Green infrastructure

1.  POLICY SETTING

  • At the national level in Ireland, the governmental body currently most concerned with policy relevant to GI is the Department for Environment, Community and Local Government.
  • Although it does not explicitly refer to GI, the National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020 produced by the Department of the Environment and Local Government advocates the development of a ‘Green Structure’ through regional and county-level plans, but this is focussed on containing urban sprawl rather than conservation. Therefore, at the national level, an overall strategy for GI is lacking, so implementation is currently advanced through local government and their development of county and city development plans, which are reviewed and adopted every six years (see section on spatial planning below). A new National Planning Framework, the Ireland 2040 Plan, is being prepared.
  • In Dublin, the Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA RPG) include a model for a GI network for the area (Dublin Regional Authority and Mid-East Regional Authority, 2010). GI is one of the strategic focuses, and contains six strategic priorities. A list of priority actions for GI development is outlined. Recommendations include that all councils prepare a GI Strategy and coordinate their work at the local level, and that GI be identified at the initial stages of all planning processes and included as a material consideration to inform development, as well as additional recommendations for the identification and protection of GI. Dublin Bay is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
  • Dublin City Development Plan includes an environmental aim of developing a green infrastructure strategy and Green Infrastructure Network. The Network includes and integrates open spaces, green corridors for cycling and walking, areas of high biodiversity value, and recreational areas and thereby connects green spaces and other natural features such as rivers and canals to different parts of the city and also links to towns and to areas in the city region (see implementation below for further details).
  • In 1999 the Comhar Sustainable Development Council (SDC) was established as the forum for national consultation and dialogue on all issues relating to sustainable development. As part of its work, Comhar SDC contributed to the promotion of GI in Ireland. Together with similar councils in the network of European Environment and Sustainable Development Councils (EEAC), Comhar made the case that GI should be considered part of critical infrastructure. In a report in 2010 on creating Irish green infrastructure, it recommended the development of national GI objectives to inform local planning, national habitat maps to support GI maps, and extending the National Framework GI map (produced for the report) to include more GI elements (Comhar SDC, 2010). In January 2012, the sustainable development role performed by Comhar SDC was integrated into the work of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC).
  • The framework for advancing sustainable development and the green economy in Ireland, “Our Sustainable Future" (2012), developed by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, identifies measures to be implemented across governments and tasks a high-level inter-departmental group with realising these. The framework mentions as a priority action protecting and enhancing Ireland’s GI. Measure 12 concerns the development of an integrated approach to GI planning. The document also includes renewable energy as a component of GI, which we do not discuss here due to its less direct relevance to GI as defined above.
  • Ireland is currently developing its new National Biodiversity Plan. The previous Plan (Actions for Biodiversity 2011-2016) required each local authority to publish a Local Biodiversity Action Plan, or review existing plans. These plans address GI issues to some extent. For example, Dublin City Biodiversity Action Plan defines four themes to structure actions, of which theme 3 concerns GI.
  • In the draft Biodiversity Action Plan for 2017-2024, Target 1.1 focusses on responsibility for the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of its components, and will be addressed through actions including 1.1.1: ‘All public authorities and private sector move towards no net loss of biodiversity through strategies, planning, mitigation measures, appropriate offsetting and/or investment in green-blue infrastructure’.
  • Some GI actions are also taken in relation to landscape goals, as the National Landscape Strategy 2015-2025 establishes principles for protecting and enhancing the landscape while positively managing its change (Department of Arts, 2015).
  • The Irish Landscape Institute has also been involved in GI-related events. In April 2017, Ireland held its first conference on GI planning and delivery in the construction sector; this was preceded by the GI-themed National Conference of the Irish Landscape Institute, which also presented its first national GI award.

 

2.  IMPLEMENTATION OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

  • Interviews for a study on GI implementation in Ireland suggested that local authorities are the land use governance level most crucial to realising GI (Lennon, 2015). As a result, at least some of the county councils have GI strategies. The 2014 progress report on the Framework for Sustainable development notes that GI has been integrated into several strategic planning exercises including the Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area 2010-2022, Fingal Development Plan 2011-2017 and Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017, but does not discuss the scope for further implementation (Department of Housing, 2014).
  • As of 2013, Fingal County Council was the most advanced in implementing GI, formulating several local area plans promoting multifunctional green spaces as a key policy area in development strategies, such as the plans for the Baldoyle-Stapolin and Portmarnock South areas. It also actively builds partnerships with local NGOs to inform policy and monitor its performance (Lennon et al, 2017).
  • As part of its Development Plan, Dublin City has defined a Green Infrastructure Network, which is connected to networks of neighbouring local authorities. An initial baseline mapping of species and habitats of conservation importance was undertaken in 2010, as part of the Habitat Survey of Dublin City’s Strategic Green Network.
  • Other examples of local plans integrating GI is the Loughmacask Local Area Plan by Kilkenny County and Borough Councils, and the County Wicklow GI Development Plan Strategy.
  • Under the 2011-16 National Biodiversity Plan, Target 10 is the restoration of biodiversity elements. Several actions to meet this target concern the Bord na Móna peatland area, for which surveys are to be performed, biodiversity hotspots to be identified and a network of biodiversity areas is to receive continued development. Habitat maps and species targets are indicators for this. GI was discussed in the context of strengthening the coherence, connectivity and resilience of the protected area network; indicators were to include designations of Natural Heritage Areas and a Fragmentation Index.
  • Important GI is also being conserved and restored through LIFE projects, such as:

    • LIFE Irish Raised Bogs - Restoring Active Raised Bog in Ireland's SAC Network (2016 – 2020) - to improve the conservation status of the Annex I Habitats Directive habitat ‘Active Raised Bog’, through the protection and restoration of 12 Natura 2000 network sites in the midlands of Ireland.
    • RPWHI - Restoring Priority Woodland Habitats in Ireland (01/2006 – 12/2009) focused on restoring 550.8 ha of alluvial woodland, yew woodland, bog woodland, and woodland with limestone pavement.

 

3.  MAINSTREAMING GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

The ‘Our Sustainable Future’ framework aims to integrate sustainable development into key areas of policy, to put in place effective implementation mechanisms and to progress sustainable development. It prioritises action on the development of an integrated approach to GI into polices and the creation of green corridors to enhance biodiversity.

The GI approach has been increasingly institutionalised in Irish planning (Lennon et al, 2017; see also Scott et al, 2013). The GDA RPGs recommend the mainstreaming of GI into all planning processes at the beginning of decision-making.

 

Nature

  • The EU Natura 2000 network is at the core of the EU's Green Infrastructure. By early 2016, 13.13% of the national land area of Ireland was covered by Natura 2000 (EU average 18.1%), with Birds Directive SPAs covering 6.14% (EU average 12.3%) and Habitats Directive SCIs covering 10.19% (EU average 13.8%). There are 594 Natura 2000 sites in Ireland covering a total area of 19,455km² (European Commission, 2017).
  • Peatlands are of particular conservation importance in Ireland and there is concern over their conservation status in Natura 2000 sites and in the wider environment, as a result of past and ongoing turf cutting for fuel and extraction for the horticultural industry (European Commission 2017a). Such degradation also has implications for climate change mitigation (through carbon losses) and adaptation (e.g. increased flooding risk). To address these issues a National Peatland Strategy was developed (Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 2015), which aims ‘to provide a long-term framework which all of the peatlands within the State can be managed responsibly in order to optimise their social, environmental and economic contribution to the well-being of this and future generations.’ Planned actions under the Peatland Strategy include a comprehensive programme of restoration of raised bog SACs and National Heritage Areas (NHAs) through the implementation of the Raised Bog SAC Management Plan and development of management plans for NHAs, in partnership with affected land-owners. In addition, the Plan states that on non-designated sites Coillte and Bord na Móna, as the private managers of significant tracts of peatlands, will continue to show leadership in responsible management, rehabilitation and restoration of peatlands. In support of this, Bord na Móna has produced a Biodiversity Action Plan 2016-2021, which also supports the company’s intended transition towards sustainable and renewable businesses, reinforcing biodiversity development as a core value of the company. The plan aims to extend the management, rehabilitation, restoration and conservation that it has carried out to date, and to monitor and report on these actions and their impacts. These include strengthening and enhancing the network of biodiversity areas that connect with other recognised areas of high biodiversity value outside of the Bord na Móna bogs, and exploring the potential for wildlife/green infrastructure corridors.  However, the extent of planned rehabilitation and restoration is uncertain as well as the degree to which it will be possible to fully restore their biodiversity.

 

Agriculture and forestry

  • The Irish Rural Development Programme 2014-20 makes no explicit reference to GI. However, it can be expected to indirectly contribute to GI objectives through measures that support the conservation, restoration and creation of habitats. In fact, the Environmental Implementation Review notes that there are excellent examples of conservation and land management in Ireland, most notably in the Burren Co. Clare, but this is not happening at a sufficient scale (European Commission, 2017a).
  • Information could not be found on the incorporation of GI into forest policies measures. However, a report by the Irish Department of Agriculture mentions GI in the context of the Strategic Environmental Assessment of Ireland’s 2014-20 Forestry Programme.

 

Spatial planning

  • A national policy framework is provided by the National Landscape Strategy, which aims to achieve balance between the management, planning and protection of the landscape and ensure fragmentation is reduced. However, as described above, in practice GI is currently advanced through local government planning initiatives. At the local authority level, each county council prepares its own Regional Planning Guidelines which contain a Strategic Policy on GI, with six strategic recommendations, including specific guidance for local councils, such as preparing county-based GI strategies for mapping and maintaining GI.

 

4.  FINANCING GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

No information was found on the funding of GI actions, but it is likely that (as elsewhere) it is financed through a mix of public funds and private initiatives (e.g. as part of planning approval conditions).

Public funds that can be expected to contribute to GI initiatives include:

  • Conservation and restoration projects through LIFE-Nature (see above); INTERREG and LEADER funds.
  • State funding for biodiversity projects, through bodies such as the Heritage Council.
  • Afforestation and support measures including the Native Woodland Scheme under the New Forestry Programme 2014-20 provide support to landowners for the creation of new native woodland and restorative management of existing woodland.

 

5.  CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GI DEVELOPMENT

Challenges/gaps/needs

National leadership on GI appears to be lacking, and this extends to a lack of visible funding for GI projects, especially at the urban level. This functional fragmentation in planning efforts impedes GI implementation in Ireland. This may be improving with the publication of the DECLG Local Area Plan Guidelines in 2013 to guide the development of Local Area Plans, whose aim is to include improving the integration of GI into the local planning process (Department for Environment, 2013), and recommends actions such as creating an initial inventory of GI resources.

Conservation of core GI in protected areas is also lagging. Consequently, in the EU Environmental Implementation Review for Ireland (European Commission, 2017b), it was noted that Ireland still needs to complete its Natura 2000 designation process and protect raised and blanket bogs (European Commission, 2017a).

 

Best practice/points of excellence

Local authorities are actively promoting GI, and Fingal County Council in particular is often cited for its innovative approach. University College Dublin has a Department for Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, with several researchers actively focussed on GI.

 

Opportunities

GI is widely understood and promoted by landscape and environmental institutes, including the Irish Landscape Institute.

Further policy initiatives in preparation:

In 2012, the National Economic and Social Council was asked to integrate a sustainable development perspective into its work.

In 2016 the Irish Labour Party announced its plans to set up a €1bn fund for GI, in its pre-election policy document. Proposed initiatives would involve setting up a subsidised cycle-to-school scheme.

 

6.  KNOWLEDGE BASE

Selected research projects in the scientific community:

  • University College Dublin has hosted a masterclass on practical design techniques for incorporating GI into the built environment.
  • The National Biodiversity Data Centre is developing indicators to quantify Ireland’s progress towards its biodiversity action plan goals.
  • In response to the EU Biodiversity Strategy requirements for Member States to map and assess their ecosystem services, the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service commissioned a six-month project to map a suite of prioritised ecosystem services using currently available tools and data; the results were published in 2016. This was supported by the EC Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystem Services (MAES) project and its associated expert working group.
  • Under the EPA Sustainability Research pillar for 2014 to 2020, one of the themes is natural Capital and Ecosystem Services, which aims to support embedding ecosystem approaches such as natural capital, ecosystem services and GI into policy and practice.
  • The Irish Forum on Natural Capital (IFNC) launched in 2015, is bringing together diverse stakeholders to promote the integration of the concept into public policy and contribute to the establishment of a national accounting standard.
  • The Irish Environmental Protection Agency has issued calls for projects, including on the theme of natural capital (2014), and subsequently funded an 18-month research project exploring ways of integrating the ecosystem approach into spatial planning, APEP Eco-Plan. This preceded the ongoing Eco-Health project (2016-18), which assesses the contribution of green spaces to health. The team members are based at University College Dublin.
  • Ireland is involved in several relevant EU projects, including OPERAs (Operationalising Ecosystem Service Values), TURAS (Transitioning Towards Urban Resilience and Sustainability) and EcoValue, a one-year assessment of the ecosystem service value of Ireland's forests for DAFM.
  • A study by Ireland’s National Economic and Social Council produced a National Environmental Data Map in 2014[1].

 

7.  FURTHER RESOURCES AND PUBLICATIONS

Comhar SDC (2010) Creating Green Infrastructure for Ireland. Enhancing Natural Capital for human Wellbeing. Comhar Sustainable Development Council. http://edepositireland.ie/bitstream/handle/2262/71873/Comhar_27_2010.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=

National Summary for Ireland under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive. https://circabc.europa.eu/faces/jsp/extension/wai/navigation/container.jsp 

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency published a series of reports providing guidance on green infrastructure planning[2].

 

8.  LIST OF CONSULTED REFERENCES

Department for Environment, C a L G (2013) Local Area Plans: Guidelines for Planning Authorities.    Department for Environment, Community and Local Government, Government of Ireland.

Department of Arts, H a t G, Government of Ireland, (2015) National Landscape Strategy for Ireland 2015-2025.    Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht , Government of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.

Department of Housing, P, Community and Local Government, (2014) Progress Report 2014.  Our Sustainable Future: A Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland  Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Government of Ireland.

Dublin Regional Authority and Mid-East Regional Authority (2010) Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area 2010-2022.    The Regional Planning Guidelines Office, Ireland.

Environmental Protection Agency (2016) Ireland's environment - an assessment 2016.

European Commission (2017a) Country Report - Ireland.  EU Environmental Implementation Review  European Commission, Brussels, Belgium.

The EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report - Ireland. The EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report - Ireland, Brussels, Belgium.

Lennon, M (2015) Green infrastructure and planning policy: a critical assessment. Local Environment No 20 (8), 957-980.

Lennon, M, Scott, M, Collier, M and Foley, K (2017) The emergence of green infrastructure as promoting the centralisation of a landscape perspective in spatial planning—the case of Ireland. Landscape Research No 42 (2), 146-163.

Scott, M, Collier, M, Foley, K and Lennon, M (2013) GI Planning in Ireland: Emergence & State-of-the-Art.    University College Dublin, Ireland.

 

[1]http://www.nesc.ie/en/publications/publications/nesc-reports/irelands-environmental-data-inventory-assessment-and-next-steps/

[2] https://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/research/biodiversity/Prepress%20final%20web%20.pdf