The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage signed an order (SI. No. 112/2022) giving effect to the relevant provisions of the Maritime Area and Planning Act (MAP Act) governing the new Maritime Area Consent (MAC) regime. The 10th of March 2022 was appointed as the day on which Part 4 (Maritime Area Consent) of the MAP Act shall come into operation, with the exception of transitional provisions for certain foreshore authorisations specified in Chapter 12.
The commencement of the MAC regime enables the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) to exercise, on an interim basis, the functions of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) and to invite MAC applications for a limited number of relevant projects. “Relevant Projects”, also referred to in the MAP Act as “Special MAC Cases”, are projects that either applied for or were granted a foreshore lease before 31 December 2019; or projects with a valid connection agreement or confirmation of eligibility for such a grid connection offer on 31 December 2019.
The commencement of the MAC regime coincides with the announcement by DECC of the opening of the first MAC application window from Monday 25 April to Wednesday 22 June 2022. The Department has produced guidance materials to help applicants navigate the new consenting regime. The Guidance is directed to relevant projects only and contains important information on the operation of the MAC consenting regime. In essence, the Guidance consists of a General MAC Application Guidance and of two annexes outlining the technical capability and financial viability requirements that will apply to applicants.
MAC applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis using the criteria set out in Schedule 5 of the MAP Act and supporting guidance. The criteria that DECC (or MARA, once established) shall consider when deciding whether to grant a MAC include, among others:
- The location, duration and spatial extent of the occupation of the maritime area by the proposed development.
- Whether the project is in the public interest.
- Whether the applicant is a “fit and proper person” having regard to the criteria set out in Schedule 2 of the MAP Act.
- Relevant Ministerial Guidelines.
- Whether the applicant is tax compliant at the time of the application.
- Consistency of the project with the National Marine Planning Framework.
- Consistency of the project with the development plans of the transmission system operator.
- The extent and nature of the preparatory work, including stakeholder engagement, already undertaken by the applicant.
The first batch of MACs will be granted to relevant projects on a fail/pass basis within the 90-day period prescribed in the Act. Projects which obtain a MAC will still be required to apply for all the requisite consents and planning permission and will be subject to the full assessment procedures by An Bord Pleanála (the Board). Applications for development permission in the maritime area are conditional on the applicants securing a MAC for the occupation of the specified part of the maritime area. Stated differently, it is not possible to request planning permission without first satisfying the Board that the applicant is the holder of a MAC under the MAP Act.
The granting of MACs will enable the opening of the first Offshore Renewable Energy Support Scheme (ORESS) in Q4 2022. At this stage, development permission will not be required for auction eligibility in ORESS 1. However, developers shall secure a MAC and Grid Connection Assessment to compete in ORESS 1.
Following the initial batch of MACs, responsibility for granting new MACs and managing existing consents will be handed over to MARA from early 2023. MACs granted by the Minister shall remain in force after the establishment of MARA and may be terminated, amended, revoked, or suspended by MARA in accordance with the provisions of the MAP Act.