Shannon Integrated Framework Plan for the Shannon Estuary

A planning-led multidisciplinary RPS team was appointed to research and prepare an inter-jurisdictional and marine-based framework to guide the future development and management of the Shannon Estuary, to be known as the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan (SIFP). The Shannon Estuary is the largest estuary in Ireland with a water body of 31,500 hectares and is an immensely important asset. It is one of the most valuable natural resources in Ireland, and straddles four planning and local government jurisdictions. It 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.

The RPS planning team worked closely with the environmental and maritime teams to develop an ecosystem approach to spatial master planning, and prepared a spatial framework to guide future development within and adjoining the Estuary. This has now been varied into the local County Development Plans, as planning policy.


The Estuary waters and adjoining lands support a range of functions, uses and activities, all competing for space. The challenge of the SIPF was to prepare an over-arching, cross-jurisdictional, integrated framework to optimise the economic, social and environmental potential of the Shannon. The objectives of the Framework were to:

  • Support the multi-functional nature of the Shannon Estuary, and identify opportunities to expand the existing economic base, including port related industry;
  • Facilitate the diversification of the economy, through the promotion of commercial/industrial employment, environmentally friendly aquaculture, 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 biodiversity and designated sites including Natura 2000 sites.


RPS focused on an ecosystem approach where the Strategic Environmental Assessment and Appropriate Assessment were integral to Plan formulation. Plan preparation was a participative process, involving a wide range of stakeholders at key stages, including 4 planning authorities, a regional authority, Government Departments, environmental agencies and key players in the various sectors with interests in development of the Estuary.

An evidence based approach was adopted to Plan formulation which provided a factual context to establishing key development themes, which best represented the multi-functional nature of the Estuary. These themes provided a clear structure for establishing key development objectives and formulating strategic spatial proposals, to assist in delivering the strategic objectives, and in ultimately producing a Spatial Masterplan for the Estuary.

The Plan proposed an integrated and sustainable approach to development within and adjacent to the Shannon Estuary, which was informed, influenced and adjusted by the processes of SEA and AA. This ensured that all critical environmental considerations were identified and assessed at all stages of the process. The SIFP has been formally varied into the Clare County Development Plan 2011-2017, and Limerick County Development Plan 2010-2016, and the Kerry County Development Plan, giving the SIFP a statutory basis with the planning policy framework.

Project statistics

The Shannon Estuary accommodates:

  • Ireland’s premier deepwater Port, with 6 main terminal facilities handling a total of 1,000 ships per year and 20% of goods tonnage;
  • Shannon-Limerick Gateway, Shannon International Airport and the Shannon Free Zone;
  • Strategic energy infrastructure including Moneypoint and Tarbert Power Stations that between them have capacity to provide in excess of 1400MW to the national power supply through a strategic transmission network;
  • A significant tourist resource that attracted 850,000 foreign visitors to the Region in 2011 resulting in a tourism income of €271m, most notably the North American market which alone accounts for €100m spend;
  • An important and sensitive ecosystem, designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Habitat & Birds Directives.

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