines an aim for 1,000 additional houses on the outskirts of Carrigaline town and does not contribute in any real way to this aim.
  • It is also fair to observe that although Paragraph 1.2.1 of the Carrigaline Electoral Area Local Area Plan clearly states the target growth for population in 2020 for Carrigaline to be 14,066, the Census of Population indicates the population of Carrigaline to have been 14,924 in 2011. So according to the latest Census, the 2020 population target for Carrigaline was already exceeded four years ago.
  • Whilst the fact that the population aims for Carrigaline appear to have already been exceeded does not negate the need for additional housing in Metropolitan Cork, it highlights the absolute urgency with which current infrastructural deficits in Carrigaline must be addressed. It is essential that the Framework Masterplan would include targeted proposals to improve infrastructural links between Shannonpark and Carrigaline town centre.   The vague intentions of Paragraph 1.4.22 of the Proposed Amendment are by no means sufficient.
  • I note Paragraph 1.4.18 of the Proposed Amendment states that the Transport Assessment on the Shannonpark lands identified that the provision of Phase 1a houses would not have a significant impact on prevailing traffic conditions. It would be good to know what the definition of “significant” in this context is. With a current westbound traffic queue of 99 vehicles at the Shannonpark roundabout and a queue of 17 vehicles southbound, it is difficult to appreciate how additional impact could be anything other than significant.
  • The Cork County Development Plan 2014 has a clear aim of supporting the principal of independence for older people. Paragraph 5.7.6 advises that the particular needs of ageing people should be incorporated into the design, housing mix and location of new housing development. I would particularly like the Framework Masterplan to have a specific aim for a purpose-designed cluster of either sheltered housing or small, single storey dwellings for the elderly. The best location for such housing would be adjacent to the neighbourhood centre. There is a real deficit of sheltered housing for the elderly in County Cork.   Shannonpark would be the ideal place to start providing for this increasingly pressing need in our society.
  • The Framework Masterplan proposes four pedestrian links between the Masterplan lands and the adjacent Heronswood estate. Whilst I recognise that Cork County Council is attempting to increase permeability and thereby reduce the need for private car use, the on-the-ground reality is that this proposal will not work. We have repeated evidence that either permitted or accidental access between estates simply creates rat-runs for anti-social behaviour. Many estates in Cork City are attempting to block off such access at significant financial cost. In the case of Shannonpark, planned linkages between the new estate and the existing Heronswood estate would simply serve to create a massive 2,000 house estate. Not merely would this facilitate anti-social behaviour, it would make parental control of smaller children very difficult. Furthermore, several of the pedestrian links suggested in the Framework Masterplan would run through front gardens of residences in Heronswood. I ask that the Framework Masterplan would exclude these four proposed pedestrian links. This would be reflective of the ethos of Paragraph 3.3.1 of the County Development Plan which recognises that the creation of sustainable communities extends beyond the physical environment to “less tangible issues such as people’s perception of what constitutes an attractive and secure environment”.
  • The proposed continuation of the walkway/cycleway along the old railway line through the Masterplan lands and on through Heronswood is a policy that would want separate and careful consideration before statutory inclusion in the Masterplan. Is it fair to bring leisure cyclists and commuter cyclists through residential areas? Would this proposal increase burglaries in the residential areas by providing a quick get-away? Would this proposal increase anti-social behaviour linkages between residential areas? Such issues need serious thought. In principle, I very strongly support the continuation of the walkway/cycleway along the old railway line in all directions. However, none of our Greenway development to date has led users through existing residential housing estates.
  • I am very disappointed with the limited scale of the transport interchange proposed in the Framework Masterplan. I am also very disappointed at the public’s inability to contribute its opinion to the possible scale of this transport interchange. Astra Construction indicated at its public information session on Friday last that Cork County Council has indicated it requires 50 car parking spaces to be provided with this phase of the transport interchange.   This is very small. According to the last Census of Population, over 5,000 people travelling to school, work or college currently do so by private car. Fifty car parking spaces will provide no realistic alternative to the private car. In fact, 50 spaces is unlikely to be sufficient to even provide a realistic business opportunity to a private operator offering routes other than those offered by Bus Eireann. If the Framework Masterplan is going to advocate for a transport interchange, then let it be adequately large to give realistic indication of the feasibility of the longer-term larger facility planned for the western side of the R611.
  • I have extreme concerns about the link road which the Framework Masterplan proposes should run east-west through the Masterplan lands:

    1.  The link road will serve not just residents of the new housing but also commuters heading for Ringaskiddy who wish to short-cut tailbacks on the Shannonpark roundabout. It will therefore be used as a link road serving the N28, at least until the N28 upgrade is in place. This would potentially result in large volumes of traffic travelling through a built up area at high speed.

    2.  This nature of road would segregate the overall estate into the future.

    3.  The proposed link road would endanger users of the open green areas adjoining and pedestrians wishing to cross it. Children living on the north side of the estate will want to cross to use the neighbourhood centre. No ramps or signalised crossing points are proposed in the Framework Masterplan. Carriageway widths are relatively wide and no traffic calming details at all are specified in the Framework Masterplan.

    4.  In speaking to Astra Construction at their public information evening, the architects indicated that County Council traffic calming for this link road is to comprise consideration of camber and a hedge between both carriageways. This will NOT work as a traffic calming measure. In fact, if a hedge is planted between the two carriageways it runs the risk of increasing rather than decreasing danger to crossing children.

    5.  This link road should benefit the residents of the estate rather than serve as a relief road for others.

    6.  This proposed road would link the R611 and the Fernhill Road. The Framework Masterplan acknowledges that the Fernhill Road needs upgrading. But in reality, Ballyhemiken Bridge on the Rock Road is listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage as being of regional importance. It would be destroyed if it were to be widened and so it will never safely accommodate more than one lane of traffic. We need to be cognizant of how much traffic it is safe to deliberately lead onto the Fernhill Road because of the restriction at Ballyhemiken Bridge.

  • I ask that the Framework Masterplan would require ramps for traffic calming throughout the proposed Shannonpark residential development.
  • Two high voltage lines currently run through the Masterplan lands. Hundreds of international studies have proven that proximity to the electromagnetic fields from high voltage lines can interfere with sleep cycles, increase stress levels, damage your immune system and cause a range of cancers and other health problems:

    Children living within 650 feet of power lines had a 70% greater risk for leukemia than children living 2,000 feet away or more.  (British Medical Journal, June 2005)

    Several studies have identified occupational exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields as a potential risk factor for neurodegenerative disease.  (Epidemiology, July 14 (4), 2003)

    There is strong prospective evidence that prenatal maximum magnetic field exposure above a certain level may be associated with miscarriage risk.  (Epidemiology, Jan 13 (1), 2002)

    In a study of 850 lymphoma, leukemia and related conditions, researchers from the University of Tasmania and Britain’s Bristol University found that living for a prolonged period near high-voltage power lines increased the risk for these conditions later in life.  (Internal Medicine Journal, 2007)

    Electromagnetic fields are responsible for an increase in childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease and miscarriage.  (California Department of Health, 2002)

  • Paragraph 10.2.1 of the Strategic Environmental Assessment mentions the high voltage lines that run east to west across the Masterplan lands. But the Framework Masterplan does not mention their existence even once, nor the need to move them if the lands at Shannonpark are to be developed for residential purposes. This is despite the fact that Paragraph 1.4.11 of the Framework Masterplan specifically states that the “results from the SEA process were fully considered and integrated into the preparation of the Masterplan”. Concerns about the high voltage lines were NOT included in the Framework Masterplan. The need to move these high voltage lines is absolutely essential for protection of human health and needs to be thus stated in the Framework Masterplan.
  • At the Astra Construction public information evening, the proposed site layout drawings showed the lower of the two high voltage lines running roughly along the east-west link road, with the larger high voltage line relocated to run in the rough ground between the Masterplan lands and the M28. Yet at several points that larger high voltage line, even though relocated, runs along the back garden of houses in the north west corner of Phase 1 of the Masterplan. This is unacceptably close to these houses. Minimum distances for human health between the high voltage lines and residential homes need to be specified in the Framework Masterplan.
  • House at the northern end of the Masterplan site would be those closest to the new M28. These will be susceptible to heavy traffic both visually and audially. It is essential that the Framework Masterplan would incorporate an aim towards mitigating against overlooking and traffic noise for people living in these houses.

Yours faithfully,

Marcia D’Alton
Independent Member, Cork County Council

My motion on the responsibility of the State for the quality of new construction, 12th October 2015

That the State would acknowledge its responsibility to people who in attempting to buy their own homes, now find themselves with hazardous properties not constructed in compliance with the building regulations.

And that Cork County Council asks the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government to move away from the current system of self-regulation in the design and construction of buildings and to replace it with an independent Approved Inspector system similar to that operating in the UK.”

 

The presence of the wall linings with their low surface spread of flame rating played a major part in the disaster. Had the express requirements of the Draft Building Regulations in relation to both these matters been enforced and observed, the consequences of the disaster might have been significantly diminished.” These were the words of Batt O’Keeffe, TD in the Seanad in 1990. He was speaking about the Stardust fire in 1981 and he and other members of the Seanad were debating the new building control laws that were being introduced.

Essentially, those building regulations gave us:

  • Priory Hall in Donaghmede, Dublin. A 189 apartment unit in which the fire risk and shoddy workmanship is so great that the current estimate of its remediation is €30m
  • The Elm Park office and apartment complex on Dublin’s Merrion Road, comprising 218 apartments and enough office space for 3,500 workers on which NAMA had to spend millions to remedy fire safety risks
  • Belmayne, Balgriffin. The largest boom-time residential development on the North side of Dublin in which 300 of the 960 units were shown to need extensive repair work due to fire safety problems
  • Longboat Quay in the heart of the Dublin Docklands. A 298 apartment unit in which the fire risks have recently been identified as so extensive that the residents are to be evacuated.
  • Hillcrest, Pembroke Wood, Passage West where I live. My family has spent the last 10 years remedying the effects of shoddy building. The low point was discovering an empty roast chicken bag used as a draught stopper behind a skirting in the hall. The culmination was the reconstruction of the external balcony this summer at a cost of €5,000.

Under the acclaimed new regulations introduced in 1990, the system of building certification that was approved in Ireland was the “Opinion on Compliance” system, commonly known as self-certification. The designers and builders of projects, on their own responsibility, provided certificates of compliance with the building regulations. Within this system, there is a recognition that the primary responsibility for designing and construction of buildings rests with the industry itself.

Local authorities as the building control authorities were obliged by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government to inspect 12 – 15% of new buildings for which valid commencement notices were received. So 85% of newly constructed homes were not required to be inspected. Even at that, most local authorities had no written procedures for inspection, no requirement to call to a building site more than once and if they visited at all, they had to take the builder’s word that construction materials were to standard and that behind completed walls and floors, wiring, plumbing and foundations were all up to scratch.

I am angry about this. Council officials were so stretched they could not keep up. They were, as ever, insufficiently resourced by government. The inadequacies of the 1990 building controls were highlighted in the Seanad before they were even passed into law. It was to take a series of evidenced catastrophies arising from those inadequacies before building controls were tightened by new laws in 2014.

The new system now requires an assigned certifier to oversee and sign off on each stage of the building in accordance with an inspection programme agreed prior to the start of development. In fact, the new system is so tight that 38 separate steps are involved in getting the appropriate permissions and permits in place for a simple warehouse.

Paper does not produce good buildings. We are still in a situation where a developer can employ his own assigned certifier for his own projects. We are still in a situation where the local authorities as the building control authorities will be inspecting only 15% of construction projects. And the new system is so onerous that experts believe it runs the risk of simply putting builders off building.

What is missing is a guarantee of ensured third party oversight and independent audit. The UK has had a simple Approved Inspector system in operation since the 1980s with 100% inspection of new builds. 100% inspection is also required in Northern Ireland, the United States and in many other countries across the EU. There is a reason Ireland is ranked 128th out of 189 nations by the World Bank in respect of our construction process. The UK is ranked 17th.

A history of inadequate legislation and inadequate enforcement is the key reason rogue builders have been allowed to build profits on the back of the innocent public who will be unearthing their legacy for many years to come. The State is entirely responsible for both the inadequate legislation and the inadequate enforcement. I ask that this Council would support me in calling for the State to take responsibility for this. I ask that this Council would support me in calling for the State to financially safeguard consumers who through no fault of their own are prisoners of a legacy left by rogue builders. And I ask that this Council would support me in asking that Ireland would introduce an Independent Inspector system with 100% inspection of construction projects similar to that operating in the UK for the past 30 years.

My submission to the draft Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region

Regional Waste Co-ordinator,
Southern Region Waste Management Office,
Limerick City & County Council,
Lissanalta House,
Dooradoyle,
Co. Limerick.

29th January, 2015.

 

RE:  Draft Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

Although I am a public representative, I am also an environmental engineer.  I assessed my first waste management plan in the early 1990s.  I completed my Master’s thesis on the potential for centralised biogas in Ireland in 1996.  My subsequent professional career majored in the sustainable management of wastes of all types and in particular the management of sludges and slurries.

I read the draft Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region with anticipation that it would pave the way for the concepts we espoused twenty years ago but which, largely because of organisational deficiencies, undeveloped markets and government indifference, had never taken off the ground.  I am, however, bitterly disappointed.

In those twenty years, kerbside collection has been privatised and enhanced, recycling rates have risen significantly and waste to landfill has reduced.  Those advances are to be welcomed but they were solely in response to European requirements for Ireland’s handling of society’s by-products which was dramatically behind the curve.

None of the principles introduced in the draft Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region is new.  The concept of waste being a resource is age-old.  The circular economy is a long-held dream, one unlikely to see reality in a capitalist society set up for short-term financial reward.  In this Plan, I see primarily a governmental drive towards the introduction of domestic privately-run incineration as a fail-safe measure at all costs, whilst dismissing the vast millions invested by the State into the development of engineered landfill sites which will now never be operated.

I want to see Irish waste management move on.  I want to see a radical shift in our patterns of resource consumption.  I want to see commitment to a zero waste society and clearly defined targets as to how resource consumption will be decoupled from economic growth.  Prevention of waste is at the top of the waste hierarchy.  One of the principal policies in the Plan relates to prevention.  But yet the Plan has a general acceptance that waste per capita will increase significantly to 2030.  What sort of commitment to waste prevention is this?  Would the Plan’s policy towards domestic incineration be achieved if the consented capacity in engineered landfill sites were all made available without imposition of a landfill levy?  Of course it would not!  And similarly, no real policies towards decoupling waste generation from economic growth will be successful if there is tacit assumption that waste generation rates will continue to increase in an environment with generous domestic incinerator capacity.

The circular economy concept will never become a reality in isolation from the zero waste concept.  This is singularly absent from the draft Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region.  This is, of course, because it is absent from government policy.  Eliminating waste calls for intimate involvement with industry and government.  Industry has control over product and packaging design, manufacturing and materials.  Government has the ability to assist industry to make those necessary changes, either with legislation or with grant support.  Government can make real changes in the way we handle waste which will genuinely see materials return to the source from whence they came.  But both industry and government are singularly absent from the draft Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region.

 

Prevention

  • The draft Waste Management Plan has a stated acceptance that economic recovery will lead to an increase in waste generation.  This is not acceptable, nor does it have to be the case.  This is planning to fail.  Other countries have planned to succeed by committing to a zero waste approach.  I ask that a zero waste approach be committed to within the Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region.
  • It is essential that future strategic targets are measurable and I welcome this comment in the Plan.  However, I do not agree that the strategic targets should focus on broader waste streams.  For a comprehensive understanding of waste generation and destination, we need to analyse the waste stream in the greatest detail possible.
  • There is an inherent contradiction in that whilst the Plan commits to having targets measurable, it also has a stated intention to measure the municipal stream rather than the household waste stream.  Yet one of the principal waste reduction targets of the draft Plan relates to household waste which the Plan intends not to measure.  I ask that all targets towards waste reduction are measurable and therefore that the household and commercial waste streams will be analysed separately, rather than as a commingled municipal stream.
  • The focus on resource consumption is good but it is not followed through in the Plan with an adequate focus on a shift in attitude or practice.
  • It is good that any sort of a target towards waste prevention is being proffered, but the target of 1% reduction per annum in household waste generated is too low.  Over 30% of household waste is biodegradable.  The EPA advises us that at least 60% of this is avoidable.  Were we to eliminate even 30% of biodegradable household waste, we would be achieving a reduction target greater than that espoused in the Plan.  I ask for the adoption of a target of 10% reduction in household waste generated over the lifetime of the Plan.
  • With respect, Policy B1 is a nonsense.  Local authorities cannot provide resources that they do not have.  Even if they wanted to take additional staff on board to assist communities in prevention activities, they cannot.  The government embargo on public service appointments means that they would struggle to replace an Environment Education Officer, let alone employ additional staff.  Only central government can ensure that Policy B1 happens.  To pretend otherwise is simply to set the local authorities up to fail.  It is of course appropriate that they would give whatever they can to waste prevention, but real and effective waste prevention measures can only come with both policy and financial commitment from central government.
  • The discussion on stakeholders does not mention reducing waste at source by changing industrial practices.  Why are consumers always asked to buy products with less packaging when often they have no choice?  Options for consumers need to be tackled through the producer.  I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would demonstrate a real commitment to waste prevention by introducing real and targeted measures towards working with the EPA and industry to, at a minimum, change product presentation at source.
  • I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would, as a policy target, work with government to introduce a tax on disposable products such as polystyrene and plastic drinks cups, paper and plastic plates, plastic cutlery, etc.  Products such as these have reusable alternatives.  In this regard, it would be an appropriate juncture for all ten local authorities contributing to the Southern Region’s Plan to commit to eliminating the use of such disposable commodities within local authority buildings.

 

Reuse 

  • Other countries have established what they describe as “goods rehoming facilities” at civic amenity sites.  These remove goods from the recycling and residual waste streams that are of reasonable quality and may be desired for reuse by others.  They are cleaned and are displayed in a covered area.  In some cases, a small charge is placed on recovered goods.  In others, the goods are available free of charge.  Some civic amenity sites add value to the recovered goods so that they are of higher worth.  I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would commit to piloting goods rehoming facilities at a number of the busier civic amenity sites.  It is essential that the goods are available for perusal whenever the civic amenity site is open so that it can essentially become viewed as the equivalent of a second-hand shop.  Such an initiative would help to achieve the Plan’s stated aim of adding value to the waste stream and, if successful, could contribute in a small way towards the operational cost of the civic amenity sites.

 

Recycling

  • The Plan is very clear that the residual waste exported for treatment is a wasted resource.  But it does not mention at all the recyclable waste exported for reprocessing because of the complete lack of facilities to deal with it in Ireland.  This is a far greater loss of resource which is not even quantified in the Plan.  I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would identify and quantify the individual recyclable streams that are going abroad for reprocessing, that it would identify the countries these recyclable streams are destined for and that it would quantify the lost resources that these material streams represent.
  • We know how successful our kerbside collection of recyclables is because the volume of material collected is measurable.  However, we have no idea how the kerbside collection is performing in terms of material quality.  Are the correct materials being put into the recycling bin?  Is there contamination of materials?  Are there materials being separated for recycling for which there is currently no market?  I would like to see quality of collected recyclables being discussed in the Plan.  It may be that it is necessary to introduce a system of source separation to improve the quality of material collected.  I ask that the Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region would discuss the quality of recyclable material gathered by kerbside collection and that it would identify the volume of recyclable material collected but lost to residual waste because of contamination.  If this information is not available, it should be and its collation should therefore be a policy target of the Regional Waste Management Plan.
  • Home composting is not mentioned in the Plan.  In the past, home composting was a recommendation of many waste management plans and there are still a considerable number of households in the Region operating their own composting unit.  I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would commit to supporting home composting and that it would discuss how those who are currently practising this sustainable system of domestic waste management will continue to be supported in the context of widespread introduction of SI No. 71 of 2013 affecting food waste collection.
  • I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plans would commit to the introduction of deposit-refund schemes for, in particular, aluminium cans and plastic drinks bottles.  This is packaging which regularly litters our streets because the products it contains are generally bought in one-off purchases.  Reducing litter cleans up our environment and frees up local authority resources towards other prevention targets.  In addition, a deposit-refund scheme for targeted materials such as aluminium and PET has been proven in other countries to massively increase their recapture for recycling.
  • Targets towards anaerobic digestion are welcomed but there is no real sense of enthusiasm in the Plan for biological waste treatment equivalent to that for incineration with energy recovery.  Biological waste treatment in the form of centralised biogas and in-vessel composting is well advanced in other countries.  Despite many on-the-ground attempts by private operators and enthusiasts, it has never taken off in Ireland.  The Plan gives a strong acknowledgement of the need for energy support pricing to make incineration viable and profitable.  Why does it not give the same support to the pricing of energy from centralised biogas?  In the case of centralised biogas, it may be more efficient to use gas directly rather than to use it for electricity generation.  But this would also be a renewable product, equally deserving of support and as yet unacknowledged in Ireland.  I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would have a stated policy of working with government towards obtaining realistic financial supports for the energy products of anaerobic digestion/centralised biogas and that these financial supports would be commensurate with the elevated position of biological treatment on the waste hierarchy.
  • The Plan makes no mention of the on-the-ground problems which have continually stymied large scale biological waste treatment in this country.  In particular, it does not address the issue of markets for compost or digestate.  Without addressing such issues as these, biological treatment of either biowaste or agriwaste will struggle to advance.  It is imperative that the Plan would identify and address all the issues which to date have impeded the successful take-off of large scale biological waste treatment in Ireland.
  • I ask that the Plan would prioritise the implementation of SI 71 of 2013 on household food waste and biowaste and that it would include stated policy to investigate the use of surplus edible foods currently discarded as waste.

 

Recovery 

  • The clear ethos of national policy for waste management – as reflected in this draft Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region – is to provide adequate domestic capacity for incineration to replace landfill.  The implementation section of the Plan places more strategic focus on this than on any other aspect of our future intentions for waste management.  Moreover, the implementation section of the draft Plan addresses incineration with energy recovery as a policy measure even before it states policies for recycling, biological treatment and other aspects of waste management far further up the waste hierarchy.  To prioritise the development of incineration recovery infrastructure before the development of infrastructure to facilitate actions further up the waste hierarchy lays out a retrograde and unsustainable future for waste management in Ireland.
  • The draft Plan spends considerable energy in describing potential future uncertainty in incineration capacity in the EU markets.  This may indeed be the case for the future, although it is currently not.  It may equally be the case with future foreign capacity to accept Ireland’s sorted recyclable materials also, but the draft Plan does not develop this potential issue.  The waste projections and subsequent argument contained in the draft Plan for an additional national capacity of 300,000 tonnes in incineration with energy recovery is not convincing.  The waste projections are made in the absence of a genuine all-society change of mindset towards a circular economy.  There will be no real achievements in waste reduction should the draft Plan’s stated targets towards incineration be achieved.
  • If Ireland is to reach its EU obligations to recycling 50% of municipal waste by 2020 and 70% by 2030, it will be relying on an increase in waste generation to ensure it can maintain a residual waste stream to ensure a continued supply of feedstock to fill domestic incineration capacity.  Ireland will therefore be relying on continued generation of residual waste; this is a position utterly at odds with the circular economy, commitments towards waste prevention and the EU’s waste hierarchy.
  • Incineration with energy recovery can operate efficiently only when the feedstock has a relatively high calorific value.  This can be achieved only with a relatively high proportion of plastics and other potentially recyclable materials in the waste stream.  There is little incentive for the public to commit to sustainable waste management if they learn that their carefully sorted dry recyclables are being burned rather than replacing a global demand for virgin materials.  I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would commit to ensuring that all separated recyclables would be sent for recycling rather than for incineration either with or without energy recovery.
  • Adequate capacity for recovery through incineration with energy recovery already exists in the Meath and Dublin plants.  I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would commit to the provision of no further capacity for incineration with energy recovery until firstly, real waste prevention targets are achieved and, secondly, infrastructure to facilitate management of waste further up the waste hierarchy is already in place.
  • I ask that the Regional Waste Management Plan would commit to a tax on incineration, with or without energy recovery.  This tax would reflect the position of incineration with or without energy recovery at the lower echelons of the waste hierarchy.  The amount of the tax can be reduced to reflect the energy recovery efficiency of the plant to which the waste is sent.  All waste destined for incineration should be taxed, regardless of whether the incineration plant is in Ireland or abroad.
  • Policies E15 and E16 are clearly lifted out of the Connaught-Ulster Regional Waste Management Plan; the consultants forgot to change the reference to the CUR.  It is clear that it is a national plan to introduce incineration to Ireland and that these two policies have been inserted into all of the Regional Waste Management Plans.  This is an uninspired and unsustainable approach to replacing Ireland’s traditional reliance on landfill.

 

Local authority as stakeholders

  • Clearly the ten local authorities are expected to drive this Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region forward on the ground.  Equally clearly, responsibility for any failure in this regard will be assigned to them.
  • This is largely unjust.  Local authorities are hamstrung without increased resources.  As an example, Cork County Council has constructed 11 state of the art civic amenity sites around the county.  Several years ago, the County Council could not sustain their running and introduced increased gate fees including the imposition of a charge on recycling.  This correlated with an increase in dumping.   It is now so expensive to dump a mattress at a civic amenity site in County Cork that it is little wonder so many are found in ditches and inside farm gates.  Consequently a significant percentage of Cork County Council’s annual environmental is spent on street cleaning.  This year, despite the gate fees, Cork County Council finds it still cannot sustain the cost of running the civic amenity sites and is now reducing opening hours for those in more rural areas.  These are the very areas which are frequently not served by kerbside collectors.  This reduction in availability of civic amenity sites will of course further increase the dumping problem.  Again, the amount of clean-up the County Council can do is limited.  South Cork, with a population of over 211,000, has but one litter warden.  Courtesy of the government’s ongoing recruitment embargo, no further appointments can be made.  The government must commit to delivering policy, practicality and finance in supporting the waste management activities of local authorities.  In this regard, the government is as large a stakeholder in this Waste Management Plan as are the local authorities.
  • The Plan’s aim towards improved communication between the local authorities is welcome, particularly with regard to co-ordinating resources, information and the establishment of facilities.
  • The Plan’s aim for local authorities to provide improved guidance on siting waste management facilities is also welcome.  This is ideally achieved through the County Development Plan.  Cork County Council most recently attempted to do this in the drafting of its County Development Plan 2014 when it directed large waste management facilities to Strategic Employment Areas.  The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government took exception to this, saying that Cork County Council was creating an unfair bias against incineration.  He issued a Section 31 Direction to revoke the relevant section of the County Development Plan and to replace it with his own wording which singled out incineration for favour.  The Minister clearly failed to understand the intent of the objectives of the County Development Plan and attempted to undermine Cork County Council’s attempt to provide improved guidance on siting.  Education of the Minister is imperative if this aim of the Regional Waste Management Plan is to be achieved.
  • The Plan suggests that local authorities should address the growing trend to export residual waste?  Permitted or registered waste facilities are obliged to identify the destination of wastes they handle but it is not within the power of the local authority to instruct where those residual wastes should go.  The transfrontier shipment office ensures that the export of waste is responsible and documented.  Deciding whether waste should or should not go abroad is a commercial decision that could potentially affect the viability of the operator and is well outside the remit of local authorities.

 

The Southern Region’s solid waste stream arises largely from household, commercial, industrial and agricultural sources.  Yet this draft Plan sets targets only for household and municipal waste.  Where are the quantifications and targets for wastes from other sources?  I asked Ms Phillipa King in the Council Chamber whether wastes from industrial sources were addressed in the draft Plan.  I was advised that they were not, because industrial wastes were largely looked after by the EPA.

If there is no co-ordination between the SRWMO and the EPA on industrial waste arisings, their trends and management then the SRWMO and the EPA are replicating the type of individualistic behavior exhibited by local authorities with regard to waste planning over the past decades.  Industrial waste is a significant proportion of the Region’s overall waste stream and it is imperative that it would be addressed in this Waste Management Plan.

Of course solid wastes are only a diminutive percentage of overall waste arisings in the Region.  Sludge waste arisings from wastewater treatment and agricultural slurries are mentioned in the Plan but are clearly not its focus.  But this document describes itself as being a Waste Management Plan.  It is not a Solid Waste Management Plan, nor a Municipal Solid Waste Management Plan.  If it is what its title claims, then it must address all waste arisings in the Region with equal intent: their quantification, current management methodologies and it must develop policies for their responsible handling and, where necessary, treatment.

As this Plan is clearly driven from central government and its higher echelon appointees, I do not expect my comments to be given more than cursory attention.  However, I should be grateful if even some were taken on board.

Yours faithfully,
Marcia D’Alton. 

My submission to the Section 31 Draft Direction on the Cork County Development Plan 2014

The Senior Planner,
Planning Policy Unit,
Cork County Council,
Floor 13,
County Hall,
Cork.

27th January, 2014.

RE:  Cork County Development Plan 2014, Section 31 Draft Direction

Dear Sir/Madam,

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Co-Ordination of Construction 2020 has issued notice of his intent to instruct Cork County Council to amend Objective ZU 3-7 of the County Development Plan 2014.  He has outlined the text of the Objective which is to be deleted and dictated the alternative text which is to be inserted in its stead.

I am dismayed by the Minister’s proposed action.  The content of his communication of 22nd December 2014 to Cork County Council is indicative to me of an undermining of the local Development Plan process, a deliberate attempt to impede local democracy and a failure to understand both European and national waste policy.

 

Section 31 Draft Direction is in contravention of:

  • Article 11(2) and Article 12 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000
  • Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention

Chapter I of the Planning and Development Act 2000 sets out the requirement of every local authority to make a Development Plan.  The legislative requirements were further clarified by guidelines published by the then Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government under Section 28 of the Act.

These guidelines emphasise how the Development Plan is intended to provide the strategic framework and policy context for the sustainable development of land in the interests of the common good.

Public consultation and local involvement is a critical element in deciding how this strategic framework can reflect those interests.  Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention provides for public participation in plan and policy making.  Ireland is a signatory to the Aarhus Convention since 2012.  The requirement of the Aarhus Convention in this regard is reflected in Article 11(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

This statutory requirement has been responded to fully in the making of the Cork County Development Plan 2014.  In its draft form, the Plan went through three rounds of public consultation over a period of two years.  All views of interested parties were analysed, evaluated, balanced and, where possible, taken on board.

The Section 28 guidelines are utterly clear in clarifying the role of elected members in the making of a County Development Plan:

Members must have an active and driving role in the entire process, from its inception to its finalisation. They must listen to and take account of the views and wishes of the communities they represent.”

They further emphasise that this involvement of the public and the elected members is critical for the Plan’s effective implementation.  The UN’s Implementation Guide on the Aarhus Convention similarly acknowledges that public involvement in the making of any plan is key to that plan’s success:

All good public authorities take advantage of the interest and the energy of the public. As decisions become increasingly complex, this factor becomes less a matter of good practice and more a matter of urgency.”

Any decision relating to the siting of a large waste management facility is a complex one.  Cork County Council has, in consultation with the public and elected members and as expressed in its County Development Plan, given guidance on where such large waste management facilities should and should not be sited.  The Minister’s Draft Direction proposes to dismiss the two years of public involvement which has culminated in that guidance.  Therefore the Draft Direction is entirely in contravention of both Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention and Articles 11 and 12 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

 

Section 31 Draft Direction is unnecessary:  County Development Plan 2014 is not in contravention of national waste policy

The Minister claims that the Draft Direction is necessary because Objective ZU 3-7 of the County Development Plan 2014 by prohibiting incineration through energy recovery is in contravention of national waste policy.  I believe the Minister to be entirely incorrect.

The purpose of Objective ZU 3-7 is not to restrict any kind of waste management type but to advise on where it should be sited.  Objective ZU 3-7 (b) advises that industrial areas zoned for small to medium sized industry, warehousing or distribution can generally be considered for the siting of waste management facilities.  But it qualifies that these areas are not considered suitable for either contract incineration or landfill.  On the other hand, Objective ZU 3-7 (c) clarifies that all large scale waste management facilities may be considered for siting in Strategic Employment Areas.  Note that there are five such areas in Cork.

That this is not any attempt to slight incineration whether with or without energy recovery is clear from many other references within the County Development Plan.  Firstly, Objective ZU 3-7 (c) is consistent with Paragraph 6.4.11 which states that:

the provision of strategic large scale waste treatment facilities will be considered in ‘Industrial Areas’ designated as Strategic Employment Areas in the local area plans …”

and with Paragraph 11.7.4 which again repeats:

It should be noted that the provision of strategic large scale waste treatment facilities will be considered in ‘Industrial Areas’ designated as Strategic Employment Areas.”

Secondly, Paragraph 6.4.12 identifies the Bottlehill Landfill Facility as offering particular potential for a “specialised role in the area of integrated waste management and waste to energy”.  In other words, waste to energy is identified and welcomed to a site that may be considered suitable.

Thirdly, Objective ED 4-3 provides explicit support for the development of bioenergy within County Cork during the lifetime of the Plan.  The term bioenergy embraces waste to energy within the R1 category.

National waste policy is as outlined in the government’s 2012 policy document, A Resource Opportunity.  Quite contrary to the Minister’s claim, the County Development Plan 2014 in fact provides clear support for this policy.  Paragraph 11.7.1 specifically identifies the policy, clarifies its intent and observing that the policy will be delivered through “mandatory regional waste management plans”.

Then Objective WS 7-1 has as an explicit aim to:

Support the policy measures and actions outlined in ‘A Resource Opportunity’ 2012 – National Waste Policy”.

It is difficult to see how such stated support could be regarded as a contravention.

The draft Regional Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region also recognises that the siting of waste facilities is critical to ensuring that their impact can be minimised, managed and mitigated.  It includes broad siting criteria but advises that they provide only minimum guidance.  This is a clear suggestion that greater guidance may be provided at local level if it is regarded as appropriate.

The Section 28 Development Plan Guidelines advise that while development plans should take relevant national and regional policies on board, this should also work in reverse: good development plans should inform policies at regional and national level.  In my opinion, that qualifies the Cork County Development Plan 2014 as being a good development plan.  It has taken national and regional waste policy on board, acknowledged its support for both and identified broad county-level policies for guidance on siting waste management facilities.  Even whilst identifying these county-level policies on siting, Objective ZU 3-7 (c)  defers to the requirements of national policy and future Regional Waste Management Plans.

Frankly, for the Minister to claim that ZU 3-7 as drafted runs counter to government policy is quite extraordinary in the context of the above.  His suggestion that it prohibits energy recovery through incineration is totally misplaced and indicates that he has not read the many other constructive references to waste to energy within the Plan.  Furthermore, it intimates that the Minister is not clear in his understanding of the function of a development plan, i.e. the adoption of national and regional policy into county policy and its adaptation into a strategic framework for sustainable land use within the county as desired and agreed by the people of the county.

 

Section 31 Draft Direction is itself in contravention of national waste policy

National waste policy as outlined in A Resource Opportunity is clear: recovery is fourth in priority in the waste hierarchy.  A Resource Opportunity helpfully defines recovery as being:

any operation the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function …”.

The key phrase here is any operation.

There are many, many technologies capable of being considered as “large scale waste treatment facilities”.  Centralised biogas is a direct aim of the draft Regional Waste Management Plan for the Southern Region.  In-vessel composting is used successfully all over the world.  Both are classified within the recycling category in the waste hierarchy and are therefore regarded more favourably than recovery.  What about pyrolysis which produces oil, gas and carbon?

ZU 3-7 (c) as currently drafted indicates that all large-scale waste management facilities, regardless of type, may be considered within Strategic Employment Areas.  It therefore accurately reflects the gamut of waste treatment types referred to in A Resource Opportunity, whether from the recovery category or any category further up the waste hierarchy.

It is extraordinary that the Minister, whilst advising against “determination in favour of or against any particular process or technology”, proposes to instruct that ZU 3-7 (c) must be amended to specifically mention waste to energy recovery facilities.  This directly contravenes his own instruction in relation to “infrastructural diversification” deploying a “variety of technologies” across a “network of facilities”.

Furthermore, whilst he chides Cork County Council for what he perceives to be its failure to comply with the waste hierarchy by restricting incineration, he then proposes to instruct that ZU 3-7 should be amended such that it would favourably single out incineration with energy recovery over so many other technologies further up the waste hierarchy.

Whilst I can see no evidence whatsoever that the County Development Plan 2014 is in contravention of the waste hierarchy as adopted by national waste policy, I can see clearly that the Minister’s Draft Direction is anti-competitive and unsustainable in its content and not reflective of either EU or national waste policy.

 

Public consultation procedure associated with the Section 31 Draft Direction is in contravention of Aarhus Convention

Why did the Minister invite public comment on this Draft Direction?

Was it simply to comply with the requirements of Section 31 (6)?

The measures proposed under the Draft Direction as outlined by the Minister in his communication of 22nd December 2014 clearly state that the County Development Plan is to be amended as set out in the Draft Direction.  If the Minister is intent on amending the Cork County Development Plan 2014, what possibly can be the purpose of this public consultation other than to give lip service to a legislative requirement?

The UN’s Implementation Guide on the Aarhus Convention advises that, at a minimum, public participation requires effective notice, adequate information, proper procedures and appropriate taking account of the outcome of public participation.  The public consultation on this Draft Direction fails in all these respects.  It allows a woefully inadequate response time of two weeks.  It has been published in language which is well beyond the understanding of the public generally.  One frustrated comment on a local publication’s Facebook page read: “Can anyone explain this in further detail and in plain English”.  And at the outset, before the public consultation is even open, the Minister has made it quite clear that the opinion of the public is irrelevant anyway; the provisions of the Draft Direction will come into effect when the Section 31 procedure has been completed.

This is not public participation.  Again, UN guidance on the Aarhus Convention explains that public participation requires more than simply following a set of procedures.  It involves “public authorities genuinely listening to the public and being open to the possibility of being influenced by it … the public input should be capable of having a tangible influence on the actual content of the decision”.

This Section 31 procedure is in clear contravention of the requirements of Aarhus and derogatory of the opinions of the public.

 

Conclusion

I respectfully request that the Chief Executive would reflect my abject rejection of the Minister’s proposed Draft Direction to the Cork County Development Plan 2014 and my genuine horror at his failure to understand the purpose of the specific objectives of the County Development Plan, his evidenced failure to read the County Development Plan in entirety, his consequent proposal to force the introduction of text which would introduce inconsistencies in the Plan, his instruction to favour a recovery technology over a technology further up the waste hierarchy, his consequent proposed direction to contravene national waste policy, his utter disregard for public consultation as required by the Aarhus Convention, his clear demonstration of lack of faith in both the executive and elected members of Cork County Council and his consequent attempted undermining of the development plan process through which the executive, elected members and public have collaborated and co-operated over the past two years.

Local government, local strategic planning and waste management in Ireland deserve better than this.

 

Yours faithfully,

Marcia D’Alton.

My submission to the proposed change to Objective TM5-2 of the Draft County Development Plan

Mr. Andrew Hind,
Senior Planner,
Planning Policy Unit,
Cork County Council,
County Hall,
Cork.

24th October, 2014.

RE: Proposed Change No. 10.17 Objective TM5-2: Cork and Other Ports

Dear Andrew,

You will be aware from our discussions in the Council Chamber that I do not support the approach Cork County Council has taken in the Draft County Development Plan 2013 in specifying the locations which it regards as most favourable for the Port of Cork’s proposed relocation to the Lower Harbour.

I have particular reservations about the Draft County Development Plan’s recommending the type of Port activity which should take place at these locations.  In this regard, I refer particularly to Paragraph 6.6.4 of the Draft Plan.

Cork County Council has never undertaken any work of its own to confirm that these activities in these locations are the most sustainable from a Cork Harbour perspective.  It has merely relied on the Port of Cork’s own Strategic Development Plans 2002 and 2010.  The conclusion of the Port’s Strategic Development Plan 2002 was that Ringaskiddy was preferred for relocation and expansion of the Port’s container business.  This conclusion was resoundingly disagreed with by An Bord Pleanala in its refusal of planning application PL04.PA0003.  The Board’s reason was clear:

…It is considered that the proposed development would:

(a) result in much of the port related traffic traversing the city road network which would adversely impact on the carrying capacity of the strategic road network in and around Cork city and in particular the carrying capacity of the strategic interchanges at Bloomfield, Dunkettle and Kinsale Road and the Jack Lynch Tunnel which it is necessary to preserve; the proposed development would exacerbate serious traffic congestion at these strategic interchanges; and

(b) be unable to make use of rail freight carrying facilities in the future and would, therefore, represent a retrograde step in terms of sustainable transport planning.”

Although this is the first County Development Plan to be redrafted since that An Bord Pleanala decision, neither the Port of Cork nor Cork County Council has undertaken any holistic climate change assessment to ascertain whether relocation of the existing container terminal at Tivoli to Ringaskiddy and its consequent expansion in the coming years is actually sustainable in the context of an increasingly carbon-conscious world.

By omitting to undertake this assessment, Cork County Council is culpable in two ways.  Firstly, it is removing the need for the Port to undertake that crucial step in the Environmental Impact process: the assessment of alternatives.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s regard for the importance of this step is clear:

The consideration of alternative routes, sites, alignments, layouts, processes, designs or strategies is the single most effective means of avoiding environmental impacts”.
[Guidelines on the Information to be contained in EnvironmentalImpact Statements, EPA, 2002]

Secondly, Ireland is expected to bring about a 20% reduction on 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.  Our country is unlikely to achieve this target.  There is a risk that significant fines may result.  Perhaps the even greater risk is the global damage to Ireland’s clean environmental image.  Even in the Environmental Impact Statement accompanying its most recent planning application for relocation of its container activity to Ringaskiddy (PL04.PA0035), the Port of Cork had undertaken no climate change assessment.  So in supporting the concept of a container terminal at Ringaskiddy and thereby indefinite relegation of all container traffic to road transport, Cork County Council is tacitly approving of what is described as national strategic development with a potentially massive, and as yet unassessed, carbon footprint.

This aspect of the Draft County Development Plan 2013 had already been drafted and assessed by the time I was elected to the Council Chamber.  I am fully aware that the statutory time has passed for any of my comments here to make changes to this substance of the Draft Plan.  I do not dispute that it may be necessary for the Port of Cork to move its City-based operations downstream.  However, I wish to have my opinion on record that it is unsustainable for a County Development Plan to be as specific as the Draft Cork County Development Plan 2013 is with regard to the relocation of those Port activities without independent and comprehensive assessment.

The legislative process does, however, permit me to comment on my serious concerns with regard to proposed amendment 10.17 to Objective TM5-2: Cork and Other Ports.

Objective TM5-2 indicates that relocation of Port activities to the Lower Harbour should have regard for “residential amenity, tourism and recreation” around Marino Point.  It indicates no regard for residential amenity, tourism and recreation considerations arising from potential Port relocation to Ringskiddy.

Yet Port development at Ringaskiddy would be overlooked by the hills of Monkstown and Cobh, would be directly across from Blackpoint and would be in the midst of the Ringaskiddy community.  It would directly affect the well-developed tourism industry in Cobh, be directly in the line of vision of the cruise liner terminal at Cobh and would be in real proximity to the promising world-class tourism attractions of Spike Island.  It takes little familiarity with the Harbour to recognise that the Lower Harbour from Monkstown downstream is that area of the Harbour most widely used for recreation.

It is totally unacceptable that while Objective TM5-2 as proposed expresses direct consideration of the residential amenity, tourism and recreation around Marino Point, it makes no mention of residential amenity, tourism and recreation around Ringaskiddy.

The proposed text of TM5-2 confers considerations relating to an adequate road network serving Port activities to Ringaskiddy only.  It is of course vital that the N28 should be upgraded; it is already severely congested at peak times.  But it is equally vital that the R624 serving the Great Island should be upgraded.

The R624 is already severely over capacity.  It is dark and unlit as it passes through Foaty Island.  It exhibits dangerous bends all along its length to Cobh.  It has but a single, 200-year old bridge on and off the Great Island.  It is totally inappropriate to suggest that further development of any kind on the Great Island would be supported by the existing road network.  Plans to upgrade the R624 have been in place for several years.  Their implementation is hampered only by restrictions in funding.

Whilst it is clear that the Port is promoting Marino Point as an appropriate location for Port activity because of its rail link, it is equally clear that rail cargoes would be specialised and limited, at least in the shorter to medium term.  Any cargo not being transported up the country by rail would be transported by road.  The existing road network cannot support Port relocation of any kind to Marino Point.

So the proposed text of Objective TM5-2 is inappropriate and unsustainable on two counts:

  1. Upgrading of the road network to both Ringaskiddy and Marino Point is essential.
  2. Potential impact on residental amenity, tourism and recreation arising from Port relocation is a concern at both Ringaskiddy and Marino Point.

It is incumbent on Cork County Council as the planning authority to change the proposed text of TM5-2 to reflect these concerns in accordance with the “proper planning and sustainable development” requirements of existing planning legislation.

I suggest wording such as the following might suffice:

Support Ringaskiddy as the preferred location for the relocation of the majority of port related activities.  Also recognising the key role that Marino Point can play in providing an alternative relocation option for some of the port related uses that could best be served by rail transport.  It is acknowledged that there is need for significant improvement to the road network serving both Ringaskiddy and Marino Point and that account must be taken of residential amenity, tourism and recreation.  The Council is committed to engage with the Port of Cork and other relevant stakeholders in achieving this objective.   See also Objective EE 6-2 Cork Harbour.”

I acknowledge that general reference to residential, amenity, tourism and recreation is given in Objective EE6-2 (Proposed Change No. 6.10).  This is welcome but not sufficient.  I anticipate Cork County Council’s giving the same regard to sustainability concerns in Objective TM5-2 as it does in Objective EE6-2.

All the best,

_______________________________________
Marcia D’Alton,
Member, Cork County Council.

Submission to consultation on Local Property Tax adjustment, 26th August 2014

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission addressing the potential effects of varying the basic rate of the Local Property Tax.

I have spoken to many people in the Carrigaline – Ballincollig constituency both when canvassing before the local elections in May and since.  Many have expressed strong opinions on Local Property Tax.

The general feedback I have received from so many of the residents of the Carrigaline – Ballincollig constituency that people are happy to fund local authority services.  They like Cork County Council, their own local authority, to deliver the essential services they rely on.  They regard these services as primarily including water provision, wastewater treatment, roads provision and maintenance, waste collection and treatment, grasscutting and general landscape maintenance.

However, now so many of these services are now being delivered by private contractors.  The local authority refuse collection service has been sold off.  Although civic amenity sites are still run by Cork County Council, high gate fees are charged, even for recycling.  The government has amended legislation such that each household must pay directly for water and wastewater services.

People understand that they pay for roads maintenance through motor tax.  The County Council no longer carries out grasscutting and maintenance in estates – residents pay for this themselves.  The County Council maintains road verges but requires landowners to maintain hedgerows.

Former Minister Phil Hogan explained that the purpose of the Local Property Tax is to provide “sounder financial footing for the provision of local services”.  But people express extreme frustration that they cannot see any return from the Local Property Tax for what have traditionally been regarded as the primary local authority services.

So many people have illustrated the difficulty they have in making ends meet.  The cost of living increases, they are increasingly charged for services and utilities whilst wages have not increased commensurately.  Eurostat measures statistics across Europe.  Its quality of life analysis tells us that the percentage of Irish people in arrears from 2003 is 23.6%, i.e. 12% higher than the average across the 28 Member States.  This indicates that people are genuinely financially struggling.  Financial difficulties are further illustrated in that Eurostat measures 56.4% of Ireland’s population as being unable to face unexpected financial expenses.  This is more than half the people of Ireland.  By comparison, the average figure in the original 15 EU Member States is 36.3%, while the average across all 28 EU Member States is 40.3%.

What is perhaps most telling about these figures is that they are regarded as quality of life measures.  The financial worries experienced by more than 50% of Irish people are such that their quality of life is affected.

Local Property Tax is a charge on the market value of residential properties.  These are homes, many of which are mortgaged from a bank or similar lending institution.  Many people are paying a monthly contribution to a mortgage which is based on a historical value far in excess of the value of the property.  They pay interest to the lending institution at a rate which, over the lifetime of the mortgage, can double the cost of the property.  Local Property Tax is yet another penalty for the price of wanting a home.  The money the householder uses to pay the Local Property Tax is take-home pay, already taxed by government.  In other words, it is earned income which is doubly charged.

Former Minister Phil Hogan was again quoted as saying that Local Property Tax is a “more sustainable and resilient form of funding for local authorities”.  The final affront was surely experienced last year when those who paid Local Property Tax on the promise of its being delivered to their local authorities found that it was retained by government for the establishment of Irish Water.  This was one blow too many, particularly when most people are conscious that they already pay for water and wastewater services through income tax.  So the Local Property Tax, already regarded as unjust by many householders and paid in the assumption that it would deliver better local services, was retained to set up a company the primary function of which is to charge for yet another service that people are already paying for.

I sincerely ask Cork County Council to reduce the Local Property Tax by 15% in this year’s budget.  This reduction would:

  • free up additional money in the community, thereby stimulating local economies and helping local business
  • acknowledge that people of County Cork already pay directly for so many of the services previously delivered by Cork County Council
  • acknowledge that the money paid by the people of County Cork in Local Property Tax last year was diverted to facilitate a system of direct payment for water and wastewater services when people understand that they already pay for water and wastewater services through income tax
  • reduce stress and improve quality of life for so many living in County Cork.

Yours faithfully,
____________________________________
Marcia D’Alton
Member, Cork County Council

Mobile: 085 – 7333852
Website: www.marciadalton.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cllrmarciadalton
Twitter: @marciadalton

 

Submission to the CER consultation on the Water Charges Plan

Commission for Energy Regulation,
The Exchange,
Belgard Square,
North Tallaght,
Dublin 24.

23rd August, 2014.

RE:  CER/14/363 – Water Charges Plan Consultation

Dear Sir/Madam,

Government policy on the establishment of direct charging mechanisms for water means that all water related assets have been transferred into the control of one entity – Irish Water.  The people of this country have paid for the establishment and maintenance of these water-related assets.  They have paid for the establishment of Irish Water.  They are now expected to pay further for their water use. There will be no alternative supplier of water.

Despite this, the consultation now open applies only until the end of 2016. There will be no agreement on water charges after 2016 arising from this consultation.  The Minister’s direction of 2nd July 2014 is clear that the Water Charges Plan applies for the interim regulatory cycle (1st October 2014 to 31st December 2016). The Minister is equally clear that the direct cost of water and wastewater services to each household as billed by Irish Water is to be maintained for the average household at €238.  Because the cost of providing water services to each household is more than twice this, the government has committed to providing funding to Irish Water until 2016.  At this time, government subsidies for the provision of water are proposed to cease.  The Irish public will have no means of obtaining water other than through Irish Water, regardless of the price per litre imposed.

I wish to highlight at the outset that I am horrified and deeply disturbed at the government’s proposals for provision of water to the Irish people.  Water is essential for life.  I have no difficulty with paying for the cost of providing water services.  Indeed, I already do so through taxation.  I laud the concept of water conservation.  But the actions of this government with regard to the provision of water services are not the actions of a government responding fairly and responsibly to the needs of the people.  These are a knee-jerk reaction to years of bad management resulting in a premature and ill-thought out policy which will impact physically and financially on the Irish people for many years to come.

I have specific comments to make on the CER’s proposals outlined in the Water Charges Plan Consultation for Domestic Customers.  These are outlined under the various headings as provided by the CER as follows:

1. Introduction of Charges – all domestic customers will be charged for their water from 1 October 2014

Domestic customers are already being charged for their water.  Water services cost over €1.23bn to run annually.  Some 75% of commercial water charges are collected.  They bring in about €220 million.  The balance of €1 billion is funded largely by our taxes through Exchequer grants and local authority resources.  With a workforce of 1.8 million (CSO, 2011), this loose calculation suggests that each taxed individual is already paying €556 per annum towards water services.

This is merely a very rough calculation, but no more definitive analysis of the contribution the taxpayer already makes to water services has ever been published or circulated by the government.  It is unjust that further charges for either direct or indirect consumption should be applied in the absence of taking account of what the taxpayer already pays.

3. Capped Charges – all customers will be capped at an assessed charge for 6 months

Irish Water and the CER are proposing that customers’ charges will be capped at an assessed charge for 6 months. During that time, customers will have the opportunity to review their water usage and reduce it where possible.

This proposed 6 month period begins in October 2014.  So households will be reviewing their water consumption between October 2014 and March 2015. There is no way people will be able to get any accurate indication of their household’s typical water usage during this time.  Water use is far higher in the summer than in the winter.  In particular, children use water for recreational purposes during the summer.  Showering and horticultural requirements are also higher during the summer. In fact, Irish Water itself has admitted that there may be “some seasonality to water consumption due to human behaviour” (see Paragraph 4.14.1.).  It is quite unjust to expect people, particularly those with young families, to make any reasonable assessment of their household’s water needs during the winter and early spring period.

5. Metered Charges – €4.88 per thousand litres for both services

The Minister has directed that there is to be no standing, or fixed, daily charge for water, just a unit rate for the litres you use.

But the CER itself has acknowledged (see Paragraph 4.15.2) that water service costs “are primarily fixed regardless of how much water is consumed”.

So why is the Irish householder, who is already paying a fixed price for water through taxation, carrying yet further burden for water service delivery through direct charging based on consumption?

Furthermore, householders cannot be expected to pay a per thousand litres charge when that charge may unpredictably increase in January 2017.  Irish Water itself has admitted that if billing does not result in the forecasted revenue, Irish Water will not cover its costs and the “unit rate [will] be increased for all customers in the next CER price review” (see Paragraph 4.15.2).  Many householders are already struggling to make ends meet.  How can it be ethical to force these same householders into a contract with a single water supplier who can potentially price as high as is necessary to make its business viable?  Water is essential to life, not an optional commodity.  Ireland is a first world country; this is a third world proposal.

It would be far more just and equitable to have that which is already paid towards water services by Irish householders through taxation removed from the annual tax burden and transferred to a direct standing charge.  Then a reasonable water allowance per household based on published and unbiased assessment should be calculated.  At that stage, any household exceeding the nationally agreed household allowance may be charged at a reasonable and predictable rate per 1,000 litres used.  This way, even should that single supplier of water increase the price per thousand litres increase beyond that which is comfortably affordable for some households, at least all households will have a reasonable and agreed volume of water supplied for a comfortable standard of living.

6. Rebates – all customers will be entitled to a rebate if the meter shows that they use less than the assessed charge

Irish Water proposes that customers must be paying an unmetered charge for at least 6 months to qualify for a rebate. That is an unreasonably long length of time.

Irish Water further proposes that a rebate will not be credited until 12 months after the installation of a meter.  Why should one have to wait for 12 months to get one’s money back?  Again, this is an unreasonably long length of time.

I note that Irish Water claims it is essential to wait the full 12 months before rebate so that water usage at similar times of the year can be compared, i.e. to compare “like for like consumption”.  Yet, Irish Water expects the household to gauge its potential annual water use during the 6 months from October 2014?  This is not a level playing field.

Irish Water is further proposing that customers that fail to validate their occupancy details by 31st October 2014 will not be eligible for a rebate.  Who can agree to validate their occupancy details when they do not know what details will be requested?  If, as is claimed by the Minister, the aim of direct charging it to reflect genuine consumption with an ultimate view to water conservation, then ALL households who make an effort to reduce water use should be rewarded, regardless of when and whether they validate their occupancy details.

In addition, Irish Water proposes not to give a rebate to households who change their occupancy status.  Again, this is totally unjust.  So if the mother of a household has a new baby, does this apply?  If a young adult child gets a job and moves out, is that household rendered ineligible for a rebate?  If an elderly parent comes to live with the family of his/her daughter or son, will the welcoming household no longer be eligible for a rebate?

Irish Water’s suggestion is ill-described, ill-defined, uncharitable, impractical and will lead to an atmosphere of deceit as households will inevitably try to make day-to-day living more affordable by shielding change in their occupancy status from a company which clearly regards them as a cash cow rather than as humans.

8. Children are free – all households with children in receipt of child benefit will receive annual allowances to cover the normal consumption of each child.

Irish Water has submitted analysis from its household research on metered consumption to support its Water Charges Plan. Household consumption will be calculated as 66,000 litres per annum for a single occupancy household, with an additional 21,000 litres per annum for each additional adult. Irish Water is proposing to apply the same increment for adults and children.

But the Minister’s policy direction is that each household is to receive 38,000 litres of free water per child, subject to verification through metered consumption data.

The government’s figure of 38,000 litres as being an estimated normal annual consumption of water for a child was derived from the National Water Study and was based on UK data.  The CER advises us that Irish Water considers this report to not be a true representation of consumption of the average Irish child.

Of course they do not!  The more water each Irish person has to pay for, the better it is for Irish Water.  And Irish Water says its claims in this regard are backed up by recent meter readings.  At what houses? How many?  Where?  Over what duration?  With what number and what kind of occupants?  Where was this research work published such that Irish people might assess it for themselves?  Irish people have a right to public display of such research carried out, supposedly, on their behalf.

I am dismayed that the CER, whose stated function is to ensure on behalf of the Irish people that the “prices that Irish Water charges to customers are fair and reasonable” should take the advice of Irish Water over that of the Irish government.  The CER’s consultation paper admits that the ESRI is not happy with Irish Water’s assessment of the consumption of adult and child being equal (see Paragraph 4.5.1).

So why does the CER not take the assessed consumption of a child as advised by the Irish government until further definitive research has been undertaken?  Or at least indicate some measure of support to the Irish people whose interest it is duty-bound to protect by assuming the annual water consumption of a child to be mid-way between the Irish Water proposal and the government proposal?

It is rare that adults take two and three showers each day, as many teenagers do.  It is equally rare that they will play water fights on a hot summers day.  And I cannot last remember when I saw adults playing in a paddling pool in their back garden. Common sense dictates that a child’s consumption of water is greater than that of an adult.  The CER needs to show some defence of the Irish family here.

8. Medical Conditions – customers with medical conditions which require increased water consumption will be capped at the assessed charge for that household even if they have a meter.

It is virtually impossible for people to agree to this proposal without knowing is considered to be a “medical condition requiring increased water consumption”.

I note the CER’s understanding that the “DECLG will work with the Department of Health and Health Service Executive (HSE) to develop a list of medical conditions that should receive a capped bill” (see Paragraph 4.13.2).

Financial constraints on the use of water is terrifying for many with medical needs for above-average water consumption.  Consultation on this proposal is massively premature without definition of what might be considered to be a “medical condition requiring increased water consumption”.

9. Water Quality – where water is unfit for human consumption, affected customers will receive a 50% discount on the costs of their water supply for the duration of the restriction.

What defines unfit in this instance?

Surely, under a scenario such as the government is proposing where water is considered a commodity, it is the consumer who defines what he/she considers “unfit” for consumption?  In this scenario, the definitions of unfit given by either the EPA or the HSE are inadequate.

Certainly, there is little doubt but that water infected by Cryptosporidium or a similar disease-causing micro-organism is unfit for consumption.  But equally, if my family is to purchase water as a commodity, we do not consider water with added fluoride to be of adequate quality for sale. Nor do we wish to be party to prolonging the release of fluoridated wastewater into the natural environment. Why should we pay for a practice we do not wish for?

A similar concern arises in the case of hard water.  Hard water is provided to many thousands of homes throughout the country.  It is true that we are as yet unaware as to whether it has health impacts.  But we are totally aware of the difficulties it causes to those using it, often with significant financial implications.  The water being provided is therefore, whilst perhaps fit for consumption, not fit for the purposes intended, i.e. domestic use. Therefore those to whom hard water is being delivered also deserve a discount on the cost of their water supply.

Please might the CER also address where and how Irish Water will display the analysis of the water it proposes to deliver to each household?  Will such analysis be displayed in real time such that households will have a genuine understanding of the product for which they are to pay?

10. Non-Primary Residences – a minimum charge will apply to non-primary residences

Irish Water is proposing to apply a minimum charge of €160 per year for water and wastewater services to metered and unmetered premises that are not permanently occupied (i.e. €160/year).

Firstly, how does this apply to houses which have been purchased as buy-to-lets?  During the years of the Celtic Tiger, many families upgraded their family homes, keeping their first home as a rental property.  Others put their savings into purchasing a second property, in the belief that it would bring in supplementary income whilst providing a pension for their advancing years.  They were encouraged in this approach by every banking institution in the country at the time.  These are ordinary, middle-class families who have in recent years been penalised in a multitude of respects for what was, several years ago, deemed to be their prudence.  Most cannot sell these second properties now, even though they long to do so.  Will families such as this, who have a second buy-to-let unmetered property, be obliged to pay a standing minimum charge of €160?  Simply because it is a second property?

There may be periods during the year when that buy-to-let property is untenanted and the family who owns the property is trying to cover the cost of its mortgage.  Will they be obliged to pay either additionally or alternatively for water which they are not using?  This would be totally unjust.

Practical questions like these simply have to be answered.

Secondly, this provision will have significant impact on holidaying in Ireland.  Holiday homes in remote places are those least likely to be metered.  The cost of holiday house rental in this country is already high and many families struggle to get any holiday away at all. Most landlords will put the cost of water charges, property tax and other fixed house-related expenses onto the weekly rent of the house.   Landlords will most likely have to budget for recouping Irish Water’s proposed dual service charge of €160 through the 3 summer months, as these are the only guaranteed for letting.  If the landlord carries this cost, his/her income is reduced; if the landlord passes on the cost in weekly rent, holidays will become even less affordable for families.

11. Validation Campaign – all customers are required to complete a validation form to establish your household details

The Guide to the CER’s Water Charges Plan Consultation for Domestic Customers simply states that “Irish Water will be contacting customers over the coming months to gather information on the household type and number of occupants so that they can correctly apply your household allowances. It is important that customers validate their details in time to ensure that they receive their full allowances”.

On the other hand, the full Water Charges Plan document clearly states that “the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2014 has been amended to give Irish Water the power to collect Personal Public Service Numbers from its customers … Irish Water proposes to request the Personal Public Service Numbers of each child in a household to avail of child allowances and of the registered occupant to avail of the household allowance”.

To not present this information in the shorter, easier-to-read Guide to the Water Charges Plan Consultation is misleading at best.

All households in Ireland deal with utility providers regularly. All householders are used to providing some degree of personal detail for billing purposes.  So most householders would have little difficulty with the description of the validation process described in the Guide.

But never before has a householder had to provide its PPSN numbers to a utility for billing purposes.  This is entirely inappropriate, unacceptable and a breach of the confidentiality and trust that is supposed to exist between the government and its citizens.

It is no excuse to say that allowances are linked to child benefit. If allowances per child are to be granted, then let each household include a copy of the birth certificate of that child in responding to Irish Water’s validation process.  There should be neither requirement nor need to give PPSN numbers to any utility and for any government to amend Irish law to faciliate such disclosure of personal information is for that government to support complete breach of confidentiality.

Additional services

Additional services are described by the CER as being services which “may be carried out at the request of an Irish Water customer that are outside of Irish Water’s obligation to provide water and wastewater services and connections to the public water and wastewater systems”.

Water meters are regarded as compulsory by the government and provided and installed by Irish Water.  I am dismayed to see that if a household believes a meter to be faulty, Irish Water proposes that this household must pay €220 to have that meter checked.  This is simply preposterous and entirely unacceptable.

I am equally dismayed to see the exorbitant rates proposed for Irish Water for site visits.  Many households, often with young families, live in housing estates which were constructed during the Celtic Tiger era.  These estates were often built hurriedly with few spot checks during construction by local authorities.  Water pipes to these houses were often laid poorly, sometimes not far enough underground.  As a result, many families experience freezing and consequent disruption to supply during cold weather.  In my own estate, this problem is extensive and without a pattern. In other words, some households within the same road suffer repetitively from freezing whilst others do not. The extent of the problem has been such that we have done a door-to-door survey, returning the results of the survey to Cork County Council to look for support and a possible solution. The County Council responded, saying that it needed to seek legal advice.  We have had no further response but the problem continues during cold months.  It is particularly difficult to cope with when it happens at Christmas time.

Households such as those in my estate already pay for water services through their taxes, are now required to pay further for direct use of water and relied on government services to ensure the houses they continue to pay dearly for were constructed properly in the first place. To be fair, when pipes freeze in our estate, a representative from the County Council will always call to the door of the affected households to see can he resolve the problem.  But this support will no longer be available now that control of the water infrastructure has passed to Irish Water. Instead, what Irish Water is essentially proposing is that each household affected by freezing will have to pay a minimum of €188 to request assistance.  If the freezing occurs during the Christmas holidays, the household will have to pay a minimum of €282 if it needs help.  The alternative to seeking help is to go without water entirely.

This is simply not right.

I note that the CER states that it has not had opportunity to examine the Irish Water publication A Multi-Supplier Framework for the Provision of Minor Civil Engineering Works to Irish Water.

It is totally inappropriate that Irish Water proposals should be put out for consultation when the CER has not analysed those proposals in advance.  This is the function of the CER – to analyse the Irish Water proposals and to adjust them with a view to protecting the Irish people by ensuring prices are “fair and reasonable”.

My family’s letter to Irish Water

On 1st August last I wrote a letter to Irish Water, simultaneously copying it to the CER.  Irish Water did not respond nor acknowledge receipt of the letter. The CER did respond, inviting me to make a submission to this consultation.  I am therefore including the text of my letter to Irish Water as part of my official response to this consultation:

“Neither I nor my family wishes to have a water meter installed at our house, the address of which is detailed in the contact form. We have never requested a meter, nor have we been asked whether we want one. If Irish Water or its contractors installs a meter at our house without our consent, we will remove it. I am notifying you in advance so that taxpayer’s money will not be yet further wasted in the capital and operational cost of providing and installing the meter.

We choose not to have a meter installed because the government has not laid out charges for water after 2016. If the price of any commodity rises beyond that which we cannot afford, we no longer purchase it. I choose an alternative. But water is essential for life. We will not have a choice in whether we use it or not. If our best conservation measures cause its price per litre to rise, we have no alternative provider from which to choose.

When one pays for a commodity for consumption, one has the opportunity to review the contents of that commodity on its packaging. In 2009, the Department of the Environment instructed water providers to publish up-to-date data on the quality of the water they are providing to consumers. We have never been provided with this data. I, as the mother of my five children, will not pay for a commodity for consumption when I do not know the contents of that commodity.

We will not pay for water which has been fluoridated. We understand that fluoride is of benefit to oral health. But the European Community Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risk stated in 2011 that the “effect of continued systemic exposure of fluoride from whatever source is questionable once the permanent teeth have erupted”, while concluding that topical application of fluoride is safer and more efficient in maintaining oral health than the fluoridation of water supplies. We will not pay for a medicated product when we do not desire that medication.

Both my husband and I have paid tax since we started working. We have been paying for water and wastewater services through that taxation. We continue to pay indirectly for water services. The government has clearly stated that Ireland is now moving to a system of charging for water based on usage. We will not pay for water by a system of direct usage until the burden of paying for it indirectly is removed from our tax bill. We therefore suggest that in its proposals to the Commission for Energy Regulation, Irish Water might suggest either a rebate on our tax bill for any monies we might pay to Irish Water or a reduction in our annual level of taxation which can be clearly identified with Ireland’s proposed shift from indirect to direct charging for water.

We presume that Irish Water will respect these requests from us, the potential consumer, both in relation to fluoridation and negotiating removal of indirect water charges from our tax bill. We will then agree to pay a flat rate for water directly to Irish Water. However, I must point out that my family paid €315 in local property tax last year. This was paid on the promise by government that it would fund services provided to us by Cork County Council. That money was not invested in Cork County Council as promised but was used to set up Irish Water. We have therefore forwarded Irish Water a loan of €315. We expect Irish Water to deduct this €315 from our first flat-rate bill and to include acknowledgement that this loan was provided from us entirely without interest.”

Yours faithfully,

____________________________________
Marcia D’Alton
Member, Cork County Council

Mobile: 085 – 7333852
Website: www.marciadalton.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cllrmarciadalton
Twitter: @marciadalton