Crab Island / Doolin Pier: An Bord Pleanála Agree with Surfers

This has been a long journey and while this decision is a milestone there is still plenty of work to do before the case is closed. Last March Clare County Council decided to grant permission to themselves for a pier at Doolin, County Clare. As this is a Local Authority development there was no option for third parties to appeal the decision. Details of the case so far can be viewed here.

Although there was no appeal we (West Coast Surf Club) had another card to play and we submitted a very detailed, comperhensive report to An Bord Pleanála requesting them under Article 120(3)(a) of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 as amended to assess whether or not Clare County Council should prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. Last Thursday (15/09/2011) An Bord Pleanála decided on this case and concluded that an Environmental Impact Assessment is required.

In short what this means is that the permission which Clare County Council previously granted for the pier is no longer valid. They will now have to prepare the EIS and submit it together with the full application to An Bord Pleanála for assessment. The case will now be decided by the Board.

 Photos Copyright: Paudie Scanlon

After learning of the decision yesterday I was absolutely delighted. This is not only a win for the small man but also for the unique environment in County Clare. We were never against a new pier and this stance remains. We welcome a new pier that is designed to the highest standards and does not impact on the environment and surfing waves.

I have quickly reviewed the decision of An Bord Pleanála which states:

DIRECT the local authority to prepare an environmental impact statement in respect of the said proposed development based on the reasons and considerations set out below.


Having regard to:

(i) the submissions and observations made to the Board,

(ii) the report and recommendation of the person appointed by the Board to make a report and recommendation on the matter,

(iii) the nature of the proposed development which is likely to be characterised by significant blasting, dredging and construction works within the terrestrial and/or marine environments,

(iv) the potential impacts of the proposed development on wave and tidal patterns in the area,

(v) the environmental sensitivity of the proposed development site having regard to its proximity to the Black Head – Poulsallagh complex Special Area of Conservation (site code 00020) which has as a conservation objective the maintenance or restoration of the favourable conservation condition of the Annex I Habitats and/or the Annex II species for which the SAC has been selected and which include “reefs”, “limestone pavements” and “submerged or partly submerged sea caves”, and

(vi) the guidance set out in the document entitled “Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Guidance for Consent Authorities regarding Sub-threshold Development” issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in August 2003,

it is considered that the proposed road and pier development would be likely to result in significant effects on the environment.

This is a very comprehensive decision which gives clear direction to Clare County Council and importantly from a surfing perspective it acknowledges the potential impact on the surfing environment.

The Planning Inspectors Report from which the decision was made provides interesting reading. I’ve picked out a few quotes which are of particular note in respect of both the potential impact on the environment and the surfing waves:

Drilling and blasting is also another important consideration in assessing the environmental effects. No information is provided in relation to the nature and frequency of blasting which will take place at the site. The blasting is likely to give rise to sediment plumes, vibration and noise all of which could significantly affect marine habitats. No details are provided in relation to the type and quantity of explosives to be used. Details in relation to the methodology to be employed in detonating the explosives are not set out (i.e. the nature of ramp-up procedures etc.). Situations where explosives fail to detonate are lost on the seabed are a significant potential pollution concern. Details of mitigation measures and method statements employed should be set out in more detail. In general I consider that there is a lack of information regarding the methodology to be employed in relation to the drilling, blasting and dredging to be carried out on site. The long list of conditions set out in the DoEHLG report in relation to blasting techniques attests to this lack of information.

Thus over 10,000 cubic metres of material will be required to be imported on site. This could give rise to over 1,000 HGV trips to and from the site over the construction period alone. A Traffic Impact Assessment should in my opinion have been carried out in order to ascertain the environmental impact of such traffic.

With regard to the relative abundance, quality and regenerative capacity of the natural resources of the area, it is noted that the proposed development is permanent and irreversible. It is evident from the various submissions on file that the area offers unique recreational attributes for surfers and concerns are expressed that the proposed pier will adversely affect the surf thus impacting on the socioeconomic and recreational potential of the area. A wave modelling report was submitted with the proposal which concludes that the development is unlikely to have a significant impact on wave formation in the area. These conclusions are disputed in the submissions on file. Reports on file by ASR Marine Consulting and Research and from Dr. Martin White of the Department of Earth and Social Sciences of NUA Galway suggest that the works carried out could well impact on the surf around Crab Island and within the cove. I note that the conclusions reached in the wave modelling report (December 2010) is far from unequivocal stating that “the modelling of the interim report (see Appendix 1) indicated that by moving the pier away from the location of the original planning proposal and shortening the pier length tends on average (my emphasis) to reduce the potential impact on the surf-ways”. In my view further investigation is required to ascertain the effect of any pier construction on the surf within the cove and Crab Island. As already stated the impact on the surf could have significant recreational and socioeconomic impacts on the wider community and this needs to be evaluated in more detail.

In terms of the affected population any change in the wave dynamics resulting from the proposed development could significantly impact on an important surfing area which, according to the submissions on file, which is of a significant recreational potential for surfers nationwide. Again it is my opinion that the impact of these aspects of the proposed development should be explored in more detail.

This is a significant decision not only for environmentalists but also the surfing community. At last surfing is taken seriously and the people who carry out the activity have been heard. This will be a case to build on in the future and will ensure that the genuine concerns of the surfing community will be addressed.

On a personal note I am glad the late nights of work, research and report writing were not all done in vain. I have worked with some amazing people over the last year and half on this case and it has brought me a lot closer to the waves and surfing community in Clare.

I now type this from my house in Melbourne hoping that Clare County Council will engage with my surfing colleagues in Clare and come to a solution that will suit all parties.

Neil Cooney
Professional: Urban, Regional, Coastal Planner

Personal: Environment, surfing, travel, outdoor.

Co-owner SAI


  1. Anonymous

    Is that 'small man' a reference to you Neil!! Ha…but in all seiousness, well done! A lot of hard work was put into it and a great outcome for all involved!!

  2. Willie Coogan

    Mighty work and will be seen as such in years to come. Ireland is light years away from formally recognising the economic, social and environmental benefits of surfing. In Australia they have dedicated federal surfing reserves. This decision is the first step in turning the tide. <br /><br />Big up to Neil Cooney for your enormous work, navigating the complex legal planning system. A band of

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