An Taisce gives thumbs down to Leitrim TD’s Bill on the construction of rural houses in areas failing septic system percolation tests

Change as proposed ‘would pose a real danger to human health and environmental quality.’

Sligo News File

A Bill aimed at easing restrictions on the construction of one-off rural dwellings in areas ruled unsuitable for septic systems has run into opposition from An Taisce.

TD Martin Kenny told the Dail that for some years a guideline on the suitability of soils for development issued by the Environmental Protection Agency had prevented houses being erected in some parts of Leitrim.

What he called the EPA code of practice drawn up in 2009 came into effect in 2010, he said. The measure specifies that if the soil on a site is too dense and fails the percolation test, the result would be rated zero emissions or zero discharge.

“In other words, no matter how well the treatment system on site treated the effluent, even if it treated it to drinking water standard, a cup of that water is not allowed into a river or stream,” he said.

“That was taking it to an extreme that I do not think anyone ever intended it to go.”

He said that in places like Leitrim, where almost 90% of the soil will not pass the percolation test, “people have been denied permission to build a house and to live in their own community, where they grew up, or to send their children to the schools they went to themselves and have their children play for the football club that they played for.”

However, under the Bill he was tabling, a local authority would be empowered to issue a discharge licence for a single house system “where the effluent is treated to bathing water standard.” The system, he said, could be “assessed, tested, regulated and stood over by the local authority when it issues the licence.”

The measure would not conflict with the current EPA requirements “because the guidelines state that one can apply for a water discharge licence.” Licensing would also mean “the environment would be protected to a new standard,” that would be “actually much higher than the one we have at present,” he argued.

However, An Taisce has dismissed the otherwise widely supported bill as “flawed.”

The proposed change to the existing planning restrictions, they have stated, “would pose a real danger to human health and environmental quality.”

Another body has said that the amendment as proposed “conflicts with EU Water Framework directives on the protection of waters.”

Despite concerns, the Bill has been referred to the Select Committee following a vote in which it was supported by 72 TD’s while 50 voted against the move.