Campaign History

Donegal County Council: Top Of Ireland’s List For Planning Offences


The recent report of An Taisce on planning irregularities around the country has led to criticism based on some of the criteria used to rank the counties. It was interesting to note that even with changes to the criteria, Donegal County Council (DCC) still reigns supreme at the top of the main offenders list.

Opposition to the plans of DCC for a Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) for Greencastle and Moville over the last twenty-two years has become the longest running opposition by residents to plans of a County Council in Ireland. The objectors accept such plants are essential for both towns and are decades overdue already. In 1989 the idea of combining Moville, located three miles upstream from the mouth of Lough Foyle tidal estuary, with Greencastle, located right at the mouth was learned of. This offered an ideal opportunity to have Moville waste also piped to Greencastle and discharged after appropriate treatment, to open water outside the estuary. Donegal County Council planners had shockingly decided it was an opportunity to pump untreated sewage from Greencastle upstream to an intermediate location and discharge the combined sewage, after primary maceration, into Lough Foyle, for what was euphemistically termed ‘Marine Treatment’ when the plan was first postulated.

In 1990 outraged residents formulated their basic objections on two rational/ conceptual foundations:

  1. Proximity of open water to Greencastle makes a plant and discharge at this location the obvious solution for a combined system for both towns.
  2. The level of treatment must be such as to fully protect the receiving waters. ‘Marine Treatment’ as suggested was grossly unacceptable.

The group succeeded in persuading the elected councilors to vote unanimously on rational grounds that the plant and outfall be located outside the estuary, whatever the eventual level of treatment.

From 1990 to 1996 a site was selected north of Greencastle outside the estuary and a hydrodynamic survey of the receiving waters was completed. In a second shocking revelation this site was abruptly abandoned, for no reason that could ever be ascertained. This atrocious decision still remains cloaked in secrecy even after An Bord Pleanala granted project approval in 2012. In 1996 the whole process was restarted to find another location, again inside the estuary which was not only indefensible in logic, but also flying in the face of a unanimous vote of the council.

Eighteen sites were nominated, seven initially selected by the council’s consultants and a further eleven after the DCC went against these sites and took the process in house. Local residents were informed that a new criterion for site selection, of entirely unknown origin, was being used by council engineers to the effect that residential property must be at least 150m distance from the WWTP boundary. This immediately eliminated the seven initial site selections. A site was thus chosen in Moville, again ignoring both reasoned argument and the council vote. On account of the desperation of the local population for a solution to their problem they were nevertheless prepared to accept it. In a very short time, the planners revealed a third shock. A new site suddenly appeared in 2004 that had not been part of any public consultation. The new site was right where it had all began fifteen years before at an intermediate location between the two towns and close to the original site.The initial illogical plan was thus reinstated and an upgrade to secondary treatment was invoked to take care of discharge into the estuary and the second fundamental objection of the residents group. This completely ignored the first fundamental objection of the group in addition to the unanimous vote of the councilors in 1990.

A new problem arose when the planned 600m outfall was found to cross the shipping lane. In yet another bizarre revelation, the pipeline length was simply cut to 300m, landing the outfall point in both the popular recreational waters and in one of the last remaining native oyster beds in the country. This situation is further complicated by the UK claim, through the Crown Estate, to the ownership of the seabed of Lough Foyle up to the high water mark on the Donegal side. This fact is very well known and vigorously asserted. Unilateral granting of a foreshore licence, without agreement with the UK Crown Estate, is certainly not in the remit of either the DCC or the planning appeals board (ABP) or for that matter of the Irish Government unilaterally.

A two day oral hearing in a local hotel in Moville, completed An Bord Pleanala’s (ABP) investigation. Their investigator recommended approval be refused. ABP subsequently invited DCC, on two further occasions, to add support to their case. The inspector’s recommendation remained unchanged. An Bord Pleanala then saw fit to overrule their own inspector, their sole source of technical expertise in this project and a highly respected individual. All technical arguments presented by the residents and their experts were simply dismissed. This was perhaps the most spectacular shock of all. Approval was thus granted for the WWTP planning application, as well as for the Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) application. As there was no detailed design for the proposed scheme, it is difficult to see how final planning could be granted and construction commence let alone approval for the compulsory purchase of land where a jurisdictional dispute was known to exist. Nevertheless, DCC immediately proceeded with their compulsory purchase orders procedure.

The fact that ‘buying’ the seabed of Lough Foyle was going to need agreement with the UK Crown Estate was ignored by the DCC. In another shocking surprise, the CPO for the required slice of the seabed was issued to the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was brazenly contested that this eliminated the need for a foreshore license completely.

Local residents have now initiated a judicial review of the decision of ABP. It will be interesting to see how the UK Crown Estate views being ignored by both the DCC and An Bord Pleanala, as the judicial review process proceeds. It is unlikely to be a humble submission. The biggest shock of all may yet lie ahead.

What remains clear is that Donegal County Council’s leading position in An Taisce’s rankings appears secure.