An Bord Pleanála has decided by a 4:1 majority to grant permission for a cruise berth terminal in Dún Laoghaire Harbour, subject to conditions including a restriction on vessel size of 250m length overall.

The decision however overrules the board’s own planning inspector’s report to refuse permission on the grounds, inter alia, that the application failed to have adequate cognisance to the MARPOL Convention wherein at 3 nautical miles from shore, i.e. within the boundary of the Rockabill to Dalkey Island SAC, the cruise ship operators may discharge their treated sewage.

Dun Laoghaire

4:1 ABP decision to grant permission for a cruise berth terminal, subject to vessel length restriction of 250m. Photo G Mills

The EIS and NIS as submitted did not provide data on the impact of such discharge upon the Conservation Interest of this SAC, the Harbour Porpoise. … In such circumstances, the Board is precluded from granting approval. (See below)

The Dún Laoghaire combined yacht clubs (Royal St George; Royal Albert; National; Motor, Yacht; Royal Irish and Dublin Bay Sailing) say the decision not to grant permission for a 435m quay to accommodate cruise ships up to 340m, was welcome.

‘Removal of the threat of supersized cruise ships secures the future of this premier location for the benefit of all Dún Laoghaire residents, watersports users, walkers and all those visitors and locals who value this historic amenity.’

But it regrets that the Board has overruled its inspector’s conclusions that the proposed development was contrary to the National Ports Policy ‘and that the economic case for the development was not sustained.

‘The combined ‘clubs look forward to working with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council [the future owners of the harbour who have included a similar limitation in their Development Plan] to develop a National Watersports Centre ….as specified in the DLRCC’s Development Plan for the benefit of all.’

Save our Seafront ― a voluntary organisation involving individuals and bodies concerned with issues affecting Dún Laoghaire seafront and Dublin Bay ― is disappointed that permission has been granted but welcomes the restrictions. It adds however that ‘serious issues’ arise over the inspector’s decision being overruled, which had refused the development on the grounds it was ‘contrary to proper planning and sustainable development.

‘Together with other concerned organisations we are considering the issues, including the possibility of a judicial review of the outcome.’

SoS also contends that many other questions remain unanswered.

‘The project has not been costed. Estimates for the construction alone range from €18m to €40m – not to mention on-going running costs for dredging, maintenance, staffing etc, with possible impacts for the tax payer.’

SoS welcomes recognition by ABP of the harbour’s long-term future being in marine leisure, cultural amenity and urban development.

Cruise tourism boost

Reacting to the outcome, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company says the decision will allow the company to accommodate up to 80% of cruise ships that currently visit Dublin Bay. It contends that at least 30% of the additional expenditure and resultant employment that the berth will generate ‘is estimated to accrue to the Dún Laogahire area’.

The company also estimates 50 cruise calls from May to September, averaging two per week, ‘each with an average of 2,000 cruise visitors who will disembark to spend money in the area’.

Over a season, the income generated will amount to €10m, the company believes.

Eithne Scott Lennon, chair of DLHC, said development of cruise tourism was recognised in the County Development Plan, the Harbour Masterplan and the National Ports Policy, in terms of marine tourism, marine leisure, cultural amenity and urban development:

“The Grow Dublin Tourism Alliance recognises that Dublin should benchmark itself against Copenhagen in trying to treble the number of cruise calls coming to our capital city over the next five to 10 years.”

In 2016, Copenhagen attracted 306 cruise calls and Dublin recorded 104, (96 via Dublin Port and 8 via Dún Laoghaire.)

“The really important aspect of the Copenhagen model is that it facilitates ‘peak days’, whereby up to seven cruise calls per day can be facilitated. Dublin needs to be able to cope with a similar demand,” she suggested.

To realise this potential, a Stakeholder Collaboration Group will be set up, comprising the Grow Dublin Tourism Alliance; Dublin City Council; Dublin Business Improvement District (BID); Dún Laoghaire BID; DLR CoCo; Dublin Port Company and DLHC.

Inspector’s report

DECISION

Refuse planning permission for the proposed development based on the reasons and considerations set out below:

REASONS AND CONSIDERATIONS

1. The proposal as submitted to the Board failed to have adequate cognisance to the MARPOL Convention wherein at 3 nautical miles from shore, i.e. within the boundary of the Rockabill to Dalkey Island SAC, the cruise ship operators may discharge their treated sewage. The EIS and NIS as submitted did not provide data on the impact of such discharge upon the Conservation Interest of this SAC, the Harbour Porpoise. In addition, avoidance measures in the form of adequate waste facilities have not been provided for in line with Marpol 73/78 in Dun Laoghaire Harbour and thus mitigation measures are inadequate. A stated mitigation measure of the EIS/NIS as submitted, is the employment of Marine Mammal Observers during the dredging/piling works in the Harbour. The Board consider this mitigation measure to be ineffective where dredging and piling are proposed to operate on a 24 hour basis i.e. during night time hours where visibility will be reduced. In light of the foregoing, the Board are not satisfied that the proposed development individually, or in combination, with other plans or projects would not affect the integrity of the Rockabill to Dalkey Island SAC, in view of the site’s Conservation Objectives. In such circumstances, the Board is precluded from granting approval. As such and as currently proposed and on the basis of the information provided the Board considers that the development does not meet the requirements for approval under the provisions of Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive and this therefore is contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

2. The Board are not satisfied with the quantum of information provided in relation to the Navigation Analyses in the EIS. The failure to incorporate all winds and tides into the Moffat and Nichol-Navigation Analyses, in tandem with an investigative survey as to the composition of the Roundheads, located at the end of the east and west piers at the harbour mouth, has provided a degree of uncertainty as to the ability of cruise ships to navigate safety through the harbour mouth to the berth and to the impact of the cruise ship’s thrusters upon the stability of the roundheads, which are identified as Protected Structures in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown’s County Development Plan 2016-2022. The Board notes the Applicant’s stated intention to carry out further studies in the event that the project proceeds, however, these studies would not be subject to public review. The Board consider that the proposal with its supporting documentation has failed to provide certainties that a cruise ship can safely navigate the dredged channel and through the harbour mouth without a detrimental impact upon the roundheads and therefore consider the proposed development would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

3. The proposed development of a new pier and quay berth measuring over 430m in length within Dun Laoghaire Harbour to facilitate the Freedom Range of cruise ship, which is at the higher end of the scale of cruise ships and which is capable of carrying circa 5,000 persons, conflicts with the vision as set out in the National Ports Policy plan (2013) issued by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, wherein Dun Laoghaire Harbour was assigned to Tier 3 (out of 3) as it was considered a port of regional importance alongside Galway, Wicklow and Drogheda. It is therefore considered that the proposal would not be in line with national policy and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

Fiona Tynan, Senior Planning Inspector with An Bord Pleanála since 2005