Strategic Integrated Framework Plan for the Shannon Estuary (SIFP)
The River Shannon is the largest river in Ireland. It rises in County Cavan and flows for 260km before entering the Shannon Estuary at Limerick City. The Shannon Estuary itself forms the largest estuarine complex in Ireland covering an area of 500km2 of navigable water and extending for 100km from Limerick City to Loop Head in County Clare. The estuary is Ireland’s premier deepwater port, routinely catering for ships up to 200,000 deadweight tonnage, while Shannon Airport is a dedicated fuel terminal. Shannon Airport and the Gateway town of Shannon are located along the Estuary to the north, while Limerick City and the port of Foynes are located in the southern part of the estuary.
The estuary area is a multi-functional zone, with the waters and adjoining lands supporting a range of functions, uses and activities. Most notable are:
- Shipping/Port functions
- Marine related Industry/Industry
- Marine Tourism, Leisure and Recreation
- Energy generation
- Fuel Storage
- Heritage and Landscape
- Valuable Habitats and Species
With its deep sheltered waters the estuary is therefore comparable to many of the major European estuarial ports. Foynes Port has been identified as a Category A Seaport in the E.U. (TEN-T) Trans European Transport Network. The estuary adjoins the Local Authorities of Clare County Council, Limerick City and County Council and Kerry County Council, who coordinate and control land-use planning and development on its landward sides. The marine aspects of the estuary are directed and controlled by a variety of statutory authorities including the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The preparation of the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan (SIFP) for the Shannon Estuary was commissioned in 2011 by Clare County Council, Kerry County Council, Limerick City and County Councils, Shannon Group and Shannon Foynes Port Company. It was overseen by a multi-agency Steering Group comprising of the above, and other key stakeholders with an interest in the Estuary, with Clare County Council as lead authority. The goal at the outset of the SIFP preparation was to review existing relevant information and data, conduct additional essential research and prepare a marine and land use planning strategy for the SIFP study area. A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA) were initiated to guide and inform the process.
The Framework area therefore encompasses both the marine area of the Estuary and its fringe lands. Both are key resources, and provide space and location for development, stretching from the Shannon Bridge in Limerick City, to the first bridge in Clarecastle, along the Limerick and Clare shorelines, past Foynes and Moneypoint, towards Loop Head in Clare and Kerry Head in North Kerry.
The SIFP has been adopted into the relevant County and City Development Plans by way of a variation which sets out the relevant policies and objectives to the appropriate functional area. The Plan has also informed the Shannon Foynes Port Company Masterplan Vision 2014, to assist in guiding the future growth and development of SFPC facilities.
The key objective of the SIFP is to research and develop an integrated approach to facilitating economic growth and promoting environmental management within and adjacent to the Shannon Estuary.
The Estuary and its environs is a multi-functional zone, with the waters and adjoining lands supporting a range of functions, uses, communities, activities, and environmental resources/assets which bring character, prosperity and vibrancy to the area. However, the development of plans, policies and objectives for these varied interests requires a comprehensive approach to carefully balance competing demands.
The objectives of the Plan are:
- Support the multi-functional nature of the Shannon Estuary, and identify opportunities to expand the existing economic base, including port related industry and other related activities
- Facilitate the diversification of the economy, through the promotion of commercial/industrial employment, environmentally friendly aqua culture, maritime, energy, transport, recreation and tourism industries in a sustainable manner
- Protect, manage and enhance the natural coastal environment along the Estuary, including its cultural, natural and built heritage
- Safeguard the Estuary’s sensitive environmental resources and natural heritage of national, European and International significance
- Establish an evidence-based approach to identifying areas for future development, to ensure proposals will work in harmony with the designated Natura 2000 sites.
The Plan has delivered a co-operative and integrated approach between the statutory authorities and agencies involved in the area, provides a sustainable, integrated and proactive vision for the future of the Shannon Estuary and its environs. The Plan complies with the core strategies contained in each of the relevant County/City Development Plans and has regard to current planning and environmental legislation and statutory documents.
Overall, the SIFP objectives and spatial proposals aim to:
- Facilitate integration and optimising decision-making in a way that ensures the best use of available resources, combining those uses which are compatible and limiting those which are incompatible
- Actively promote synergies and facilitate co-use between the complexity and extent of stakeholder interests that come together within this coastal zone
- Assist with strategic conflict resolution at a regional rather than project level
- Create a level of investor confidence within the area and wider region, identifying locations for potential development, and inspiring confidence in the regulatory and decision-making processes.
The preparation of the SIFP is a proactive framework responding to the need to plan future sustainable development and deal with undesired impacts. It aims to integrate aims and objectives from different stakeholder interests, responds to future trends and demands, and provides a framework for responding to these.
The original SIFP Steering is currently working on the implementation of the Plan with two separate sub-groups established to oversee the key objectives relating to Marketing and Promotion together with Environmental aspects.
All of the documents relating to the Plan can be downloaded through the SIFP web-site at www:shannonestuary.ie
The SIFP has also been incorporated into the Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029 Volume 9 with the updated plan located on the County Development Plan Review website.
Specific objectives relating to the Strategic Development Locations identified on the northern shore of the Shannon Estuary for Marine Related Industry have also been incorporated into Volume 1 of the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023 for sites at Moneypoint and Cahiracon.
The SIFP is further evidence of the capacity of the existing agencies to collaborate and implement a regional approach to a strategic national assist. The National Planning Framework has given further effect to the framework plan through its identification as a case study within Project Ireland 2040. In particular it provides support for the testing, research, manufacturing, storage, assembly and deployment of marine energy devices and other technological devices within the Shannon Estuary through its inclusion under the Offshore Renewable Energy Section.
Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce Report
The independent Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce was established in April 2022 to make recommendations to government on the economic development potential of the Shannon Estuary region.
The Taskforce’s Final Report sets out recommendations for the delivery of up to 30GW of Atlantic Offshore Wind through the Estuary by 2050, and measures to maximise the industrial development opportunities arising from this. It also sets the vision for the Shannon Estuary to become Irelan’s Atlantic Green Digital Corridor, and the lead location for Atlantic offshore wind.
Also included are proposed actions for scaling up the deployment of onshore renewable energy across the region, and proposed new initiatives in the transport, logistics, connectivity, and tourism sectors.
Among the targets are:
- The creation of 10,000 new green jobs by 2035 and 50,000 by 2050
- 2GW of green energy capacity in development by 2030
- Up to 30GW installed by 2050
Floating Offshore Wind from off the West Clare Coastline can deliver huge climatic, economic and social benefits for not just County Clare but for the region.
The inclusion of the Kilrush Maritime Training Centre as a key skills delivery action by 2025 within the report is welcomed by Clare County Council.
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