HOPES for a mobile phone service in the Black Valley have been dashed after the planning appeals board refused permission for two masts, insisting the beauty of the landscape outweighs the need for a mobile phone service.
Phone company O2 had sought permission to erect the masts at Moll’s Gap and at Looscaunagh Lough. At a special meeting of Kerry County Council last October, councillors voted over-whelmingly to make a special case for the Black Valley and push through permission, despite the fact that the applications contravened the county development plan.
The decision was immediately appealed to An Bord Plean•la by heritage body An Taisce which argued that the masts were to be located in sensitive and scenic locations and that other solutions to the valley’s communication problems had not been considered.
An Bord Plean•la agreed with the appeal and over-turned the council’s decision.
O2 said that the 27-metre mast on Looscaunagh Hill would give coverage to 60 per cent of the Black Valley. Both masts were needed because the phone signals gathered at Looscanaugh would be routed into the national network through the second seven-metre mast at Moll’s Gap.
A planning inspector for An Bord Plean•la said the Looscaunagh location was an area of uniquely beautiful countryside, enjoying the utmost protections from development and that its protection outweighs the need for better mobile phone coverage.
"In this instance the quality and uniqueness of the landscape, based on its open natural and timeless appearance, its prime amenity and conservation designations and it significance to the tourism industry, not only in Kerry but to all Ireland, outweighs the necessity for better mobile phone coverage," the inspector stated.
She added that it would require the erection of an unsightly mast in a very prominent location thereby destroying the very qualities of the landscape that make it a national treasure.
Noel Kissane, who is a spokesman for the Black Valley residents and the landowner in relation to the Moll’s Gap application, said that local telephone reception is very poor and that residents have to drive many miles to get reception.
He said the area is very remote and if there are accidents, people must walk to get help. He said the coverage would also be helpful to the mountain rescue and tour coach operators.
Residents say main telecom line in the Black Valley is over 25 years old and inadequate for every day communication purposes.
However the planning inspector insisted that the lack of communications was not severe enough to warrant the granting of planning permission.
"I do not consider the other communications problems raised compelling. People have accepted elsewhere, for instance in National Parks throughout the EU, that it is not always possible to have full mobile coverage in scenically sensitive areas.
"Rescue services operate without mobiles, people who go hill walking must accept that there is an element of risk; it is part of the reason people go hill walking. The Ring of Kerry is a busy tourist route if there is a breakdown or accident someone will be along short-ly," she said.
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