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Martin Kenny TD introduces amendment to enable single house-building in rural areas

26 September, 2018 - by Martin Kenny TD

This week, Sinn Féin spokesperson for Rural & Community Affairs Martin Kenny TD will introduce a Dáil bill to provide for the issuing by local authorities of wastewater discharge licences for single houses, and to amend the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977.

Deputy Kenny explained:

“For six years there has been a problem getting planning permission for single houses in rural areas where the soil is heavy and fails the percolation test (or T-test). 

"This is a consequence of new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, adopted by the government and lodged with the EU, as part of measures to prevent ground water pollution from septic tanks.  

“This regulation has led to de-population in Leitrim, and other areas with heavy soil, where families cannot settle down because they cannot build a house.

“The EPA guidelines state that if the percolation test fails, there must be 'zero discharge of effluent', but this is impossible to achieve and results in a blanket ban on building.

"This part of the EPA Guidelines rules out all reasonable engineering solutions or proposals to treat and dispose of the sewage effluent where it fails the T-test, regardless of how high the treatment standard. 

“However, the EPA guidelines also say that where the test fails, the local authority can issue a wastewater discharge licence. 

"The interpretation of legislation on discharge licences is that they are for multiple houses, such as a small housing estate of six dwellings and allow for the discharge of over five cubic metres a day. 

“I am proposing an amendment to the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977 to change this. EPA officials, planning and environmental experts, in local authorities and private practice, agree on the appropriateness of a discharge licence for single houses, where percolation tests fail.

“The licence can be designed specifically for single houses, where the conditions could include installing 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 was used extensively, in areas with poorer soil conditions, prior to the new EPA guidelines coming into effect.  It works well, with the 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.

“I have taken legal advice, to ensure the appropriate legislation is amended and will have no unintended consequences. 

“We examined planning and development laws, pollution laws, EU directives and statutory instruments. This amendment is the best way to accommodate people in rural areas to build a home for themselves and still comply with EPA guidelines. 

“It may cost slightly more to comply with the licence and at the same time protect the environment, but it aims to bring some life back to rural areas and so I expect to get the support of all members of the Dáil for this bill.”

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