New marine agency to police developments off coasts and at sea

A new regulatory and enforcement agency is to be set up to police development on the foreshore and at sea.

ARA, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, will issue consents for development-related activities and ensure compliance with new planning laws on the way for marine areas.

It comes as it emerged 27 offshore wind farms are planned for waters off the Irish coast.

A major overhaul of marine planning is under way with a National Marine Planning Framework recently approved by Cabinet, a Maritime Area Planning Bill to be published in the next few weeks and consultation under way on the creation of Marine Protected Areas.

The main legislation currently governing marine area development is the 88-year-old Foreshore Act of 1933.

The new bill and new agency will deal with offshore wind projects, water and waste water infrastructure, bridges, marinas, coastal protection works, flood relief works and undersea telecommunications cables and power interconnectors.

Minister for planning, Peter Burke, announcing the creation of MARA, said his department had received more than 50 site investigation applications relating to offshore wind projects in the last two years, 24 of them since last September.

Mr Burke said reform of the planning and consents regime was much needed.

“The Maritime Area Planning Bill provides the legal underpinning to an entirely new marine planning system, which will balance harnessing our huge offshore wind potential with protecting our rich and unique marine environment,” he said.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan will continue to deal with consents for seven of the most advanced offshore wind projects but MARA will take over the role for the rest.

Local authority planning departments and An Bord Pleanála will still handle planning applications, but consent for site investigations, environmental surveys, development commencements, cable laying and connections and site occupation will go through MARA.

“Through the establishment of MARA, we will have a well-resourced, modern, professional agency focused solely on regulation in the maritime area,” Mr Burke said.

He made his announcement at a conference hosted by Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) which heard there were 27 off-shore wind projects under development,13 planned for the east coast, eight for the south and six for the west.

Most rely on fixed base technology used in shallower waters, such as those in the Irish Sea, but eight intend deploying floating turbine technology which allows them to be located further out in deeper waters where the wind is stronger and more consistent.

Noel Cunniffe, WEI’s deputy chief executive, said development of onshore wind projects was also continuing.

Existing onshore wind has the capacity to produce 4.2 gigawatts of power but new projects under development would deliver 10GW more.

The 2030 target in the Government’s climate action plansis 8GW for onshore wind 5GW for offshore.

Mr Cunniffe said the benefits, in addition to reducing carbon emissions, included job creation.

“At the moment there are over 5000 jobs in the onshore sector in Ireland,” he said. “By delivering on our 2030 targets we can increase this to over 7000 jobs.”

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