Plans by the NRA to build major truck stops around the country have left locals deeply concerned about the effect it will have on homes and communities.
THE National Roads Authority (NRA) has come under fire over plans to introduce a series of major truck stop sites on Ireland's main transport arteries that will bypass general planning laws. The truck stops, or service areas (SAs), will incorporate substantial parking and restaurant facilities, showers, toilets, picnic areas and refuelling services, all on sites of around 30 to 40 acres.
Residents in the immediate vicinity of the sites feel they have been left with little right to reply, outside of submitting observations to the planning appeals authority An Bord Pleanála, which must give its final sanction.
Those residing near a proposed SA north of Gorey, Co Wexford say they fear a rise in criminal and anti-social behaviour and have been told the value of their homes could fall by as much as 75%.
So far, just one of a dozen planned SA projects – on the M4 west of Enfield, Co Meath – has been given the go-ahead.
Because the SAs qualify under Strategic Infrastructure legislation, the plans are being submitted directly to An Bord Pleanála – without having to be given the green light by local authority planning departments.
Proposals have been received by An Bord Pleanála for construction of sites on the M1 at Lusk and south of Dundalk, on the N6 at Rathmorrissey, Galway and on the N11 at Gorey. All these are expected in 2010 or early 2011. Plans are at a less developed stage for sites on the M7 at Mountrath, the N6 at Athlone, the N8 at Kilworth, Co Cork and Cashel, the N9 at Kilcullen and Kilkenny, and the N7 at Nenagh.
However, while there have been calls for such facilities in the past, the NRA is coming under fire from residents near Gorey who believe their quiet, rural community is under considerable threat from the proposals.
Three years ago, Naomi Seale (31) from Arklow began building her dream home with boyfriend Roy Dempsey (30) in the idyllic rural setting of Ballyellen. Then they were told that a truck stop was being built just 37 metres from their back garden.
"We are devastated. We battled to get a mortgage so now we are saddled with that and a house we won't be able to sell in a place we won't be able to live because of this animal of a development," said Seale.
"The valuers we hired told us that we would lose 75% of the value of our house so we are paying a mortgage on something that has the value of a caravan. The NRA told us there will be no impact on my house. How can they say that?"
Of the four SA plans currently before An Bord Pleanála, all have attracted local objections. Both M1 proposals have received approximately 10 objections each while the Rathmorrissey proposal in Galway has attracted around 35.
Objections to the Wexford plan were due to be filed by the deadline last Friday. For its part, the NRA has insisted that such public infrastructure projects always attract a degree of local opposition and that it has surpassed its statutory duties by agreeing to meet with communities to address concerns. But not everyone believes the NRA has done all it can do.
The Ballyellen Acton Group's Fran Seale – father of Naomi – explained that they had a number of concerns surrounding the SAs. "We oppose this on several fronts. We would question the information put forward in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on sound pollution, light spill, noise pollution and waste disposal," he said.
"We would also ask whether Wexford County Council is in a position to supply mains water to this development when we often lose water and water pressure a few times over the summer months. We are talking in excess of 30 acres; we have not seen anything on this scale in Ireland before. We have obviously upset someone among the powers-that-be."
The residents of Ballyellen are now hoping they will be granted an oral hearing to voice their concerns, a decision at the discretion of An Bord Pleanála alone.
The NRA still feels it is doing what it can to appease concerns. "We feel it is important to have these information sessions with the community at large, even though that is not within the Strategic Infrastructure guidelines," said a spokesman.
"We are concerned about the public outcry at having an SA in this location but that is for An Bord Pleanála to decide. At the same time you have to take into account that any time you are doing these developments it is going to affect someone."
The NRA spokesman said that a previous proposal to develop service areas and rest stops separately was dismissed due to concerns over anti-social behaviour and crime thriving in rest areas, which had been the case in other countries.
Not all of the proposed SAs are expected to attract massive objections; the recent decision to grant permission to one in Enfield, Co Meath didn't raise an eyebrow, according to Fine Gael councillor William Carey.
But in other areas – and with two more possible SA sites yet to be identified, which could bring the total to 14 – the storm has not even arrived.
"It's not really public knowledge down here yet and it hasn't really hit people yet," said Tipperary councillor Martin Browne of the proposed SA in Cashel. "But from what I am told, it will be open season on it very soon."