Monday 16 May 2011

An Taisce appeals against Louth County Council's decision to grant a ski resort

AN TAISCE has appealed against Louth County Council’s decision to approve plans for a ski resort next to Dundalk Racecourse, likening it to the “unsustainable” Tipperary Resort planned for Two-Mile-Borris, Co Tipperary.

The ski slope, enclosed to ensure year-round use, would be 52m (170ft) high – twice the height of the nearby racecourse stand – and forms part of a larger project “likely to include a bid to develop a Las Vegas-type casino”, according to An Taisce.

The Dubai-style Snowflex ski slope would be the largest in Europe, with a main slope 210m long and 60m wide as well as a beginners’ area. The two slopes would have combined capacity for 500 skiers.

With a total floor area of 44,246sq m (476,264sq ft), elements of the resort already approved include the ski slope as well as a bowling alley, cinema, private members gaming, an aquatic leisure centre and a 128-bed “family hostel”. The Altitude Ski Resort, planned by Innovative Leisure Systems Ltd (ILS), would also include sports-related shops, restaurants and bars, parking for 32 coaches and 791 cars and a new roundabout on the N52 Dundalk inner relief road.

“We’re over the moon to have been granted planning permission,” Sam Curran, of ILS, told the Dundalk Democrat. “Getting the go-ahead was the major thing from the point of view of investors, and leisure is one area where there is still investment.

“The appetite worldwide for leisure products is there . . . and our hope is that this resort will create spin-off opportunities for people,” he said, adding that cruise liners attracted by the resort could dock at the deep water port in Greenore, Co Louth.

In its environmental impact statement, ILS forecast that the resort would attract 1.15 million annual visits after its first phase was completed, rising to 6.2 million when the remaining phases (including the casino) were built.

But in its appeal to An Bord Pleanála, An Taisce described the scheme as “the epitome of unsustainable development”, based on a business model of “attracting millions of tourists from around the world to a modestly-sized regional Irish town . . . to go skiing”.

The trust’s heritage officer, Ian Lumley, said: “In the context of the calamitous property collapse which has occurred since 2007, it defies credulity that the local authority, the applicant and the investors could consider this proposal to have merit.”

He said the scheme was “more like a proposal from the past boom-time of Dubai than contemporary Ireland” yet it was coming concurrently with a proposal for a Las Vegas-type casino, multipurpose arena and racecourse in Co Tipperary.

“Both applications reflect the bubble stage of the Irish property boom, which has left an unprecedented debt crisis and legacy of ghost estates, excess capacity in hotel rooms and other categories of land use and the huge Nama loan portfolio,” Mr Lumley wrote.

An Taisce was basing its appeal on a recent statement by John O’Connor, outgoing chairman of An Bord Pleanála, that it was “incumbent on planning authorities” to take account of realities such as climate change, energy costs and minimising heritage loss.

It noted that the 140-acre site is located on inter-tidal grasslands and saltmarsh “immediately adjacent to and encroaching on” the Dundalk Bay Special Protection Area under the EU wildbirds directive, which was one of Ireland’s “most important wintering waterfowl sites”.

An Taisce said it would have an impact on views towards the Cooley Mountains and noted a submission from Dundalk Racecourse raising concern about its flood impact on the racecourse as well as safety, traffic and operational issues.

Irish Times

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