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Concern at move to cut coastline up into ‘zones’

The country’s coastline is to be split into zones to give preference to offshore wind farms in designated areas.

The move is likely to raise concerns in the energy industry that zoning will restrict their ambitions, while also worrying communities in designated zones that clustering will lead to over-development.

How exactly the zones will be decided is to be detailed in legislation currently being drafted, but the principle of designated zones is set out in a new policy document which begins three months of public consultation today.

The National Marine Planning Framework gives the country its first ever national planning and guidelines for Ireland’s coastline, waters and seabed.

It also sets out policy objectives for the next 20 years which reinforce the Government’s controversial support for existing oil exploration licences, existing and future gas exploration, and the Shannon LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility.

The document also sets out the priorities and considerations which need to be taken into account in fisheries, ports, harbours, shipping, undersea cabling and pipelines and marine-related tourism, sports and recreation.

A single consent system for developments will be created to replace the current system of foreshore leases, licences and planning approvals which often leads to duplication of applications and assessments.

Strengthened enforcement of regulations is also promised.

The document emphasises that development must take into account rising sea levels and the impact of increasingly severe weather.

Protection of the 500,000 breeding pairs of seabirds, 400 fish species and 18 whale and dolphin types that share our seas is also emphasised.

Housing and Urban Development Minister Damien English, who has responsibility for the plan, said it would be the key tool for Government departments, state agencies, regulatory authorities and policy makers making decisions on marine activities.

“As our marine and coastal areas experience more pressures from human activity, it is critical that we provide a framework for what activities should and shouldn’t happen in our marine and coastal areas,” he said.

The document is out for consultation until February 28.

Mr English urged anyone with an interest in the marine to make their views known.

“We want the finalised plan to be national in every sense – valued, owned and supported by all. Strong public input will help achieve that,” he said.

Half the population in Ireland lives within 15km of the coast and the maritime economy supports more than 34,000 jobs and is worth €6bn to the economy annually.