Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Redevelopment of Sonairte

The Meath Chronicle tells us that the popular Sonairte national ecology centre at Laytown, is to be redeveloped:

Slane area councillors told of plan to expand centre
CHILDREN just love Sonairte, the national ecology centre at Laytown, and she could see no difficulty with the centre’s viability into the future, the cathaoirleach of the Slane Electoral Area Committee of Meath County Council, Colr Ann Dillon Gallagher, said following a presentation of a plan for an upgrade and refurbishment of the centre.
Consultants Faber Maunsell presented the results of a feasibility study on the redevelopment of Sonairte to the area’s five councillors and council officials at the December meeting.
Mike Alcock of the consultancy firm said that Sonairte had the potential to be a “centre of excellence” which would help the local economy and promote tourism.
The councillors were told that the Sonairte group had restructured itself over the past 18 months. Some key people who had started up the centre had left, and others had now come on board.
The consultants expressed the view that the plan for the ‘eco-village’ to the west of Laytown - which was also presented at the December meeting - was “a really exciting development”, and it would now be possible to do something in terms of ecological living which would fit in very well with the Sonairte ideal.
The main focus of the consultants’ report centred on Sonairte’s future as a sustainable living centre, an education centre, and a sustainable energy centre.
The sustainable living aspect encompassed recycling, a shop/cafĂ©, small business opportunities, farmers’ market, an organic garden and healthy environment.
Mr Alcock took the councillors on a ‘virtual tour’ of the centre as it stands, and outlined where the centre could be expanded to provide for upgraded facilities.
An education centre at Sonairte would include the development of an educational space with good quality classrooms, full-time staff, a part-time teacher and a classroom assistant, structured within a five-year plan.
It was important to get the primary level infrastructure in place and then perhaps the centre could be used for training teachers in ecological living, and it was possible the universities would eventually get involved, he said.
Dealing with the sustainable energy aspects of Sonairte, Mr Alcock said there should be a strong emphasis on renewable energy and he suggested that a famous Sonairte landmark - the wind turbine - should be replaced. “The wind turbine is often used as a beacon for Sonairte but it is not a very good beacon. It has never worked since the day it went in,” he said.
It was also extremely important that the concept of ‘explaining’ the Sonairte concept be improved. “We’re not trying to build a commercially viable centre. We are trying to build on what is already there. What is there has been built up by volunteers. We are not trying to take it away from volunteers.
“We are not trying for a commercially viable centre but rather a financially viable centre,” the consultant said.
He estimated that it could cost about e1.04 million to rebuild and refurbish the centre but he saw income coming in over a five-year period.
One question which had to be decided, he added, was the long-term ownership of the project - would it be the case that Sonairte ‘championed’ the centre, or would it be Meath County Council which ‘championed’ it.
Commenting on the report, Colr Ann Dillon Gallagher said that it was “very enlightening”. Colr Tom Kelly, who is a director of Sonairte, said that he could not take part in the discussion and said he would “reserve his position”.
Colr Dominic Hannigan raised the prospect that EU funding could be garnered in order to capitalise works on the centre.
It was certainly the case that the proximity of the Dublin-Belfast rail line would be a huge boost to the centre, he believed.
Michael Killeen of the Meath County Council executive said that the question arose as to who was going to bring the project forward. The ownership of the site would have to be resolved.
He expressed the view that the cost of refurbishing the centre was not “pie in the sky”, in fact, it was ‘small money’. “It would be remiss of Meath County Council if we did not go forward and get this project up and running,” he said.
Colr Dillon Gallagher said: “We would have no problem selling the idea because children just love it. Viability won’t be a problem. I think that people will come to it, not only from Ireland, but from abroad.”

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