The following points are suggested by the Irish Geological Heritage Programme of the Geological Survey of Ireland, as appropriate ways in which to address the need to protect geological heritage in any one of Ireland’s counties:-
As a minimum, the Geological Survey of Ireland would like the Local Authority to include a policy objective with wording such as:
"to protect from inappropriate development the scheduled list of geological heritage sites [Appendix X]."
"to protect from inappropriate development the following list of County Geological Sites"
The Irish Geological Heritage (IGH) Programme is identifying and selecting the very best national sites for Natural Heritage Area (NHA) designation, to represent the country's geology. It is also identifying many sites of national or local geological heritage importance, which are classed as County Geological Sites (CGS), although these will not receive the statutory protection of NHA sites. However, the IGH Programme views the Local Authorities as critical partners in protecting, through the planning system, those CGS which fall within their county limits. In many cases these are often sites of high amenity or educational value, already zoned or listed in the plan. Listing in the County Development Plan (CDP) provides sites with protection against potentially damaging developments that normally require planning permission, such as building, quarrying, landfilling or forestry. It is also important that the democratic process of public consultation and approval by councillors of the CDP means that stakeholders in the sites and all the local community can participate in the process.
CGS have been adopted in the National Heritage Plan, and will form a major strand of geological nature conservation to complement the various ecological and cultural conservation measures. It is important to note however, that management issues for the majority of geological heritage sites may differ from ecological sites, and in some cases development may facilitate enhanced geological understanding of a site by exposing more rock sections - for example, in a quarry extension or road developments. Consultation at the earliest stages can identify any issues relevant to an individual site or proposed development.
These two geological site designations (NHA & CGS) supersede the Area of Scientific Interest (ASIs) designation of previous decades, although geological sites have only recently been subject to re-assessment. County Geological Sites are the optimal way of addressing the responsibility of each authority under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to protect sites of geological interest.
It would also be necessary to include a policy objective to protect geological NHAs as they become designated and notified to the Local Authority, during the lifetime of the Plan.
The Schedule list of sites should include either a grid reference, a map reference cross linked to a CDP map or other location information. It should also include some indication of what kind of geological interest or geomorphological feature is present. Where no map indication of size of site is included then some indication of area or length of section could also be given, as geological sites vary considerably in size.
GSI would very much like Local Authority planning departments to put a planning condition on all major developments that GSI should be notified in advance of any significant ground excavations.
If any geologist is assigned to record, log, sample, collect or otherwise study the new rock or subsoil exposure, the developer should facilitate them. In areas where natural exposures are few, or deeply weathered, this measure would permit ongoing improvement of geological knowledge of the subsurface. 'Significant' would include quarries, road cuttings, tunnels, major drainage works, foundations for industrial or large buildings and complexes.
A new GSI Bill is being formulated, which, when enacted, will place a requirement on anyone excavating within prescribed limits to keep records and notify the GSI, so it would be beneficial for all to commence this practice at the earliest opportunity. In addition, copies of geological information generated by certain types of actions will be required to be lodged with GSI.
GSI has now been designated a ‘Statutory Consultee’ by the DOEHLG, to be consulted where the application relates to minerals extraction, quarry developments/extensions and developments involving excavations greater than 50,000 m3 in volume or 1 hectare in area.
Your Local Authority is already probably engaged with the GSI in areas such as Groundwater Protections Schemes or aggregate potential, but if not, then it is failing to make use of a major resource of expertise in vital service areas. You should promote contact to consider various groundwater protection and source protection schemes. The GSI is also now undertaking Minerals Potential Mapping for Local Authorities to provide a sensible basis for planning decisions on developments, focusing on the potential mineral resources (especially aggregates) of the county. GSI data will also be applied to flood risk assessment studies.