Jan O' Sullivan, TD, Minister for Housing & Planning, today launched a major strategic plan for the future development and management of marine-related industry and tourism along Ireland's largest estuary, the Shannon Estuary.
The launch of the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan (SIFP) for the Shannon Estuary at The Inn at Dromoland, Co. Clare was also attended by 19 stakeholders engaged in the development and management of the Estuary.
The land and marine-based plan, the first of its type to be developed in the country, has been commissioned by a multi-agency steering group comprising Clare County Council as lead authority, Limerick City and County Councils, Kerry County Council and Shannon Foynes Port Company.
Over the coming months the SIFP will be incorporated into the relevant County and City Development Plans in counties Kerry, Clare and Limerick.
The Shannon Estuary features 500km2 of navigable water running from Kerry Head and Loop Head as far as Limerick City, a distance of 100km. The Estuary is Ireland's premier deepwater port, routinely catering for ships up to 200,000 deadweight tonnage, with key ports at Limerick and Foynes. It is home to a number of large industries and employers, including ESB Moneypoint, Aughinish Alumina, Tarbert Power Station, Shannon Airport, NORA Fuel Reserve. Meanwhile, the Estuary supports a variety of economic uses but is also rich in natural resources, wildlife and ecosystems.
The newly launched SIFP identifies 9 'Strategic Development Locations' on the Estuary, namely Moneypoint, Innismurry/Cahercon (Clare), Limerick Docks, Foynes Island, Foynes Port and adjoining lands, Askeaton Industrial Estate, Aughinish Island, (Limerick), Tarbert Power Station and Ballylongford Landbank (Kerry).
The SIFP identifies Moneypoint and Tarbert Power Stations as 'Key Energy Sites' in addition to Ballylongford Landbank, the site of the permitted liquefied natural gas (LNG) Project. The Plan names Kilconly point, Carrig Island, Tarbert Bay (Kerry) and Moneypoint (Clare) as opportunity sites for renewable energy, with opportunities for servicing offshore renewable energy developments also identified.
There is a similar approach to fishing and aquaculture with 8 separate opportunity sites identified on the Estuary, including designated Shell Fish Waters at Poulnasherry Bay and Carrigaholt Bay in County Clare. Other areas of opportunity include Rinevella Bay, Killimer and Clonderlaw Bay in Clare, Carrig Island in Kerry, and Greenish Island and Long Rock in Limerick.
The Plan recognises the tourism potential of the Estuary and includes objectives to further develop the Cruise Ship industry, while it highlights the potential of the Islands on the Fergus Estuary. Meanwhile, the strategy features objectives relating to aviation and supports the future development of Shannon Airport, including acknowledging the importance of the 2000-acre land bank zoned for aviation uses in the Shannon Town & Environs Local Area Plan 2012-2018.
Speaking at the Strategy launch, Minister O'Sullivan said: "I wish to congratulate all involved in bringing this ground breaking integrated framework plan to fruition. This plan is important for the region and will be of immense benefit to all who have a stakeholder interest in the Shannon Estuary. The key challenge for the relevant statutory agencies, which provide a stewardship over the Estuary, and all users, is how to foster and promote a special place where local, regional, national and international activities dependant on it can grow and expand. This framework achieves that goal whilst protecting and enhancing the environmental qualities which underpin the exceptional and internationally valued ecological status of the Shannon Estuary."
The Minister added: "There are now positive signs for our region and our economy. The recent expansion of routes at Shannon airport, the fact that both Tralee and Limerick City are seeing some of the largest decreases in the live register, significant Budget funding for both Limerick City of Culture in 2014 and the Wild Atlantic Way route point to a brighter economic future for our region. The Strategic Integrated Framework Plan for the Shannon Estuary is another important development in building our capacity to create jobs and attract investment and to do so in a way that is sustainable."
Tom Coughlan, Clare County Manager and Chairman of the Steering Group overseeing the Plan said the SIFP represented the first ever single Strategic Plan for the entire Shannon Estuary, including the lands immediately adjacent to the Estuary.
"This Plan represents a very exciting development not only the Shannon Estuary but also the counties of Clare, Limerick and Kerry," added Mr. Coughlan.
He continued: "The primary aim of the SIFP is to identify the nature and location of future development, economic growth and employment that can be sustainably accommodated within the Estuary. The Estuary is multi-functional as its waters and adjoining lands support a range of functions, uses, communities, activities and environmental resources and assets. Although the SIFP attributes a very strong weight to the growth of shipping and safe guarding the commercial shipping lanes it also has objectives for marine tourism, leisure and recreation as well commercial fishing and aquaculture, energy and renewable energy as well as aviation."
Mr. Coughlan noted that as the Estuary is designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive and also partly a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Birds, the Plan will aspire to achieving a careful balance between promoting development, and protection and conservation of this natural resource.
According to Mr. Pat Keating, CEO of Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC), which is responsible for all maritime activities and port management on the Estuary: ""Shannon Foynes Port Company welcomes the publication of the SIFP as it effectively means all stakeholders can work along a sustainable blueprint for the future to promote the Estuary as a location for significant future marine related investment.
"The SIFP is fully consistent with our own masterplan, Vision 2041, launched earlier this year and which sets out the unique potential of the Estuary to facilitate clean scalable investment such as the proposed €1bn LNG terminal at Ballylongford. The SIFP also sends a clear signal that the Shannon Estuary is open to inward investment after years of inaction. The relevant local Authorities have committed to varying their respective Development Plans to accommodate the SIFP recommendations and I look forward to the expedient conclusion of this process," added Mr. Keating.
Other organisations represented on the SIFP steering group include the Mid West Regional Authority, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, Shannon Airport Authority, Limerick Clare Energy Agency, OPW, National Parks & Wildlife Service, National Monuments Service, Shannon River Basin District Project, Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).