EU restoration law could impact on housing plans warns Ireland

EU restoration law could impact on housing plans warns Ireland

Ireland has told the European Union’s (EU) Environment Council that a proposed Nature Restoration Law could “have a significant impact” on its planning systems and urban development, particularly in relation to housing.

EU environment ministers met today (Tuesday, December 20) in Brussels to discuss the proposed Nature Restoration Law which aims “to help recover European habitats”.

The proposed EU restoration law would set specific legally binding targets and obligations for nature restoration across at least 20% of the EU’s land area – which would include forests and agricultural land – and also sea areas by 2030. 

Ambassador Barbara Cullinane addressing the EU Environment Council

Ireland’s deputy permanent representative to the EU, Ambassador Barbara Cullinane, told members of the council today that Ireland supports the green deal’s objectives for nature and “the rationale for its restoration” under the proposed nature restoration law.

Ambassador Cullinane said the restoration law could provide “an opportunity for real transformative change to restore nature throughout the EU and in Ireland”.

She said restoring nature could contribute to the provision of food and food security and support other important objectives “including climate mitigation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and climate adaptation.

“There is an urgent need to integrate nature restoration ambition with all land and sea uses and to align this with the interests of land owners and other natural resource users both at national and EU level.

“The ambition of the proposed regulation has the potential to support economic development through the creation of highly skilled jobs and incentive schemes particularly in rural areas,” Ambassador Cullinane added.

A number of member states including France, Italy and Germany believe the proposed Nature Restoration Law should be introduced as soon as possible in the EU.

Ireland did not advocate for the proposed law to be introduced as it currently stands.

Ambassador Cullinane said Ireland had “significant concerns around challenges posed by the impacts, timing, equity considerations and deliverability of the current draft of the proposed regulation”.

She also told the EU Environment Council meeting that members should be “conscious” of the need to sustainably produce food “that will be available to consumers at affordable prices”.

Ireland’s deputy permanent representative to the EU said that the proposed regulation in its current form was “very ambitious” and the proposed targets required careful consideration.

She also detailed why Ireland viewed the EU’s ambition for 2030 as “very challenging” and said that a lack of data for some habitats and species would impact on EU member states’ ability to set the restoration targets.

“There’s limited administrative and technical capacity to bridge this data gap the time frame for delivery including the time envisaged to develop national restoration plans is onerous and the identification of resources to fund measures will be very challenging given given there is no dedicated funding resource.

“The funding sources proposed by the commission are not suitable to address the aims or scope of the proposed regulation,” warned Ambassador Cullinane.

Impact on planning system

However Ireland’s key objection to the proposed nature restoration law in its current form, according to the ambassador, lies chiefly with the potential knock on effect it could have on Ireland’s ability to address housing demands.

“Ireland has a particular concern that given our demographics and development objectives the proposals will have a significant impact on our system of planning and urban development with unintended consequences for accommodating population growth in terms of the provision of housing and urban sprawl.

“Application of the regulation will require flexibility to enable integration with other sustainable development objectives to ensure more qualitative rather than purely quantitative outcomes,” Ambassador Cullinane outlined.

She said Ireland believes there is a “need for greater flexibility for member states in identifying appropriate targets methodologies and timeframes for delivery”.

One other key issue that Ambassador Cullinane raised at the meeting in Brussels today centered around the funding mechanisms for the proposed restoration law.

“Given that there’s no dedicated funding instrument to ensure delivery on the scale of the ambition of the regulation careful consideration of the funding requirements will be necessary to ensure the burden of the proposal is manageable equitable and targets are achievable from finite available resources,” she highlighted.

Ireland has suggested that a paper should be produced outlining how the EU could provide funding measures for key nature restoration objectives.

The next meeting of the EU Environment Council is scheduled to take place on March 16, 2023.

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