My observation to An Bord Pleanala on Irish Water’s Vartry proposal

24th January 2017

The following is my Observation to An Bord Pleanala in relation to Irish Water’s proposed upgrade to the Vartry Reservoir. I think the most important bit is at the very end, where I outline a proposal that has been put to Irish Water, which would allow for the upgrade works to be undertaken, whilst ensuring that there is no unintended impact on the Vartry River – one of Wicklow’s most beautiful and biologically important rivers.


A quick reminder of the issue:

  • Irish Water were granted planning permission to upgrade the Vartry Reservoir by Wicklow County Council in late 2016.
  • The permission allowed Irish Water to fix a large number of leaks in the system and to make it a much more efficient facility [which I support in principle].
  • However, Irish Water were not required to do an environmental impact assessment of the proposal.
  • I believe this to have been a mistake, as the proposal will mean that the downstream Vartry River (one of only 22 EU designated salmonid rivers in Ireland) will only receive 1/3 of the volume of water that it currently gets.
  • Whilst I welcome this upgrade and recognise that the system needed to be modernised, I am concerned that the decision was made to grant permission without a full understanding of how it would impact on the river and those communities and businesses that rely on it.
  • A number of groups have appealled that decision to An Bord Pleanala. I have submitted an Observation in support of those Appeals.
  • My Observation is below.
  • For more info, please check out my previous press statement here.


22nd Jan 2017

Ref:  PL27.247745 Observation re Irish Water upgrade to Vartry Works

To whom it may concern,

I wish to submit an observation on appeal PL27.247745.

I would like to preface my observation by acknowledging that the current water treatment plant at Roundwood, Wicklow requires an upgrade in order to secure water supply and make efficiencies within the system and I am, in principle, supportive of these aims.

However, I do have a number of concerns about the proposal and the process, by which the decision to grant permission, was made. My concerns are outlined below.

No Environmental Impact Statement

The Vartry River is an EU designated salmonid river, one of only 22 rivers in the State. When considering any development that may impact on this system, it is critical that a full assessment of the potential outcomes are mapped out and considered.

Unfortunately, Irish Water were not required to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement / Assessment as part of their planning permission. This, in my opinion, is a major flaw in this planning process and means that Wicklow County Council did not have sufficient information upon which to base their assessment. It also would make it very difficult for WCC to ascertain whether its own planning guidelines (County Development Plan, and Ashford Local Area Plan) were being followed.

An EIS would have identified the volume of water that would be required to maintain the system in it’s current biological state. It may have been the case that a balance could have been achieved between the needs of the river and the requirements of Irish Water.

However, following the grant of permission, the only flow that Irish Water are obliged to release is 5MLd, which falls well short of the current 15MLd that the system receives. In addition, there is no outline of the regime for this release, such as flow duration or seasonality, which is major consideration for a healthy salmonid river.

If, in fact, there is insufficient scientific data available upon which to base a thorough EIS, I believe that the precautionary principle should apply until such time that the information has been collected and potential impacts can be assessed with some certainty.

Adherence to Wicklow’s Planning Guidelines

It is my belief that Wicklow County Council did not give sufficient weighting to its own County Development Plan or Local Area Plans as part of the planning process.  I have provided extracts of both of these plans, to identify areas which I believe were not sufficiently considered as part of the planning decisions, or where I feel that WCC disregarded its own planning guidelines.

The Ashford Local Area Plan identifies the Vartry River, an EU designated salmonid river, as the key natural heritage feature in the settlement; and a stated aim of the plan is to ensure the protection and enhancement of natural habitats, cultural heritage, ecological resources and biodiversity. In particular, to safeguard the integrity of streams and watercourses which are hydrologically linked to The Murrough Natura 2000 site downstream.

It goes on to state that in formulating policies for the protection of natural heritage in the Ashford plan area, the Council will be required to give consideration to the potential impacts of development on all such sites, and the plan is accompanied by the required environmental assessments as separate documents. The protection and enhancement of heritage assets through the plan will help to safeguard the local character and distinctiveness of Ashford and its surroundings, providing local economic, social and environmental benefits.

The importance of Mount Usher Gardens to Ashford is also noted and Ashford is described as home to the famous Mount Usher gardens which act as an attractor for tourists, giving rise to potential for spin off businesses, such as shops, public houses, restaurants and guesthouses/B&Bs.

In line with this, the Heritage Objectives of the Ashford LAP state In the interests of the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in Ashford, it is an objective of this plan to: 

  • protect trees, hedgerows and wooded areas (particularly those containing indigenous species), watercourses and other features of the natural landscape…;  
  • to maintain and protect the demesne settings of Inchanappa House, Mount Usher House and Rosanna House, and to require all development proposals within or directly adjoining these demesnes to fully evaluate and address any impacts of the setting and character of these demesnes; and
  • To safeguard the integrity of streams and rivers in the plan area, in particular all watercourses that are hydrologically linked to The Murrough Natura 2000 site, including the use of adequate buffer zones between watercourses and proposed developments.

Whilst the development at Roundwood is not within or directly adjoining these demesnes, it is connected via the river itself. The Vartry River is the defining feature of Mount Usher and it’s viability is fundamental to the gardens survival. Any modifications to this river would likely have a significant impact on the ability of Mount Usher Gardens to act as an attractor for tourism, and therefore would impact on local businesses and economy, both direct and indirect. 

This is particularly concerning given the place that Mount Usher plays in the economy of Ashford, and indeed Wicklow.

County Development Plan

The Wicklow County Development Plan recognises that the Council has an important role to play when it comes to promoting a reasonable balance between conservation measures and development needs, in order to avoid negative impacts upon the natural environment, mitigate the effects of harm where it cannot be avoided, and to promote the appropriate enhancement of the natural environment as an integral part of any development. As no EIS was produced for this project, any mitigation measures, or negative impacts, could not have been identified.

And while the Plan also specifies that the Council is to facilitate Irish Water in the protection, improvement and conservation of the County’s water resources and… in the provision of necessary water services infrastructure, it unequivocally states that this is to be in a sustainable manner. I do not believe that, in the absence of the EIS, the sustainability of the project could be assessed.

The County Development Plan (CDP) also includes Wicklow’s fisheries as part of it’s remit. It’s Strategic Objective, under Fishing, is:

  • to promote the development of the County’s sea and river fishing industry, to a scale and in a manner, which maximises its contribution to the County’s economic and social well-being on a sustainable basis and which is compatible with the protection of the environment.
  • to support the sustainable development of the fisheries and aquaculture industry in co-operation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Inland Fisheries Ireland.
  • The Council will not permit development that has a detrimental impact on the environment. In particular, development that has a detrimental impact on the environmental/ ecological/ water quality of seas, rivers and streams, will not be permitted

Again, I would contend that the Council has failed to meet this objective, as the detrimental impacts could not have been assessed without the necessary information.

It is of particular note that Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) are identified in this plan as key stakeholders when it comes to the sustainable development of the fisheries. In spite of this recognition in the CDP, the Council did not include IFI as one of the bodies that should be notified as part of the proposed monitoring of the river.  In fact, documents show that IFI had, in fact, been included at an earlier stage but then struck out prior to finalisation of the planning decision. It is my belief that IFI are a major stakeholder and as such, should be fully involved in this decision making process in order to provide the expertise and guidance required to ensure protection of this important fishing resource.

Stakeholder & Public Consultation

Under the Aarhus Convention, the public are entitled to take part in the environmental decision making of the state. The main pillars of Aarhus involve the principle of access to environmental information and public participation.

It is my belief that the non-provision of an EIS has meant that the environmental information that should have been made available to the public was not provided. This prevented members of the public (and indeed, other state bodies, such as the IFI), being able to participate fully in this process.

I also feel that Irish Water were not clear in their application and the information that was being provide to the public. They often stated that the project would not increase abstraction, which while technically correct, was, in my opinion, a disingenuous use of language. The very nature of the project would result in a reduction of flows to the River Vartry by two-thirds. This was not apparent in the information provided to the public. As a result, it is my contention that many stakeholders (incl. public bodies, public representatives and the public in general) were not aware of the potential significance of this project to the River or the vitality of Ashford Town.

In summary

I would contend that, in the absence of an EIS, it was impossible to determine the potential impact of the proposed plan. Importantly, it was also impossible to assess potential mitigation measures that may have found the balance between the water needs of Dublin and Wicklow, the cultural and natural heritage of the river system and the economic needs of the Ashford. I see this as a missed opportunity. I believe that a full and independent EIS, including an Appropriate Assessment (specific to migratory species) be conducted prior to any decision being made on the overall abstraction rates.

I wish to request that an oral hearing be undertaken for the purposes of this appeal. I believe that due to the insufficient information provided to the public as part of the original planning permission, and the nature, size and potential impact, of this proposal, that an oral hearing would be the most appropriate way to assess this appeal. It is my opinion that a significant number of people (including stakeholders, public representatives and members of the community) were not aware of this planning application or it’s potential impacts, and, therefore, have not engaged with this process to date. An oral hearing is the most appropriate way to allow a full and open discussion on this issue.

Importantly, I believe that a resolution of this issue can be achieved without delaying the proposed works and efficiency measures at the Roundwood Reservoir. A proposal was put to Irish Water by the appellants that provided an opportunity to continue with the planned works, whilst maintaining the current flows. Whilst the works were being undertaken, it was proposed that a monitoring and assessment programme be put in place, to try to gain an understanding of the system and to collect sufficient scientific data upon which to base any decision to reduce or modify the flow regime. Unfortunately, this was not considered and, as a result, the appellants have lodged their appeals to the Bord. However, I believe that this proposal was a positive one that should be considered.

Yours Sincerely,

Cllr Jennifer Whitmore,

Cathaoirleach Greystones Municipal District,

Wicklow County Council

086 6634747