The planning authority has refused the State’s plan to relocate nine turf cutters from a protected high bog in Co Kildare to a nearby undesignated site in the county over climate concerns.
The proposal was part of the State’s relocation scheme for turf cutters who are required to cease cutting on 53 raised bog now designated as special areas of conservation under the EU Habitats Directive.
The cutters in this case previously cut on Ballynafagh Bog, a raised bog that is to be restored to favourable conservation conditions. It was planned for the cutters to be relocated to Coolrea high bog sandwiched between two protected bogs close to the village of Prosperous.
If given the go-ahead, the project would have allowed for turf cutting for domestic peat fuel supply and the levelling of part of the bog, the installation of new drainage channels and the deepening of existing drains.
An environmental screening report for the works found that the proposed activities “may increase water drawdown” and have “adverse hydrological impacts” on both sites.
Kildare County Council initially refused the proposed move as it was not in line with policy in the county’s development plan to “protect and conserve bogland habitats by limiting extraction to those areas currently under development”.
The Minister of Heritage Josepha Madigan TD appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanala (ABP) whose inspector considered that the climate impact of small-scale peat extraction in this case was not significant. The Board itself, however, found that the project would “contribute both directly and indirectly to greenhouse gas emissions” over its entire lifetime.
The Board considered that the proposed development was in contravention of the national climate policy objective to transition to a low-carbon energy system as well as contravening the Council’s development plan for Kildare.
The board considered observations from the Kildare Turf Cutters Association, several environmental NGOs including the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council, An Tasice, and Friends of the Irish Environment, and environmentalist Peter Sweetman.
Cutting cessation scheme
The cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme provides €1,500 per year for 15 years, or relocation where feasible to a non-designated bog together with a once-off incentive payment of €500. The estimated cost of the relocation process is over €7.6 million.
To date, 2,300 applicants have been provided with payments under the compensation element of the scheme, totalling €25.4 million. The estimated cost of payments over the lifetime of the 15 year scheme is €54 million.
Tony Lowes, one of the directors of FIE, criticised the decision to spend such levels of taxpayer money to extend turf cutting and “undermine Ireland’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.
FIE calculated that accommodation of the nine cutters in the Kildare case over the proposed 65-year lifetime of the permission would lead to the release of eight million kilograms of carbon.
Mr Lowes said that all the scientific evidence is telling us that peat extraction is damaging to the environment and that taking steps to protect our bogs is the “low hanging fruit” of addressing climate change.
Yet, he stressed, the State is “desperately doing all they can” to facilitate turf cutting in Ireland, pointing to new regulations implemented in January to remove large-scale peat extraction projects from the planning system.
The regulations introduced by the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy TD have since been suspended following a legal challenge by FIE pending judgement on the case expected next week.