In March of this year the Citizen’s Assembly recommended that every local authority create a strategic policy committee to deal with climate change. Legislation has not been passed to make this a mandatory requirement and, as a compromise during discussions with the Green Party and the Executive in Limerick City & County Council it was agreed that the Environment SPC be changed to the ‘Climate Action, Biodiversity & Environment SPC’. My Green Party colleague Sean Hartigan is one of the most suitably qualified people for this committee, having a long career in environmental education before entering politics. I know he will do a great job. Councillor Jerome Scanlan (Fine Gael) is the Chairman.
Yesterday’s decision by the EPA to grant an incineration license to Irish Cement is opposed by the Green Party. This issue has been running for some years now. In 2016 the Green Party were the first to raise concerns about Irish Cement’s proposal. Back then there was a broad welcome for the project. Local media articles welcomed the news that ‘alternative fuels’ would be burned in the kilns instead of fossil fuels, and some 90 jobs would be protected.
Our opposition was guided by the waste management hierarchy, which is set out in EU Law. It can be expressed as follows:
- Try and prevent waste in the first instance
- If you can’t prevent it, recycle it
- If you can’t recycle, treat it thermally, i.e. burn it to recover energy
- If you can’t thermally treat it, then dispose of it, i.e. landfill
Green Party policy is that this waste management hierarchy should be followed. During the planning stage of the process, the An Bord Pleanála inspector acknowledged the EU waste management hierarchy in his report but ignored it in his recommendation, allowing permission to Irish Cement to go straight to stage 3 of the hierarchy on the justification that the Southern Waste Management Plan permits thermal treatment. In the proposed list of waste to be incinerated at Mungret there is a huge amount of recyclable material including used tyres, animal faces, urine and manure, wood and bark, sawdust, wood shavings, paper and cardboard waste. According to the EU waste management hierarchy none of this should be going into an incinerator; it should be recycled.
The An Bord Pleanála inspector ruled that hazardous material should not be burned on the site and he struck off the list anything that mentioned ‘hazardous’ in his description. However, he left red mud on the list, presumably because it does not mention the word hazardous in its description even though it contains mercury, arsenic and a whole plethora of other heavy metals and presumably chemicals used in the extraction of the ore from the mud.
The system of giving planning permission for a project like this is wrong in that An Bord Pleanála must consider it only from a planning perspective, i.e. how it fits with the area plan, and it is not qualified or tasked to give a ruling on the environmental damage aspect. It is only following the grant of planning permission that the environmental aspect is considered by the EPA, and they decide on whether or not to give a license and under what conditions. By right both the environmental and planning considerations should be looked at up front and simultaneously when reaching a decision on whether or not to grant planning permission.
By ignoring the Waste Management Hierarchy we are at real risk of creating a monster that needs to be fed, and efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle are fundamentally undermined. We are in effect creating an incentive to produce waste.
Energy from Waste Incineration (EFI) is done all over Europe, and while not ideal, it can be done relatively safely. A major issue with the Irish Cement proposal is their track record at their plant in Mungret. Nearby residents frequently report dust accumulations due to ’blow outs’ at the plant. Indeed, Irish Cement has been successfully prosecuted and fined for such breaches of its license on a number of occasions. Added to that there is a very minimal monitoring regime in place to identify when these occur. Irish Cement must self-report any instances when it fails to comply with its license. Furthermore, air quality monitoring by the Council, EPA and HSE in the Limerick area is not sufficient to give us a clear picture.
Notwithstanding our misgivings about the process that led to Irish Cement getting a license to burn waste, this is also very much a matter of confidence, or lack of, in the company given its past record.
We are happy to support the provision of 42 units of social housing in Dalgaish Park, Moyross. We made representations relating to design quality (the homes will be built to the ‘Near Zero Energy Buildings [NZEB] standard), safe and secure bicycle storage and access to public transport. Moyross has been in transition for a number of years, since the Regeneration Programme began. While there have been challenges along the way we believe this scheme will enhance the area and provide much needed accommodation for those on the housing list.
A number of people have raised the issue of dog fouling of our footpaths. As well as being a public health issue it is serious problem for wheelchair users and other mobility impaired persons. Some areas may be considered blackspots. Unfortunately, Limerick Council has issued very few fines in recent years and the street cleaning regime in certain areas is lacking also. Furthermore, there are only three dog foul bins in the city. We are pushing for a greater number of bins, increased fines (which will require Ministerial approval) and an improved street cleaning regime in certain areas.
It was great fun cycling with these kids this morning. It’s worth remembering that of all journeys in Limerick that are 3km or less, a staggering 70% are made by car and many of them are the school run. If we can solve the school traffic problem then we will solve many of our transport challenges. Providing infrastructure so that kids can safely cycle to school and their parents can safely cycle to work is key to building a modern, progressive city.
A huge number of people have been in touch about the closure of the Park Road Recycling Facility.
Last Thursday a special meeting of the Council was held to discuss this issue. The Council Executive gave a presentation about the facility, and the reasons for closure.
The Director of Services and his staff leant heavily on the decision being due to health and safety reasons. There was an allusion to a report prepared in October 2018 which called for the urgent need to close the facility on H&S grounds. However, we were told that we could not see that report because it was relevant in an ongoing legal case. In any case, we were told that the relevant parts of the report were contained in the presentation given to us at this meeting.
What was given to us falls well short of the standard we should expect to justify what the Director himself cites as a ‘serious loss of service’. There was, as far as I could tell, a single slide from the October 2018 report, and that didn’t call for the closure of the facility. There were other slides (not in the October report, but prepared later at an unspecified date) which appeared to show unsafe practices. But none of this constitutes a thorough and comprehensive safety audit which necessitated the immediate closure of the facility. We simply don’t have credible evidence that health and safety risks were the main driver in the decision to close it. The subsequent 8 month wait to close the Park Road Depot only stretches credibility further.
Notwithstanding the above, the staff also didn’t appear to undertake any meaningful, formal study of mitigation of the vague and unspecified health and safety risks. Nor did they look for alternative solutions. If, as conceded by the Director, that the closure represented a serious loss of service, then clearly this should have been done. The overwhelming feeling is the decision had little to do with Health and Safety and that the staff believed it doesn’t actually constitute a serious loss of service, despite the claims to the contrary, and they were happy to close it without doing a thorough appraisal of the health and safety risks, mitigation and possible solutions.
Other aspects of this which are unsettling are the lack of consultation and the short notice given of the closure. No stakeholders were consulted insofar as we know, despite it being a serious loss of service. And the closure was then announced and hastily progressed within two weeks.
We should expect and demand a much higher standard from the executive management in its decision making. While it won’t happen overnight, I am determined to work with other councillors to build a new culture of openness and accountability in Limerick City & County Council.