Natura 2000 sites were established to protect the 220 habitats and approximately 1,000 species throughout Europe. The Natura 2000 sites came into being with the European Union’s habitats directive, Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora.
There are over seventy Natura 2000 sites in Galway (the most in Ireland); however most of these are outside of the city, but still within the county of Galway. Connemara to the west of the city, with its mountainous landscape, blanket bogs and heathlands, is almost exclusively a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This makes it difficult for development to take place in these areas.
To build on a Natura 2000 site, the owner must carry out an Appropriate Assessment Screening Report or Natura Impact Statement. This is a report on the impact that the new development will have on the site and whether or not it is recommended to build there. Doing such a study adds great cost to the developer, and in a lot of cases they end up not being able to build.
There have been numerous large scale projects that have been stopped due to being developed in a Natura 2000 site. For example, the Galway City Outer Bypass, which was due to alleviate the city’s chronic traffic and transportation problems, was halted after the proposed route cut through a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). An Bord Pleanala, Ireland’s planning appeal board, refused permission for the bypass on the basis that it passed through Tonabrocky Bog. This bog is part of the Moycullen Bog Complex SAC.
One of the major encumbrances to the proposed Galway City Harbor Redevelopment is that Galway Bay is located within a Natura 2000 site, thus redevelopment of the harbor could harm species. Environmental non-profit groups, which object to the redevelopment, have argued that the construction of the new harbor will damage the Special Area of Conservation. Supporters of the new harbor say it is worth the damage that will be caused to the habitats in order to bring employment and economic benefits to the city. They question whether or not people should be forbidden from building on their own land, as well as the possibility that people have to sit in traffic for hours in order to protect a small stretch of bog.
Even when there is opposition there is a way that projects can be built in Natura 2000 sites. For example, the planning authority may grant approval if there is a great public need for the development, and the application is made through the Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest. In this case, however, the authority must be satisfied that there is no alternative solution. This procedure is currently being undertaken for the Galway City Outer Bypass. Whether or not the bypass project goes through remains to be seen. Even with the possibility of overriding public interest, there is very little room for development on Natura 2000 sites and this will continue to be an issue for Galway.
How do environmental protection and development come into conflict in your city? How have people tried to resolve this tension?
Credits: Images by Alan Bannon. Data linked to sources. Map from Galway County Council.