THE NATIONAL Roads Authority (NRA) and Mayo County Council have been sent back to the drawing board by An Bord Pleanála to design a “more modest” alternative to a 19km dual-carriageway bypassing Foxford.
Refusing permission for the proposed scheme, the appeals board said it would “constitute an unacceptable intrusion into the Moy river valley and its designated habitats, and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.
The board described the Moy as “a salmon angling resource of major international significance” that contributed to the economy of Co Mayo, noting that it had been designated as a special area of conservation (SAC) and was also a proposed natural heritage area (NHA).
The road scheme, which included two major bridges over the Moy and two interchanges to serve Foxford, had been designed as a dual-carriageway even though an earlier upgrade of the N26 between Ballina and Mount Falcon was a wide single-carriageway.
Referring to existing and future predicted traffic volumes, the board said: “It has not been demonstrated that the proposed road scheme . . . is justified and that a more environmentally and economically sustainable road upgrade scheme is not available.”
In deciding not to accept the planning inspector’s recommendation to grant approval subject to conditions, the board noted the inspector’s concerns about the impact of the two proposed bridge crossings on sites for over-wintering whooper swans.
“The board considered that a precautionary approach needed to be taken in this case, having regard to the predicted traffic flows on the route, and that a more modest upgrade may be acceptable which complements the important resource of the river Moy,” it noted.
This is only the third time Bord Pleanála has refused planning permission for a major road scheme.
The earlier refusals were the 1km Athy inner relief route in Co Kildare, and the Ballybofey-Stranorlar bypass in Co Donegal, which was turned down last October.
In its decision on the Athy scheme, made in June 2005, the board said the proposed route “would fail both as a street and as a relief road because it would continue to bring traffic, including heavy commercial vehicles, through the town centre”.
On the Ballybofey-Stranorlar bypass – a 15km dual-carriageway – the board had concerns about road safety and environmental protection, which it felt required a complete redesign of the scheme.