Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 09 December, 1998

Adjournment Matters. - Special Amenity Order.

Mr. Costello: I propose that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government direct the local authority, Dublin Corporation, to issue a special amenity order for the Tolka River Valley. As the Minister of State knows, Dublin is delightfully situated with the sea one side, the mountains on the other and rivers and canals. There are over 20 rivers in the city of Dublin, some of which are underground. The canals have been the subject of a special task force under the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. A study was done on the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal and they are now in the process of implementing the findings of that study and survey. Much work will be done upgrading and maintaining the canals.

The River Liffey is the largest river in the city and the Fingal local authority is looking for a special amenity order for the River Liffey valley as well — and I am sure it will be successful in getting that matter resolved. The second largest river in the city is the Tolka River which is unique in that it is the only river in the city of Dublin which has a river valley. The River Liffey valley is outside the city but the Tolka River Valley is within the jurisdiction of Dublin Corporation. There are panoramic views from Cabra to the Navan Road between the Royal Canal and the Tolka River. It is a very fine wild scene in terms of the beauty of the river valley. The river runs through Cabra, Glasnevin, Drumcondra past Richmond Road to Ballybough and into the sea at the East Wall and Clontarf, the area in which the Vikings were supposedly defeated in 1014.

We want to ensure the work is done to prepare for the special amenity order and that the order is granted. It is three or four years since a request was first made by councillors to the local authority that a special amenity order be prepared. I understand some work has been done by the local authority but we are frustrated that it is taking so long. I understand the special amenity order for Howth Head was issued very quickly. It is difficult to understand why we must spend so long doing the scoping and the preparatory work to present to the Department of the Environment and Local Government in preparation for this particular special amenity order.

Most of the Tolka River Valley is wild, agricultural land and has not been developed. Residents in the area had hoped that stretch of the Tolka River would be developed as a millennium project. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful last Monday with the casting vote of the chairman, [983] the Lord Mayor of Dublin, in getting the land retained in its existing zoning, which was agricultural, where it could have been developed. There is a huge amount of land which could be developed and there is still scope for a millennium project to be developed on the site.

There are a number of millennium projects in Dublin, all of which are comprised of bricks and mortar, so this would be the only one which would have green grass and would act as a green lung for the city. It would be a facility for citizens which would add to their enjoyment of life. It would be an ideal area for the development of nature trails, trekking and picnic areas and the possible development of an interpretative centre, an equestrian centre and an organic farm.

However, little can be done unless there is some protection, the best of which is the issuing of a special amenity order. Perhaps the Minister could direct Dublin Corporation to complete the work and grant such an order for the Tolka Valley.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): I thank the Senator for raising the matter. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, regrets he is unable to be present in the House and has asked me to reply on his behalf.

A planning authority may make a special amenity area order — SAAO — under section 42 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, declaring a specified area to be of special amenity by reason of its outstanding beauty, special recreational value or the need for nature conservation. Such an order may state the planning authority's objectives regarding the preservation or enhancement of the character or special features of the area, including objectives for the prevention or limitation of development in it. The making of an SAAO is a reserved function.

Where a local authority decides to make an SAAO, it must publish in a newspaper circulating in its area its decision to make the order indicating the area to which the order relates, where it may be viewed with any relevant maps and specifying the period, not less than one month, during which objections may be made against it. All SAAOs require confirmation by the Minister. Every confirmation order must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and, if a resolution annulling the order is passed by either House within 21 sitting days, the order shall be annulled.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government may direct a planning authority under section 42(1A) of the 1963 Act to make an SAAO for a particular area within its functional area. However, it is primarily a matter for the planning authority to consider the making of an SAAO, given its responsibility for deciding land use policies in its area.

[984] The power given to the Minister to direct a planning authority to make special amenity area orders is one which has been used very sparingly by Ministers over the years and only where special circumstances applied. Ministers have issued such directions on only two occasions over the 35 years since the 1963 Act came into operation. The Minister is not aware of any circumstances bearing on the Tolka Valley lands which would cause him to consider taking the action sought by the Senator or intervene in the city council's business of providing for the proper planning and development of its area.