Landscapes & Seascapes
The outdated Irish legislation (The Foreshore Act 1933) and other regulations governing construction at sea afford no statutory protection to our coastal landscapes and seascapes, a valuable, finite resource and a major national asset in terms of quality of life, natural heritage and tourism.
The importance of Irish coastal landscapes is underlined in the land-use planning system, with County Development Plans designating large stretches of the coastline as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Local Authorities rigorously control development in these areas, to preserve scenic "views and prospects". However, they have no statutory control over developments below the high water mark, which have a significant impact on these “views and prospects”.
Since there is no statutory involvement of Local Authorities and no public right of appeal to an independent planning appeals body (e.g. An Bord Pleanála), developments in coastal waters are not subject to any independent professional assessment of landscape impact.
Essentially the protection afforded to coastal landscapes by our land-use planning system ends at the high water mark. This is clearly an unacceptable situation. What is the value to Ireland of the unspoilt seascapes of Dundalk Bay, Dublin Bay, Killiney Bay, Wicklow Bay and Galway Bay? This question has not been addressed and Ireland runs the risk of losing these irreplaceable aspects of our heritage as a result of the inadequacy of marine planning regulation and legislation.
EUROPEAN LANDSCAPE STRATEGY
The Council of Europe’s European Landscape Convention promotes the protection, management and planning of European landscapes and organises European co-operation on landscape issues.
The Convention, which Ireland has signed, has a number of significant implications:
- It lays down stringent and very specific requirements in relation to landscape protection. (Seascape is included in the Convention's definition of landscape)
- Signatories must recognise landscapes in law and establish policies aimed at their protection, management and planning.
- By giving this recognition and protection to all landscapes, it formally acknowledges that it is no longer feasible to recognise and protect landscapes only through a ‘special areas' approach.
- It ‘democratises' landscapes by extending to the entire population the right to benefit from good quality landscapes and to influence future landscape change.
The Convention specifically requires states to:
- Identify their landscapes
- Analyse their characteristics and the forces for change affecting them.
- Assess and take account of the landscape values of both interest groups and the general population.
- Define quality objectives for the landscapes assessed.
NATIONAL LANDSCAPE STRATEGY
Ireland has signed The European Landscape Convention (Council of Europe, 2002) which came in to force in 2004. Under the Convention, landscape includes seascape (generally taken to mean views from land to sea and views along the coast). To date, seascape, a crucial aspect of Ireland’s heritage, has been neglected, possibly because offshore developments with significant impact on seascape were never envisaged.
COASTAL LANDSCAPE AND MARITIME HERITAGE
The Heritage Council of Ireland established as a statutory body under the Heritage Act 1995, has a clear landscape and seascape policy remit under the provisions of the Act. The Council is responsible for proposing policies and priorities for the identification, protection , preservation and enhancement of national heritage defined in the Heritage Act (Section 6) as including “monuments, archaeological objects, heritage objects, architectural heritage, flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, landscapes, seascapes, wrecks, geology, heritage gardens and parks and inland waterways”.
The Heritage Council has produced a comprehensive policy paper ‘Conserving Ireland’s Maritime Heritage’ (April 2006). This document is devoted to specific aspects of maritime heritage including coastal landscapes and seascapes, biodiversity, fisheries and cultural heritage.
Seascape is identified as a key component of Ireland’s maritime heritage.
The document states:
“Ireland's coastline is noted for its magnificent seascapes. In addition to being part of Ireland’s natural heritage, seascapes are unquestionably a vital and irreplaceable part of regional economies….Visually intrusive developments can permanently detract from the natural beauty of the coast and reduce potential to attract the more discerning and generally more lucrative type of tourism”.
“The coast is under pressure from many competing uses and resources. The preservation of Ireland’s remaining unspoilt coastal landscapes is not assured and further losses will mark a failure to achieve sustainable development of the coastline”.
In June 2016 The Heritage Council published Seascapes and Seascape Assessment – A review of International Practice. The review is the result of research into existing seascape planning characterisation and assessment internationally.
'The Review comes about as the Heritage Council strongly believes there is a need to establish a robust seascape policy framework, given the recent marine Maritime Spatial Planning Directive as well as EU legislation. It is noted that maritime management in Ireland and else where has focused on environmental processes, biodiversity fisheries and aquacultutre and less so on issues such as visual impact , built heritage and cultural significance.'
'From this research exercise it is clear that marine planning and assessment globally has n the past focused heavily on environmental processes and biodiversity and less so on issues such as visual impact, built heritage and cultural significance. Where visual impact has been addressed it has been for sensitive coastal landward areas rather than seaward. This is changing however with a greater acceptance of seascape as part of landscape, pursuant to the European Landscape Convention, Marine Spatial Planning directive 2014/89/EU and Environmental Assessment directive 2001/42/EC.'
Practice in individual countries is reviewed.
While Belgium and Netherlands have taken a zoning approach with specific activites allocated to specific offshore locations , Scotland and England are moving ahead with a seascape characterisation Assessment (SCA) approach informing SEA and EIA processes. Denmark the world leader in offshore renewable development appears to have identified preferred offshore sites for wind energy development in the 1990s with general acceptance of visual impacts being tied to the concept of a communities' willingness to pay. This community led approach is recognised as being effective in achieving a broad consensus and efficient development, interestingly without a Maritime Spatial Plan.
Strategic Environmental Assessment requires comprehensive and reliable information and data i.e. a reliable baseline. Consultants who produced the SEA of Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan stated that 'confidence levels in the Landscape Character Assessments (LCA) as provided for in the relevant (coastal) County Development Plans, is very low'. Only two LCAs scored high for seascape, Clare and Leitrim, both funded by The Heritage Council.
COASTAL LANDSCAPES & TOURISM
Tourism is Ireland’s most important indigenous industry, generating 6.5 billion annually. About 80% of visitors rate Ireland’s scenery as an important reason for visiting Ireland.
The Heritage Council and Fáilte Ireland (October 2007) jointly called for the urgent introduction of a National Framework for Landscape Management in Ireland to safeguard quality of life, tourism, cultural and natural heritage, and to provide more clarity in the planning system.
Michael Starrett, Chief Executive of The Heritage Council stated:
“It is time to take stock and put tried and tested systems in place to manage and plan our landscapes and seascapes, one of our most precious environmental, social and economic resources. Landscape management makes sense for our economy, our quality of life, our heritage and our environment.”
Shaun Quinn, Chief Executive of Fáilte Ireland stated:
“There is a real window of opportunity to do something very positive which will contribute to the long term economic and environmental well-being of Ireland. Our scenery is one of our most valuable tourism assets and we need a nationally consistent and co-ordinated approach to its identification and conservation.”
Following extensive consultation, in 2015, the National Landscape Strategy for Ireland 2015-2025 was published.
It sets out a vision for Ireland stating 'Our landscape reflects and embodies our cultural values and our shared natural heritage and contributes to the well-being of our society, environment and economy. We have an obligation to ourselves and to future generations to promote its sustainable protection, management and planning.' and defines the value of our landscapes and seascapes 'The Irish landscape, from city and town centres, to countryside, offshore islands and territorial waters, with its many dimensions, multiple uses and ever-changing dynamics, contributes to the well-being of our society, environment and economy.