Leitrim TD proposes law change to reverse ban on construction of one-off rural dwellings

‘Existing rules have led to rural decline and depopulation.’

Sligo News File.

A Sinn Fein TD is seeking to change provisions the 1997 Water Pollution Act to enable planning permission to be granted for single houses that fail to meet current statutory requirements.

Martin Kenny, T.D. Sligo-Leitrim

Martin Kenny states that, for the last six years, there has been an ongoing problem securing approval in some rural areas where heavy soil conditions rule out the use of septic tank systems

Introducing a private members’ Bill to amend the existing regulations, the Leitrim Deputy said problems being encountered “flow from strict new Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, guidelines, which were adopted by the Government and lodged with the EU, as part of measures to prevent groundwater pollution from septic tanks.”

The strict regulation on rural planning “has led to rural decline and depopulation in some parts, mainly in County Leitrim and other areas with heavier soil,” he said.

He went on to say: “The EPA guidelines state that if the percolation test fails, there must be zero discharge of effluent. Zero discharge is impossible, and this rule has effectively imposed a ban on building in many rural areas.”

“This element of the EPA guidelines rule out all reasonable engineering solutions or proposals to treat and dispose of the sewage effluent where the T-test fails, regardless of how high the treatment standard,” he said.

Present rules restrict discharge licences to multiple developments.

“The EPA guidelines also state that where the test fails, the local authority can issue a wastewater discharge licence. However, the interpretation of the legislation at present around discharge licences is that they should be used for multiple houses or industrial settings, as in a small housing estate.

“In fact, the regulations refer to the discharge of over five cu. m of effluent per day, which is approximately the volume produced by six houses. This interpretation of discharge licences being only for multiple dwellings is effectively copper-fastening the ban on rural planning, even with the use of the most environmentally sound sewage treatment solutions.

“I am proposing an amendment to the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 to change this and clearly accommodate the granting of wastewater discharge licences for single houses in rural areas where the T-test fails.”

Kenny said that he had consulted with the EPA, planning and environmental personnel in local authorities and private practice on the appropriateness of discharge licences for single houses where percolation tests fail, “and all agreed it is a workable solution to the problem.

“The licence can be designed specifically for single houses where the conditions of the licence could include the installation of a mechanical sewage treatment system, from which effluent would pass through a polishing filter and be discharged into a reed bed and willow pond.

“This type of treatment method had been used extensively on sites with poorer soil conditions prior to the coming into effect of the new EPA guidelines. They work extremely well, with the final treated discharge water meeting the highest environmental standard.

“The cost of installing such a treatment system with a wastewater discharge licence would be well under €20,000, but may require a small licence fee.”

Leitrim disadvantaged by current measures.

He said situations had arisen in the past where people had opposed single houses in rural areas because many were built too close together. However, he maintained that the excess in one area should not be used to excuse a famine in another place, “which is what we see in many areas of rural County Leitrim.

“In some parishes, we cannot build houses, which means that no new young families can live in them. It is a devastating situation for those areas.”