Saturday 30 May 2009

Expert warns on risks of explosion

A FORMER Army bomb disposal officer has warned of “horrific” consequences for civilians in and around Rossport if an onshore gas pipeline serving the Corrib gas project should rupture and explode.

A hospital with a specialised burns unit and a fire station would have to be located in the area, due to the potential for fatalities and serious injury in a very isolated area, Comdt Patrick Boyle (ret) told the An Bord Pleanála hearing into the Corrib gas modified onshore pipeline yesterday.

Comdt Boyle, who has served on bomb disposal in Ireland and with the UN in Lebanon, was representing the community group Pobal Chill Chomáin on the sixth day of the oral hearing in Belmullet, Co Mayo, under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

Comdt Boyle said that many recent pipeline accidents had occurred with pressure loads of 70 bar – half that proposed for the Corrib gas onshore pipeline.

He cited as an example the July 2004 explosion in Ghislenghien, Belgium, in which 24 people died and more than 120 people were injured. Most of those killed were police and firefighters responding to reports of a gas leak, operated by Fkuxys, a pipeline operator owned by Royal Dutch Shell.

Explosions caused by released fuel mixed with air had a multiple factor, Comdt Boyle said. The Ghislenghien explosion was equivalent to 41 tonnes of TNT and similar to the impact of smaller tactical nuclear weapons.

He said that a separation distance of at least 500 metres from dwellings would be more appropriate than that currently proposed. The new pipeline route has a 140-metre separation distance from dwellings – twice that proposed for the original pipeline route.

Former Bord Gáis engineering manager Leo Corcoran, also representing Pobal Chill Chomáin, said that the project was a case study in “escalation of commitment” by developers who continue to build “beyond the point of failure”.

A “litany of errors, omissions, flawed design and bad decisions” had “not prompted” the promoters, including the Government, to “reconsider the fundamental approach”, he said.

Nor had it prompted the promoters to “engage meaningfully with the local community to reach agreement”, Mr Corcoran said.

Mr Corcoran, who was a member of the Gas Technical Standards Committee, identified a number of difficulties with the current application. No code of practice for a high pressure gas pipeline was mandated in the ministerial consents for the onshore and offshore pipelines issued in 2002, he noted.

The site selected for the gas refinery in Bellanaboy was also “in breach” of the code, and located within a drinking water catchment of 10,000 people, he said.

Mr Corcoran also said that the site for the land valve installation at the Glengad landfall, linking the offshore and onshore pipelines, was an “insecure location” and “socially unsustainable”. Without the support of the local community, it would be “difficult to enforce the invasive measures required to secure this facility”.

Erris resident Niall King said in his submission that Shell consultants RPS, who designed the new pipeline route, had been based in Belmullet, some 30km from the Rossport community, and had not engaged in real consultation with the community.

Mr King shared safety concerns expressed by Micheál Ó Seighin, one of the Rossport Five, in his submission earlier this week. Mr Ó Seighin had noted that there was “no place in the planning system for including the health impacts on the receiving population”.

The hearing continues today in Belmullet.

Irish Times

Gormley lands a blow to wild speculation and rash rezonings

THERE CAN be no doubt that the timing of Minister for the Environment John Gormley’s announcement that the Government had approved his new planning Bill is political; it is clearly designed to put the Green Party in a good light with an eye on next week’s elections, writes FRANK McDONALD

Normally, draft legislation is published simultaneously. In this case, however, the Bill in question is still with the parliamentary drafters and won’t see the light of day for several weeks. And with voters going to the polls next Friday, the Green Party leader couldn’t wait.

That being said, there is much to commend in the proposed legislation, based on details given yesterday. In particular, it addresses the Achilles heel of all previous planning Acts by replacing the phrase “shall have regard to” with the much stronger “shall be consistent with”.

At present, local authorities need only “have regard to” the National Spatial Strategy (NSS), regional planning guidelines and ministerial directives in formulating their development plans.

In future, they will be required to show that these plans are “consistent with” national policy.

The “have regard to” provisions that currently apply are so nebulous that the elected members of a local authority need only glance at the NSS or other guidelines before proceeding to do the exact opposite. Thus, they could get away with snubbing a raft of planning policies.

What the Bill means is that councillors will no longer be able to rezone vast tracts of land at will, in response to landowners’ pressure.

Instead, an “evidence-based core strategy” will have to inform all decisions on zoning, “consistent with” established planning policies.

One of the key elements of the new legislation is that in making or even varying a development plan, the city or county manager’s report on the draft being prepared for public consultation must clearly indicate how it complies with the NSS and regional planning guidelines.

Ministerial guidelines on development planning, flood risk management and other matters will also have greater legal force, and the Minister’s views on a draft development plan will also be dealt with separately in the manager’s report, to allow a “clear and open response”.

Councillors will no longer be able to make significant amendments to a draft development plan or local area plan that’s already been out for public consultation – for example, by adopting entirely new zonings; they will only have the power to modify it “in minor respects”.

As a further safeguard to ensure “democratic accountability”, the making or variation of a development plan or local area plan will require the support of two-thirds of the total number of elected members, instead of a simple majority as is currently the case.

Gormley’s use of his powers under section 31 of the 2000 Planning Act to require local authorities in Monaghan and Mayo to drop “excessive” zonings was deeply resented by the councillors involved and criticised by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment.

To take account of this, the Bill will provide a new “consultative procedure” whereby the Minister would issue a draft direction on which local views would be sought before a final direction is given – perhaps with the aid of an independent planning inspector to advise on it.

The “over-arching objective”, according to Gormley, is to ensure a strategic approach to zoning so that development would take place “at the right time and in the right place”, allowing State agencies to plan for the provision of infrastructure with much greater certainty.

New provisions aimed at supporting the Government’s target of having 40 per cent of electricity supplied from renewable sources by 2020 will integrate foreshore licensing for offshore wind and wave installations with the Strategic Infrastructure Act’s consent process. The Minister believes this would deliver an “integrated, fast-track, transparent and participative consent process” for the onshore and offshore elements of such renewable energy projects – although, of course, they would all go directly to An Bord Pleanála.

The Bill will also provide more flexibility for local authorities to use development levies for a broader range of social infrastructure such as schools and flood relief works.

This contrasts with Fianna Fáil’s pre-election commitment to cut levies by a half for at least two years.

Powers to refuse planning permission to applicants who have been convicted of serious breaches of planning legislation are being strengthened, and also to refuse retention permission to an applicant who has carried out a substantial unauthorised development.

These are sensible provisions – long overdue – to regulate the proliferation of unauthorised development. But one element that flies in the face of common sense is Gormley’s proposal to reduce An Bord Pleanála’s quorum from three to two for “routine” appeals.

Berna Grist, lecturer in planning at UCD and a former member of the appeals board, has pointed out that the “triumvirate” has been the ideal decision-making model since Roman times.

To reduce it to just two could result in the board being “frozen into indecision”, she said. The justification given for the proposed change is to expedite An Bord Pleanála’s determination of routine appeals and help the board to clear a significant backlog of cases.

But with the number of appeals down dramatically due to the recession, this is bound to happen anyway.

One specific recession-related provision in the Bill would allow local authorities to extend the five-year lifespan of a planning permission to facilitate developers who are in difficulties because of the credit crunch and the knock-on effect that this has had on construction activity.

The overall thrust of the Bill is designed not only to ensure better planning at local level, but also to avoid a repetition of the wild speculation that took place during the boom years, creating the property bubble and aggravating the intensity of the recession here.

If it succeeds in doing that, it must surely be welcomed by everyone who believes in “proper planning and sustainable development”, which was the explicit objective of the 2000 Planning Act. Unfortunately, we are now living with the consequences of having failed to achieve it.

Irish Times

CIÉ fails to have CPO order quashed

CIÉ has failed in a High Court bid to quash a compulsory purchase order over some of its property in the Cork docklands.

Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill rejected claims that the consent of the Minister for Transport was a necessary initial precondition to the CPO process before it could begin.

He said consent could be obtained at any time up to the latest stage in the process.

An Bord Pleanála had adjourned its hearing into the CPO pending the outcome of the case.

Irish Times

State claims permission for road is invalid

THE STATE believes An Bord Pleanála has given invalid permission for a €317 million Galway ring road, possibly exposing the State to legal action by the European Commission, the Commercial Court heard yesterday.

However, the board rejects the claims of invalidity and is standing over its decision.

The State told the board in correspondence this week that it was a matter of “great regret” the board did not accept the State’s view that the permission for the project breaches provisions of the EU habitats directive and relevant regulations.

The chief State solicitor informed the board that the existence of a consent which breached EU law exposed the State to an action for infringement by the European Commission and to risk of injunctive/interim measures and heavy fines.

“It is Government policy to proceed with the building of this road, but only in accordance with law,” the letter stated. The chief State solicitor added that unless the position was clarified by the court, there would be a “very significant legal impediment” to the development of the road project.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly was provided with the correspondence yesterday when dealing with procedural issues concerning a legal challenge by environmental campaigner Peter Sweetman to the board’s November 2008 permission for the road project.

The judge said the case brought by Mr Sweetman against the board and the State, with Galway City Council and Galway County Council as notice parties, had thrown up a “hornet’s nest” and exposed a split between the State and the board on interpretation of the habitats directive and Article 30 of the EC (Natural Habitats) Regulations and other issues.

The judge said he would permit the board to amend its statement of opposition in the case, which is due to be heard on June 30th.

In that amended opposition, the board rejects the State’s claims, and also contends the State does not have the necessary legal standing to introduce new grounds of challenge.

The judge was told Galway County Council was anxious to proceed with the project and to have the case heard on June 30th.

Irish Times

Local anger as gardaí supervise blasting at unauthorised quarry

BLASTING AT an unauthorised quarry near Ashford in Co Wicklow has recommenced – under Garda supervision.

Ballylusk Quarry operated by O’Reilly Brothers (Wicklow) Ltd., on the outskirts of Ashford was judged to not have either planning permission or an exemption under the planning Acts, by An Bord Pleanála in 2003. A subsequent judicial review taken by O’Reilly Brothers against An Bord Pleanála was rejected by the High Court in 2006.

However operations have continued at the quarry and at least one local property owner was incensed when gardaí arrived and instructed him to leave his property during blasting in 2007 in the interests of health and safety.

This property, the closest building to the quarry, has since been sold, and on Wednesday the use of explosives recommenced.

Locals who have campaigned against the quarry for a decade said they are now so frustrated they are considering an appeal to the European Commission. A spokesman said there were few options left open to locals, “since the courts and Bord Pleanála have all held against this operation, but Wicklow County Council over all the years have not enforced the law”.

Senior planner at Wicklow County Council, Des O’Brien told The Irish Times the council had served a notice on the owners requiring them to cease unauthorised activity several years ago.

Mr O’Brien said the Planning Act required the council to get a court order to close the operation, and the District Court had refused the order on the basis that the O’Reilly Brothers had lodged a new planning application.

Mr O’Brien said the council had been unable to secure even a temporary injunction until the planning application was decided. Last December Wicklow County Council sought additional information in relation to the planning application and the applicants have until next month to reply.

Mr O’Brien said that on the basis of the court decision, the council told gardaí that it had no order against the quarry.

Gardaí must be present in all cases where explosives are used, said a Garda source.

Meanwhile the High Court has directed Wicklow County Council’s ethics registrar to carry out a fresh inquiry into a complaint by Green Party Senator Deirdre de Búrca that former Fianna Fáil councillor Facthna Whittle, who is a solicitor, breached ethics legislation by proposing and voting to rezone the quarry, without disclosing his law firm had acted for the quarry owner in legal proceedings.

Irish Times

Wind farm windfall for Clare families

THIRTY FARM families who will have a majority stakeholding in a company seeking planning permission for a €200 million wind farm in west Clare will share just under €1 million each year in earnings from the project when it becomes operational.

West Clare Renewable Energy has announced plans for 30,410ft 3MW turbines on 3,000 acres of upland on the 1,280ft Mount Callan owned by the farmers overlooking Clare’s west coast.

The group’s chairman, Pádraig Howard, said yesterday that giving the farm families a majority stake in the company “will have a transformational effect on rural Ireland”.

He said each family would receive €30,000 per annum when the project became operational.

“This will be an iconic project,” he said, adding that he hoped construction on the project would get under way in 2011 to provide 250- 300 jobs during the three-year construction phase.

Mr Howard said that when operational, the project would sustain 50 to 100 jobs. He was including in his calculations the €30,000 to be earned by each of the 30 families as 30 jobs.

The project is expected to deliver a community fund for the four parishes in the area that will amount to between €60,000 and €80,000 in the early phase of the project “and a multiple of that after five to 10 years when the debt is paid down on the scheme”.

Mr Howard noted that the proposed wind farm would be only 1km from a grid connection.

The Clare businessman said that it would generate sufficient energy to power all homes and businesses in Co Clare and meet the Limerick-Clare Energy Agency’s 2010 targets for emissions reductions and renewable energy production.

He expected a formal planning application to be lodged in late summer.

“We have been carrying out work connected to the environmental impact statement for almost three years and it has shown that the area doesn’t have the deep bog that other upland areas have so that isn’t an issue in this case.

“Farm families are struggling and many face a very bleak future,” Mr Howard said. “Food prices are not what they were 20 years ago and farmers depend on subsidies and direct farm payments. This project will provide farmers with a new source of income and allow farm families to remain on the land.”

He added that this project would “empower local communities and empower local families”.

John Talty, one of the 30 landowners concerned, said yesterday: “We can’t wait for someone else to do this for us. We are trying to form an industry in west Clare that will keep the locals in west Clare . . . We want to get jobs back in west Clare.”

Irish Times

Gormley outlines planning reforms

THE JAILING this week of lobbyist Frank Dunlop “brings into sharp focus” the need for new planning legislation aimed at ensuring that local plans will be consistent with national policy, Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said.

Speaking yesterday to The Irish Times, he said the Planning (Amendment) Bill due to be published shortly would “ensure that the powers that councillors have are exercised in a responsible way in accordance with good planning practice”.

He said it was “on the record that Dunlop gave money to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour Party councillors” and urged people to “reflect on that in terms of who they will vote for in next week’s local elections”.

“From now on, there will have to be consistency between a local authority’s development plan and the National Spatial Strategy, regional planning guidelines and ministerial directives, such as those I have issued to a number of councils”, Mr Gormley said.

His Bill would “ensure that the sort of bad planning we’ve seen over the past 15 years or so will not re-occur”, he said, adding that this had “led in many ways to inflated house prices, the property bubble and the economic difficulties we’re now experiencing”.

Bad planning in the past – particularly in relation to land rezoning against planning advice – had also led to a “marked deterioration in people’s quality of life through the lack of facilities such as schools, sewage treatment plants and proper public transport”.

The new legislation would give the Minister of the day a greater legal role in making local authorities’ development plans.

Since taking office, Mr Gormley has been forced to intervene where councillors zoned far more land for development than was required. In Monaghan and Mayo he used his powers to overturn zonings that conflicted with national planning policy. The new Bill will give greater legal force to ministerial guidelines in relation to areas such as development planning, flood risk management and sustainable residential development.

Local authorities will be required to show how their policies and plans are consistent with national policies and objectives as well as ministerial guidelines. The city or county manager’s report on the development plan must state the extent to which the plan complies with these guidelines.

To be passed, a development plan must be ratified by at least two-thirds of the councillors on any authority as opposed to the current majority vote. After development plans have been subject to public consultation, any changes made to them can only be minor.

Mr Gormley is also giving greater powers to local authorities to deal with rogue developers. A new provision will let an authority refuse permission where the applicant has carried out a substantial unauthorised development.

Irish Times

Thursday 28 May 2009

New wind turbine park opens in Dublin

A NEW public park which will generate its own electricity from wind turbines has been opened in north Dublin.

The 52 acre Fr Collins Park in Donaghmede has been described as Ireland’s first sustainable park. It will derive all its power from five wind turbines which have been installed at a cost of €1.2 million.

The five turbines will generate about 250KW an hour when the wind is blowing or the equivalent of €400,000 worth of electricity a year at full price, though the actual figure will be less than that.

It is hoped, however, that the turbines will pay for themselves by generating enough power to floodlight Fr Collins Park while also powering the five dressing rooms, maintenance buildings and its water features.

It was opened yesterday by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Eibhlin Byrne and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin.

The archbishop noted that the community had named the park after local parish priest Fr Joe Collins, who died 30 years ago.

“That sort of witness has been relativised in the eyes of many,” he said in reference to the scandals involving the clergy in recent weeks.

Dublin City Council will monitor the wind turbines over the next year to see if they can meet targets. It is seeking to power as many of its services as possible in the future through renewable sources, a key part of its new energy strategy.

One proposal being actively looked at is to use wind turbines to power the city’s water services in Blessington. Another is to provide energy for the greenhouses in St Anne’s Park using wind turbines.

Gerry Wardell, the director of the City of Dublin Energy Management Agency, said the five wind turbines would have “huge community and educational value” locally.

“The concept of wind turbines in cities is quite new. This is one of the leading examples anywhere,” Mr Wardell said.

The park will contain a 1.5 kilometre cycling track and an amphitheatre for outdoor theatre and concerts.

The Fr Collins Park project began in September 2007 and was designed by the Argentinian architects Abelleyro and Romero. They delivered the €20 million project on time and within budget.

Irish Times

Regeneration of housing estate starts

THE REGENERATION of one of the State’s oldest housing estates got under way in Limerick yesterday when workers moved in to demolish houses in the St Mary’s Park estate.

It is one of four housing estates in Limerick city included in the €3.1 billion regeneration project which, since 2007, has led to the demolition of 250 homes in Moyross, Southill and Weston areas.

The demolition of 1 Columcille Street in St Mary’s Park began at 9am yesterday. Up to 20 houses in the area could be knocked by the end of the year to facilitate the building of new houses in 2010.

Built in 1935, St Mary’s Park is one of the oldest housing estates in the State and is located in a historic part of the city close to King John’s Castle that is known as the “island field”.

The estate comprises in the region of 465 houses and was the State’s first major public housing initiative in Limerick.

The last resident at the property which was demolished yesterday was Geraldine Long, who now lives in Corbally, but was there when workers began the demolition.

“I’m a bit sad because we had lovely neighbours and it was a lovely place to live and we had happy times in the house, so it is sad to see it being knocked,” Ms Long said.

Jason Murphy of the housing department at Limerick City Council said yesterday marked an important step for the regeneration of Limerick.

“This is a milestone for St Mary’s Park in terms of regeneration, but it is a milestone for the city as well, given the community that’s here and the strong community in St Mary’s Park,” Mr Murphy said.

“It’s a big step for the residents and we are delighted we have had huge support from them. We have identified six to eight houses but by the end of the year, we may have 15 houses taken down.”

Mayor of Limerick John Gilligan has welcomed the beginning of the demolition.

It is believed that €725 million is needed for the regeneration of St Mary’s Park.

Irish Times


Wednesday 27 May 2009

Protester leaves Corrib hearing

A CORRIB gas protester removed himself from the oral hearing of An Bord Pleanála on the modified pipeline, branding it “nonsense” after the board’s chairman refused to entertain a submission on its jurisdiction.

Edward Moran was the third local resident to leave the Belmullet hearing after telling the board that Shell had commenced work on the onshore section at Glengad, which was above the high water mark, encroaching on the board’s jurisdiction.

Chairman Martin Nolan refused to entertain Mr Moran’s intervention, saying he would have an opportunity during the second week of the hearing to raise issues. However, he did say the board was looking after the area from the high water mark to the Corrib terminal at Bellanaboy.

Mr Moran said he would return to the hearing next week to make his point.

Landowners Bríd McGarry and Brendan Philbin of the Rossport Five group withdrew from the hearing on Tuesday over the same issue.

Local resident Imelda Moran also sought unsuccessfully for the Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Safety Authority to be put on notice to attend the hearing. Neither body made submissions to the board, she said.

The stability of peat along the proposed route, the need for a compulsory acquisition order (CAO) and the proposed construction methodology were all dealt with on day two of the hearing.

After taking a walkover survey and the results of a stability assessment into consideration, Geotechnical expert Turlough Johnston of Applied Ground Engineering Consultants (AGEC) said the pipeline could be “safely constructed” along the proposed route. He identified “no evidence of peat failure” that would pose a risk to the route.

AGEC provided specialist geotechnical advice on the landslides at Pollathomas in 2004.

The hearing continues today.

Irish Times

Hearing chairman 'ignored' key question

THE CHAIRMAN of an An Bord Pleanála hearing was yesterday accused of “obfuscation” and “failing to answer questions” about issues relating to its jurisdiction over ongoing works by Shell at the landfall site of the Corrib gas project at Glengad.

At the opening of the third day of the hearing on the modified pipeline route, held in Belmullet, Co Mayo, Martin Nolan said it would be a matter for the board on “whether or not to seek a legal opinion” about the issues raised and he noted that the planning board had powers to reopen the hearing.

He also referred to the general parameters of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and said these issues could be raised by any party at the appropriate junctures in the hearing.

However, he did not specifically refer to a section of the proposed pipeline route – above the mean high water mark at Glengad that Shell is already working on.

This is the location where a series of clashes occurred between protesters, gardaí and Shell security men over recent weeks.

Expert speakers for Shell have – during the first two days of the hearing – included this 500m section of the 9.2km pipeline in submissions for determination.

Responding last night, Micheál Ó Seighin, of the Rossport Five, accused the chairman of not answering a key question he had been asked on a number of occasions over the previous days. The issue already has led to three people – Brendan Philbin, Bríd McGarry and Ed Moran – withdrawing from the hearing.

“The chairman has ignored my question, which is: what is the overlap of jurisdiction between a ministerial consent [Frank Fahey] in 2002 and the present An Bord Pleanála hearing under the Strategic Infrastructure Act?”

Mr Ó Seighin continued: “The fact is that Shell is doing work at present that is being considered by An Bord Pleanála.”

In response to other issues raised by local resident Imelda Moran earlier, the chairman also said he would neither compel the Health and Safety Authority nor the Environmental Protection Agency to attend.

However, he said that, if necessary, the hearing could be reopened and the bodies could then be compelled to attend.

An addendum to a presentation on the Glenamoy Bog Complex (special area of conservation) by Eileen McCarthy, an eco-hydrology and eco-hydrogeology consultant, was adjourned until next week so it could be translated into non-technical language.

Irish Times

Bord rejects Lidl's Navan plan

The issue of whether German discounters should be allowed to trade out of retail parks has surfaced again, this time in Navan where An Bord Pleanála has blocked a plan by Lidl to open a store in a newly completed park on the outskirts of the town.

The decision will be a major blow to the park which is struggling to assemble a line-up of tenants. With some planning authorities in favour of German discounters and fashion outlets in retail parks, and the appeals board failing to maintain a consistent line on these issues, developers are frustrated by the lack of clarity.

In the case of the Navan Retail Park, the board cited the retail planning guidelines set down by the Department of the Environment in 2005, cautioning against out-of-town retailing of goods other than bulky goods. The Navan town development plan also favoured retail development within the town centre.

An interesting projection by the board’s inspector in this case was that Lidl would have a turnover of €9 million by 2012 out of “an estimated catchment surplus expenditure capacity” of €29.8 million. What gobbledegook!

Irish Times

Delay to Dublin Bay infill plan

Dublin Port Company faces significant delays to its plans to infill 52 acres of Dublin Bay following a decision by An Bord Pleanála to re-open public consultation on the application.

The company made its application for permission to construct new deep-water berths at the 21-hectare northeastern part of Dublin Port, which is located in Dublin Bay, last August.

In addition to the proposed infill, there would be additional dredging or other works on a further 17 hectares of the bay.

Irish Times

Corrib gas pipeline hearing seeks report on infrastructure

THE CHAIRMAN of An Bord Pleanála’s hearing into the modified pipeline route for the Corrib gas project has asked Mayo County Council for a report on key infrastructural developments being proposed for north-west Mayo.

Under the remit of a development forum, established last November by Government Ministers Éamon Ó Cuív and Eamon Ryan, this report will identify key developments for the area, the hearing was told.

Ian Douglas, a senior county council planner, said he understood the report would be ready soon.

At yesterday’s hearing in Belmullet, the negative impact of the project on the Glenamoy bog complex, which is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), as outlined in the Department of Environment submission, was strongly challenged by counsel for Shell, Esmonde Keane.

Earlier, speaking for the county council, Mr Douglas said that the modified pipeline will have “a negligible impact on the landscape”, on drinking water schemes and on designated conservation sites. He observed that mitigation measures will be undertaken at the landfall site and along the route of the pipeline after its construction.

The chairman, Martin Nolan, asked him to identify what body had primary responsibility for the safety of the pipeline, its related regulatory regime and if the council intended retaining experts to monitor the implementation of this safety system.

Mr Nolan also observed that he wanted to establish what role Mayo County Council and the fire services would play in its implementation.

Responding, chief fire officer Seamus Murphy said “the matter of the safety of the pipeline was for the Department of Energy”.

“If the project gets approval, we will draw up a site-specific plan for an emergency response – like, for example, we have done for Knock airport,” said Mr Murphy.

In a submission by the Department of the Environment, Caitriona Douglas said insufficient evidence had been provided in the environmental impact statement Addendum by the developer. She referred specifically to the impact of the construction of a stone road on “the mosaic” of bog pools which are “highly sensitive” to surface and sub-surface groundwater in the Glenamoy bog complex.

Irish Times

Bord says yes to apartments for Hatch Hall

Permission has been given to turn Hatch Hall, bought in 2004 for over €16m, into a scheme of 36 apartments

THE FORMER Jesuit student residence – Hatch Hall at Lower Hatch Street in Dublin 2 – is to be converted into 36 apartments under a new planning permission ratified by An Bord Pleanála.

Galway developer Gerry Barrett, who bought the early 20th century building in 2004 for over €16 million, was previously refused planning permission to convert the complex into a hotel.

The three to five-storey Gothic revival building is to be retained in its entirety with the exception of a two-storey section at the rear south-east corner which links a four-storey building along Hatch Lane with the chapel. This section will be replaced by a six-storey block which will link to the proposed two-storey roof-top extension over an adjoining four-storey building along Hatch Lane.

An inspector for the planning appeals board said the proposed demolition of a small section of the existing buildings was considered acceptable as the proposal would define the corner of Hatch Place and Hatch Lane, as well as provide access to a basement car-park with 37 spaces.

The conversion will also involve internal alterations to the Gothic-style building, including the removal of internal partitions and screens, and the amalgamation of existing rooms to create apartments.

The rearrangement of the rooms will not affect the existing window arrangement or floor-to-ceiling heights. It is planned to provide a lift for residents.

The board ruled that the first floor chapel should be used as a health and fitness centre for residents of Hatch Hall.

One of Mr Barrett’s companies, Edward Residential Assets, has undertaken to retain the internal courtyard and to enhance it through refurbishment works and landscaping.

The building has twin turrets flanking a three-storey grand central bay with stone oriels. A circular oriel window is on the north-eastern corner of the building. Starting from the first to the third floor, this section is roofed in copper, as are the dormer windows in the fourth floor. The roof is steeply pitched with clay ridge tiles.

Irish Times

Dunlop gets 18 months in jail for corruption

FORMER GOVERNMENT press secretary Frank Dunlop has been jailed for two years and fined €30,000 for corruption after admitting bribing councillors to rezone land in Carrickmines, Co Dublin.

Judge Frank O’Donnell said the public interest required a custodial sentence for Dunlop but suspended the final six months of the jail term in light of his admissions before the court and the planning tribunal.

Dunlop (62), of Rathbeggan, Dunboyne, Co Meath, kissed his wife Sheila and hugged his daughter Sinead before prison officers led him away from Dublin Central Criminal Court. His lawyers are expected to appeal the sentence.

“The word must go out from this court that the corruption of politicians, or anyone in public life, must attract significant penalties,” Judge O’Donnell told Dunlop before imposing sentence.

The public interest required a custodial sentence that amounted to more than a rap on the knuckles, he said.

The judge said there was no such thing as a victimless crime. Although there was no readily identifiable victim in this case, he had no doubt that Dunlop by his actions had actively undermined the confidence of the public in the democratic system. In the case, the public, the institutions of State and the democratic system were the victims, he continued. Judge O’Donnell said Dunlop was motivated by gain and, as a former Fianna Fáil and government press secretary, was in a dominant position. He was perceived as a person with the power to influence people in higher authority over a long period of time.

Pointing out that the charges related to separate acts of corruption in 1992 and 1997, the judge said Dunlop had had no hesitation in renewing his corrupt practices after a long gap. “You have every opportunity to reflect on what you were about.

“Some people who come before me knowingly commit crimes through a haze of addiction. What you did, you did with a long-range, focused, criminal intent.”

Last January, Dunlop pleaded guilty to five sample charges, having originally been charged with 16 counts of bribing Dublin county councillors.

Judge O’Donnell imposed terms of between one and two years for each of the five counts of bribery, all of them to run concurrently. The other counts were taken into consideration.

He suspended the final six months and gave Dunlop six months to pay the fine. Judge O’Donnell noted Dunlop’s co-operation with gardaí and willingness to give evidence against former councillors in any future corruption cases. He said he took into account the evidence of the head of Dunlop’s legal team during the tribunal which stated that he was now a “social pariah”. He also considered the evidence of a leading cardiologist who said Dunlop suffered from a serious heart condition which will affect his longevity.

“No doubt the present criminal charges have contributed to this,” the judge commented. “All these are the natural and foreseeable consequences of your actions, not the penalties for them.” Judge O’Donnell refused an application for permission to appeal.

Dunlop pleaded guilty to giving £3,000 to former Fianna Fáil senator Don Lydon at St John of God’s Hospital in Dublin; £2,000 to Fianna Fáil councillor Colm McGrath and £1,000 to Fianna Fáil councillor Seán Gilbride, all in 1992, in relation to the rezoning of lands at Carrickmines for development.

He also pleaded guilty to giving money to former Fine Gael senator Liam Cosgrave at Buswells Hotel in Dublin in 1997, and a further sum of money to Fianna Fáil councillor Tony Fox the same year, also in relation to Carrickmines.

Irish Times

Some politicians set to face corruption charges

POLITICIANS ARE likely to face corruption charges in relation to the same rezoning decision for which Frank Dunlop was jailed yesterday, according to Garda sources.

Files sent by the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) contain recommendations that “a handful” of politicians be prosecuted, The Irish Times has learned.

Dunlop has undertaken to give evidence in any proceedings that are taken if the Director of Public Prosecutions decides there are grounds for prosecutions.

Dunlop will also be a key State witness in the Cab’s efforts to confiscate the Jackson Way lands at Carrickmines in south Dublin. The lands were frozen by court order in 2006. The Cab wants to confiscate and sell the land. The case, which is being fought, is expected to come before the High Court in the near future.

Cab officers have given evidence that the land increased in value by €53 million after it was corruptly rezoned.

That valuation is roughly equal in value to all of the cash and assets taken from gangland criminals since the Cab’s inception in 1996.

Reacting yesterday to the sentence imposed on Dunlop, anti-corruption organisation Transparency International called on the Government to tackle systemic corruption rather than satisfy itself with prosecuting an individual.

Its chief executive, John Devitt, called for the prosecution of all alleged bribe takers where there was sufficient evidence to bring a case.

He also pointed to the need for whistleblower protection and a register of lobbyists to “shine more light” on the role of money on government policy making.

He said corruption was believed to have badly damaged the country’s reputation overseas.

Ireland’s score on the worldwide Corruption Perceptions Index had worsened dramatically in the wake of revelations of corruption at the planning tribunal.

Dublin Lord Mayor and European election candidate Eibhlín Byrne said Dunlop should have been made do community service rather than being jailed.

“He has been found guilty of a serious offence, but by putting him behind bars he will cost the tax payer thousands of euro. He is not what we call ‘a threat to society’ and therefore we should make him pay for his crime by working within the community.”

The Green Party welcomed the 18-month sentence imposed on Dunlop as “fully justified”. “This must not represent the end of this process.

Others who contributed to this situation similarly have to account for their role in planning corruption,” said Senator Deirdre de Burca, who is also a European election candidate.

“I hope that this will be the first of a series of imprisonments for the widespread corruption that poisoned the Irish political system in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Des Peelo, financial adviser to former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, told Newstalk FM the sentence was “actually quite lenient”.

Irish Times

Monday 25 May 2009

Gormley ready to slap €150 fines on noisy party hosts

NOISY party-throwers will be hit with on-the-spot fines of €150 when new laws clamping down on noise pollution are enacted later this year.

The Green Party unveiled details of the nuisance noise bill yesterday, which will also give gardai and local authorities the power to switch off alarms when they sound incessantly.

Environment Minister John Gormley said the Government had found a way around the constitutional legal issues of gardai going into a house to shut off an alarm -- that avoided entering the premises.

"The alarms are usually located on the outside, so they can go into the property, as such, and then turn off the alarm from the outside," Mr Gormley said.

"That's the easiest way to do it. Otherwise you are into very serious constitutional difficulties."

The bill, which has been spearheaded by Dun Laoghaire TD Ciaran Cuffe, will also penalise businesses that breach decibel limits with €1,000 fines.

"This law will improve people's quality of life," Mr Cuffe said. "It will finally give local authorities the power to deal with nuisance noise quickly and effectively.

"Under the current system council officials are not able to take action immediately to stop sources of noise pollution. They can go through the courts, but this takes weeks," he added.

A survey published by Dublin City Council in 2007 found that half a million people living in the capital were subjected to excessive noise levels above World Health Organisation guidelines. The noisiest parts were Dublin 1, 2 and 8, with traffic the main cause.

Irish Independent

New motorway section for Co Cork

A new stretch of motorway linking Fermoy and Mitchelstown in Co Cork has opened this afternoon.

The motorway which cost €174 million involved construction of 16 km of dual carriageway, with three grade separated junctions, three riverbridges and seven road bridges.

Construction on the road, which runs between Carrigane north of Mitchelstown and Moorepark north of Fermoy, began in December 2007.

The road, which is funded under the National Development Plan 2007 – 2013, is opening nine months ahead of schedule.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey officially opened the road to traffic at a ceremony today. He said the completion of the project represented the achievement of a number of important targets.

"This road has opened nine months ahead of target, it provides improved access to the region, improved road safety and it is a further significant step towards the development of the entirety of the Cork-Dublin motorway identified in the NDP 2007-2013 and Transport 21," he said.

"The benefits of this scheme to the whole region will be very significant. Expected travel times for motorists will be reduced by up to 10 minutes saving time and hassle. The improved accessibility of the region will stimulate further development and economic activity and it will also improve access to recreational and cultural facilities."

It is expected that 16,000 vehicles will use the road every day and that it will cut at least 10 minutes off average journey times from Cork to Dublin.

Just 14km of the M8 remains unopened to traffic and the final link is on schedule for completion next year.

Irish Times

Sunday 24 May 2009

Metro West and Luas extension plan 'delayed indefinitely'

PLANS to build Dublin's proposed Metro West line and the Luas line from Lucan to the city centre have been delayed indefinitely due to budgetary difficulties.

The government has removed the construction and opening target dates for both projects from its latest progress report for potential developers, stating that these were now "under review".

The report also said the construction start and completion dates for both projects were now subject to the "public consultation, statutory planning process, PPP procurement process and funding availability".

Previous updates had indicated that Metro West would be completed by 2014 while the Lucan Luas line was due to have been finished by 2015.

The revelation comes just weeks after transport minister Noel Dempsey reaffirmed his commitment to building the next two phases of the Western Rail Corridor in advance of next month's local elections.

These phases, which run between Athenry and Claremorris, still have firm target dates, even though many commentators believe they are unlikely to attract significant numbers of passengers; a similar stretch of line between Waterford and Limerick Junction is dubbed the "ghost train" in railway circles.

Mark Gleeson of Rail Users Ireland said the two phases were "a political potato" and that the apparent granting of priority to them over Metro West in particular raised issues about the government's decision-making.

Gleeson said Metro West was an important project for Dublin because it was an orbital route which would connect Metro North, the capital's railway lines and the proposed Luas lines without forcing passengers into the city centre to change services.

"It's worry that people are not taking a clinical view of projects in light of the budgetary issues involved. This decision raises serious questions about whether projects are being prioritised in a fair and transparent manner," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport admitted that the target dates for Metro West and the Lucan Luas had been dropped. She claimed, however, that the projects hadn't been delayed and said the Railway Procurement Agency had been told to seek planning permission.

"Once these projects have the necessary planning permission, progress can be made on their delivery as economic circumstances allow," she said. "This will be decided on a case-by-case basis as projects become 'shovel ready'."

She added Metro North was a priority for the minister.

Sunday Tribune

D4 incinerator construction 'to begin shortly'

CONSTRUCTION works on a controversial Dublin incinerator are to begin within weeks in a move that opponents claim will prove "fatal" to the political life of environment minister and local TD John Gormley.

Despite recent reports that banking finance was not available, Covanta, the US company behind the project, insists funding is in place and construction will proceed.

A reliable source also told the Sunday Tribune that, barring any unexpected delays, construction work is due to begin in a matter of weeks. A contractor is also understood to be in place.

"We are in the final stages of pre-construction activity. The financing to construct the facility is available and we expect to commence construction shortly," Scott Whitney, president of Covanta Europe, said in a statement issued to the Sunday Tribune.

Nobody connected to the project would be drawn on the exact schedule for development.

Local protestors claim that not only will it be "fatal" to the political life of environment minister John Gormley, but that it could lead to substantial local protests.

Damien Cassidy, chairman of the Ringsend Irishtown & Sandymount Environmental Group (RISEG), said that while he would not like to see a repeat of the Shell to Sea protests, it could not be ruled out.

While stressing his belief that the environment minister was personally against the incinerator, Cassidy added that the situation would have a catastrophic effect on his next election bid. "I am satisfied that Minister Gormley is personally not in favour of the incinerator and he never was," he said. "It will be fatal for their candidate Claire Wheeler [in the local elections].

"[Gormley] wouldn't get a seat [in the next general election]. People will not stand for this."

Wheeler defended her party's stance on the issue saying it had "consistently opposed incineration. Covanta has been saying the start of construction was imminent for some time now," she said.

"Considering that Minister Gormley is introducing new incineration levies, and has changed government policy to further reduce waste volumes using Mechanical and Biological Treatment (MBT), it is clear that this project will not be financially viable, and will collapse."

A spokesman for the minister declined to comment on whether the matter could threaten his seat but said that he had a track record on incineration that was second to none. "He has done more than anybody... to move this country away from incineration," he said.

Sunday Tribune

Greens demand climate change law in new coalition deal

The Green Party is to demand the introduction of climate change legislation as its price for continuing in government with Fianna Fáil.

Green ministers will propose the plan for the legislation at talks on a new programme for government in the aftermath of the June 5 local and European elections.

A climate change bill would make government commitments to reduce carbon emissions and other measures to combat global warming legally binding. A similar law has been introduced in Britain.

Commitments in the existing programme for government to reduce carbon emissions are likely to be met, but mainly because of the economic contraction - particularly in the construction industry - rather than because of reduction measures.

The Greens want to enshrine further reductions in law before the economy recovers and the emissions begin to climb again.

The Greens’ calls for a renegotiation of the programme for government are thought to be more than just an effort by the party to distance itself from an unpopular Fianna Fáil for the duration of the election campaign.

According to senior party sources, the smaller coalition party believes that Fianna Fáil’s weakness - and desperation to avoid a general election - places the Green Party in a stronger position to secure its own policy priorities.

In effect, the Greens intend to raise the price for their continued participation in government, securing guarantees on key issues such as reducing carbon emissions. The greatest sources of carbon emissions in Ireland are the transport and agricultural sectors - or ‘‘cars and cows’’, as policy makers have dubbed them.

The government has already committed to a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2020.

If the climate change summit in Copenhagen this December is successful, that could increase further. A climate change bill would set down steps which industries would have to take, in order to reduce emissions in line with this target.

Sunday Business Post

Gormley criticises zoning 'frenzy'

Those voting in the forthcoming elections needed to be aware of the role of councillors from the main political parties in “excessive rezonings”, Minister for the Environment John Gormley said today.

The Green Party leader said he would publish a new Planning Bill very shortly and that he had been supported by Fianna Fáil in his efforts to improve local government, and that the party had not attempted to prevent his intervention in rezoning cases.

He called for a full debate on the role that local councillors have played in creating the so-called ‘property bubble’.

Mr Gormley said “serious, excessive and inappropriate re-zonings” over the last decade had been “a big factor in inflating development land prices around the country”.

“Fine Gael and Labour have been very quick to point fingers of blame about the property boom. Yet with 44 per cent of all council seats, they bear a responsibility they have yet to acknowledge,” Mr Gormley said.

He said the lands involved were sold on “for massive sums on the strength of these questionable re-zonings”.

“The single most important powers councillors have are the drawing up of development plans and the zoning of land.”

He said there was “no attempt to prevent his intervention in council zoning cases in Mayo, Monaghan and Dungarvan”.

“People in the forthcoming elections need to be aware that many of the councillors from the main political parties were behind these excessive re-zonings - taken against the advice of planners – and benefited small groups of landowners and speculators in their local areas.”

Mr Gormley said Fine Gael councillors in particular had been “embroiled in rezoning controversies across the country, and have embarked on nothing short of a rezoning frenzy in some cases”.

“Yet the party leadership has been utterly silent on this behaviour with one case in Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s home base of Mayo.”

Irish Times

Gormley criticises FG over 'rezoning frenzy'

THE GREEN Party yesterday accused the two main Opposition parties of being responsible for some of the worst rezoning excesses in Ireland in recent times.

Party leader John Gormley said yesterday that Fine Gael and Labour, with 44 per cent of all council seats, must share their burden of blame for creating the conditions that led to a property bubble.

When asked about the role of his party’s Coalition partner, Fianna Fáil, Mr Gormley accepted that it too had played a major part in rezonings that had been taken against advice.

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin organised as part of the Greens’ local election campaign, Mr Gormley said a debate was needed on the role councillors had played in the “property bubble we are now trying to clean up”.

He said that inappropriate rezonings had been a significant contributory factor in inflating development land prices around the country.

In a specific reference to the Opposition parties, he said: “Fine Gael and Labour have been very quick to point fingers of blame on the property boom, yet with 44 per cent of all council seats their elected members, they bear a responsibility they have yet to acknowledge.

“In particular Fine Gael councillors have been embroiled in rezoning controversies across the country, and have embarked on nothing short of a rezoning frenzy in some cases. Yet the party leadership has been utterly silent on this behaviour.”

Mr Gormley said he had been forced to intervene when local authorities had drawn up development plans that ran contrary to good planning.

He instanced what he said were excesses in Monaghan, Dungarvan and Co Mayo.

“In [Fine Gael leader] Enda Kenny’s home town of Castlebar, Fine Gael councillors were attempting to rezone enough land to triple the population within five years.

“I had no choice but to intervene in this case. It is a town of 10,000 people, and is expected to grow by another 3,000 over the next five years. Yet Mayo councillors sought to rezone enough land for a further 25,000 people,” he said.

However, Mr Kenny rejected the claim saying the Greens did not understand the true level of anger at the Government’s performance. “I think he [Mr Gormley] should concentrate on holding on to his own seat. Fine Gael have published a very detailed document on what we will do when we have the authority of the people to run local authority effectively for the next five years.”

He said it was no coincidence that poorly planned commuter towns that were subjected to “a rezoning gold rush” were now suffering from some of the highest jumps in unemployment.

Mr Gormley yesterday also unveiled eight candidates from immigrant backgrounds who are running for the Green Party in local elections, saying better representation was the key to progressing immigrant issues.

Irish Times

Friday 22 May 2009

O’Callaghan looks to build €80m Cork hospital

A NEW €80 million private hospital is being proposed for Cork city centre.

Developers O’Callaghan Properties (OCP) this week are to go for planning permission for a new 100-bed, 140,000sq ft private facility alongside their Lancaster Gate apartment development and the new Jurys Hotel, on the Western Road.

The hospital will be just half a mile from the Bon Secours where planning was granted last month by An Bord Pleanála for a €100 million expansion.

The proposed hospital, to be run by an international health group, would be built on a two-acre portion of a site on part of the old Jurys Hotel. More than 100 apartments have recently been built here, with underground parking and a leisure centre. Developers OCP are now seeking an alternative use for the balance of their costly city site, by the River Lee’s southern channel and near UCC.

The hospital building’s outline and height would be in line with a permission already granted for further apartments on the site, noted a company spokesperson.

If permission is secured, building would start right away, and the hospital could be completed by autumn 2010. The proposal is for a 100-bed hospital with six operating theatres and 20 consulting suites. It would create 350 construction jobs and 300 within the finished hospital.

The plan has the support of several national and international healthcare operators, including the Health Partnership, who were involved in developing Dublin’s Beacon Hospital and Waterford’s Whitfield Clinic, and are developing the Wyndale Clinic in Letterkenny and the Wellwood Clinic in Tullamore.

A number of private healthcare locations are mooted for Cork city, including a co-located hospital at CUH, while the Sheehan Medical Group are understood to have shifted their focus from the western suburbs to a building at City Gate, Mahon.

Architects for the OCP proposed hospital site are Henry J Lyons and Partners, with support from an international healthcare operator, backed by a European private equity fund, added the company spokesperson.

According to Owen O’Callaghan, "the Western Road site is the premium location for a private hospital in Cork city. It is close to a number of existing hospitals and clinics, is near University College Cork, has ample onsite parking already developed, is on a public transport route, is adjacent to two hotels and is now backed by experienced specialist health care operators."

The 343-bed Bon Secours hospital on Cork’s College Road was recently given the green light for an extension to include a multi-storey car park and a new five-storey wing with 80 private rooms. The Bons says a detailed design and tendering process will take place over the next three or four months, ahead of a two-year build period.

Irish Examiner

Ballsbridge house wins RIBA award

A house in Dublin 4 by Niall McLaughlin Architects has won one of Europe’s prestigious architectural awards, writes EMMA CULLINAN .

A HOUSE WITH a granite base and glass upper floor by Niall McLaughlin Architects is based on the work of Californian architect Craig Ellwood and Mies van der Rohe but is very much of its place – Dublin 4.

The 490sq m (5,274sq ft) house, which won an RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) award last night, sits in a garden behind a Victorian house on Ailesbury Road. The owners bought the site with planning permission for a traditional-style house. But they had different ideas: “They were keen to have a modern building,” says McLaughlin, who designed a much-featured house in Cork and is working on two more houses there.

The design of the Dublin house takes from local materials and combines it with two extremes of Mies’ work: his inward-looking courtyard houses and the outward looking, glassy Farnsworth House.

These are reflected in the Dublin house’s glass upper floor and its granite base, incorporating two courtyards.

Yet each material has been used in varying ways to create texture and degrees of privacy and openness. The architect took from the granite garden walls in the area as well as the granite Dublin mountains seen in the distance. “I was keen to use the granite in different ways,” says McLaughlin, in places it has been bonded with resin to achieve very fine joints.

The two-storey house sits on a basement/plinth to lift it from flooding: in here are storage and utility areas, a games room and accommodation for guests (presumably during dry seasons).

Surprisingly the main livingroom is in the stone-enclosed ground floor rather than on the bright upper level, but the clients were sold on being private and secluded, albeit having access to courtyards at each end of the room. Two bedrooms and the kitchen are on this level which borrows natural light from the top floor at various points, including through a baffled opening above the livingroom that throws linear shadows, and above the hallway which, along with the stairs, takes centre space in the plan.

Upstairs, given over to parents living and sleeping quarters, the frameless glazing is in multiple layers (flitting between single and double glazed), some with linen embedded between; all allowing for fuzzy or clear views and even a complete blackout. The house’s materials speak to Dublin: “The green glass and crystalline grey granite walls were imagined under Stratus clouds on days that never quite dry out,” says McLaughlin.

Other RIBA award winners include Wexford Opera House by Keith Williams Architects and OPW; a Coleraine house by McGarry-Moon Architects and a Belfast health centre by Penoyre Prasad with Todd Architects.

Irish Times

Quarry registration system deficient

LEGISLATION TO control the development of quarries is to be amended following the failure of a registration system which was introduced in 2005.

The obligation to register a quarry with the local authority was aimed at bringing all quarry operations within the planning process and minimising their environmental impact.

Thousands of quarrying operations applied for registration and public notices naming the quarries and inviting submissions and observations were published.

Where a quarry was deemed to be compliant, conditions, including the payment of development contributions, were imposed by the authorities.

But an 18-month investigation by Friends of the Irish Environment revealed a widespread lack of enforcement on quarries which failed to be compliant.

A subsequent complaint about the lack of enforcement by local authorities, to Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, resulted in the Department of the Environment determining that the process was in fact unenforceable, as “the Act did not provide a mechanism for pursuing legal proceedings for non-compliance”. In relation to the test case in Co Cork, the Ombudsman explained she could not make a finding of maladministration against a local authority if they could not take a legal remedy.

A spokesman for Minister for the Environment John Gormley said he was “concerned that there are significant deficiencies in section 261 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 . . . The plan is to address these deficiencies within the proposed Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill”.

Irish Times

Thursday 21 May 2009

Development plan deadlines

There are a number of critical deadlines approaching for submissions to draft development plans. These include:

1. Fingal County Development Plan – 26th June

2. Bray Town Development Plan – Deadline 3rd July

3. Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Development Plan – 3rd July

4. Kildare County Development Plan – 10th July

5. Naas Town Development Plan – 10th July

If you need to make a submission prior to these deadlines, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Naas Town Council intends to review the Naas Town Development Plan 2005-2011

Naas Town Council intends to review the Naas Town Development Plan 2005-2011 and prepare a new Naas Town Development Plan for its functional area. To assist this process an “Issues Paper” which identifies the key planning issues that the next Town Development Plan could address, has been prepared. This Issues Paper is available from the Town Council and on their website. A public information workshop has been arranged for the Tuesday 9th June in Áras Chill Dara between the hours of 7.30pm and 9.00pm.

All members of the public and other interested groups are invited to attend.
Observations and submissions regarding the review of the current Naas Town Development Plan and the preparation of a new Naas Town Development Plan are invited from members of the public and other interested parties during the period Friday 15th May and 4.00 pm on Friday, 10th July 2009.

If you require any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Kildare County Council intends to review the County Development Plan 2005-2011

Kildare County Council has published their intention to review the County Development Plan 2005-2011 and prepare a new County Development Plan for its function area. In this regard, an ‘Issues Paper’ has been prepared which identified the key planning issues that the next County Development Plan could address. This paper is available from the Councils offices and on their website. A series of public information workshops will be held during the month of June to which members of the public and other interested groups are invited to attend.

Observations and submissions regarding the review of the current County Development Plan and the preparation of a new County Development Plan are now invited from members of the public and other interested parties. The consultation period runs from Friday 15th May to 4.00 pm on Friday, 10th July 2009.

If you require any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

South Dublin County Council commences preparation of a new Development Plan for 2010-20

South Dublin County Council commenced preparation of a new Development Plan for the plan period 2010-2016 on 4th November 2008. The first step in the process was a public consultation period which ran until 8th January 2009, following which a Managers Report was prepared and circulated to the Elected Members. The Elected Members of South Dublin County Council then met to consider the report on the pre-draft stage of the Development Plan 2010-1016 on 20th April 2009.

Work will now commence on the drafting of the new Development Plan 2010-2016, and the Council anticipate that the public consultation on the Draft Plan will commence in October 2009. The adoption of the Final Plan will follow in 2010.

If you require any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Fingal County Council has commenced preparation of a new County Development Plan

Fingal County Council commenced preparation of a new Development Plan for the County on 1st May 2009. The first of three key stages has now commenced in which the broad issues affecting the Development Plan will be examined. The Council have prepared a public consultation booklet entitled “Your Fingal – The future in your hands” which is available on the Councils website. The Council will also be hosting number of public meetings to discuss the Development Plan.

Submissions and observations are now invited for this first stage of the Development Plan process between 1st May and 26th June 2009.

If you require any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council - Draft County Development Plan 2010-2016

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has now published the Draft County Development Plan 2010-2016. The Draft Plan sets out Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s policies for the sustainable development of the County to 2016 and beyond and has been formulated following a period of consultation on issues to be included in the Plan. The consultation process included public displays and open days, various meetings with stakeholder groups and service providers and a series of workshops for elected representatives. The Draft Plan is available from the Council and on the DLR website.

Submissions and observations regarding the Draft Plan are now invited from members of the public and other interested parties. The final date for receipt of submissions is Friday 3rd July 2009 at 5pm.

If you require any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Dublin City Council intends to review the current Development Plan

Dublin City Council have published their intention to review the current Development Plan and produce a new Development Plan for the plan period 2011-2017. The initial consultation period on the ‘Big Picture’ Issues Paper remains open. A Managers Report will now be prepared and circulated to the Elected Members. This report will include a summary of the issues raised in written submissions and through public consultation.

The Elected Members will consider this report, and may give directions in relation to the preparation of a Proposed Draft Development Plan. The Manager will then prepare a Proposed Draft Development Plan for circulation to the Elected Members. The Elected Members will then consider the Proposed Draft Development Plan 2011 - 2017, which will be put on public display mid-December 2009.

If you require any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Review of the Bray Town Development Plan

Bray Town Council have announced their intention to review the Town Development Plan 2005-2011 and prepare a new Town Development Plan for the period 2011-2017. The Council have prepared an ‘Issues’ document, copies of which are available from Bray Town Council offices and on their website. The Town Council will also arrange a series of public meetings during this consultation period, details of which may be obtained directly from the Council.

Submissions are now invited to the drafting of the new Town Development Plan. The closing date for making written submission with respect to the preparation of the draft Town Development Plan and Environmental Report is the 3rd July 2009.

There will also be further opportunities later in the Development Plan process for members of the public to further express their views and make additional submissions. Bray Town Council envisage that the draft plan will be on public display in March – June 2010.

If you need any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Review of Wicklow County Council County Development Plan 2004-2010

Wicklow County Council published notice of their intention to review the County Development Plan 2004-2010 and prepare a new County Development Plan for the period 2010-2016 on 29th October 2008. A consultation period was then held in which submissions were invited with regard to the new Development Plan by 23rd December 2008.

Following the end of this consultation period, a Manager’s report was prepared, which is currently available on the Council’s website. The Manager’s Report was issued to the members of Wicklow County Council for their consideration on the 17th February 2009, after which time the members issued direction to the Manager for the preparation of the draft Development Plan by 28th April 2009. Preparation of the draft Development Plan is now underway running for a 12 weeks period from 28th April, following which the Draft Plan will be submitted to members for their consideration on 21st July 2009. An 8-week period will follow when this draft will be considered by the members and the Draft Plan may be adopted or amended by resolution.

Wicklow County Council has stipulated that the draft plan is expected to be made on 15th September, when a notice of preparation of draft will be published in local newspapers. At this time a draft of the plan will be sent to the Minister and any relevant Government bodies for their consideration. The Draft Plan will then be on display for not less than 10 weeks, during which time further written submissions will be invited from members of the public. This consultation period is expected to run from 29th September to 8th December. The County Manager will then prepare a further report on the submissions received, and submit the report to the Council Members for consideration. This report is expected to be issues on 2nd March 2010.

If you need any further details, please contact bps on 0404-66060.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Law to transfer foreshore licensing duty approved

The Government has approved legislation that will transfer responsibility for granting foreshore licences from the Department of Agriculture and Marine to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG).

The transfer, approved by the Cabinet, is seen as giving a significant boost to the wind-power industry.

Many of the massive wind farms in planning are to be located offshore. By assuming responsibility for both planning permission and the foreshore licence, the DEHLG will be in a position to streamline and quicken the Government’s renewable and wind-energy policies.

Since 2007, according to sources, the Government has taken the view that the foreshore licence was a function that was more appropriate to Environment. The integration of the consent process was seen as vital to the development of wind power.

The Government has set out a target of 30 per cent of all energy coming from renewable sources by 2020 - wind power is expected to make up the bulk of that.

The other important aspect of the draft legislation is that powers under the Dumping at Sea Acts are also being transferred from the Department of Agriculture and Marine, with the support of the Minister, Brendan Smith.

However, Environment Minister John Gormley has requested that the dumping-at-sea legislation should be handled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rather than his Department. This has been agreed by Minister Smith.

The Department of Agriculture and Marine will retain all the other marine functions - including harbours, piers and aquaculture.

Some of the functions have already been transferred since 2008, as no legislation was required. These included integrated coastal zone management and quality of shellfish waters. However, the foreshore licence transfer requires the drafting of primary legislation.

The Foreshore Act dates from 1933 and requires that a licence must be obtained from the Minister for Agriculture in advance of any works on foreshore that is owned by the State.

Irish Times

Significant land acquisition for Wicklow Mountains National Park

Mr. John Gormley TD, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, today has announced a significant new land acquisition for Wicklow Mountains National Park.

It brings the total area of Wicklow Mountains National Park to some 20,483 hectares. This purchase substantially expands the size of the Wicklow Mountains National Park on its western boundary, adjacent to the Wicklow gap mountain lands on either side of the Laragh Hollywood Road (R756).

The acquisition consolidates existing public access to the area - which, in the context of the expansion of Dublin, will enable the National Park to remain a most valuable resource on the Capital’s doorstep.

The Minister, who has overseen a period of sustained investment in nature conservation since coming to office, said that the area in question is 2,833 hectares (7,100 acres) and equates to some four times the size of the Phoenix Park in Dublin - making it one of the most important acquisitions by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in recent times.

“This addition to the National Park will serve to support nature conservation in an area which continues to attract huge volumes of visitors. Furthermore, it shows the Government’s commitment to investing in sustainable eco-tourism, which is a vital component in promoting our economic fortunes.”

The area, being part of the Wicklow Mountains area, is very popular with hill walkers, day-trippers and picnic-goers. It includes - or has access to - mountains such as Mullaghcleevaun, Moanbane and Table Mountain. The land is a Special Area of Conservation (protected by EU Habitats Regulations) and is designated as an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by Wicklow County Council. The lands are of a high conservation quality and contain a mixture of Blanket Bog, Wet Heath and Dry Heath habitats. They are also important for many bird species - including Merlin and Red Grouse.

The Minister added - “in these tough economic times, more and more people are turning to inexpensive outdoor recreational activities and this acquisition provides further opportunity for such healthy pursuits. Our national parks are also a great tourist attraction and, in these difficult times, we must all do our bit to encourage that all-important tourist spend.”

Minister Gormley also mentioned the potential of the Red Kite project to attract tourists to the Wicklow area. “It is a well known fact that people will travel from afar to try and catch a glimpse of these magnificent birds. In Scotland, Sea Eagles attract thousands of visitors and have been shown to be worth up to €3 million annually. Eco-tourism is the way forward and all we need do is make these areas exciting and vibrant areas to visit.”

In conclusion, the Minister expressed his thanks and appreciation to all those involved in bringing this initiative to a successful conclusion - and, in particular, the vendor - Lord Waterford - for having the vision to give the State first option on the disposal of these important lands.

Controversial €1.2bn development gets go-ahead

A MASSIVE €1.2bn development opposed by a Labour Party TD was given the go-ahead last night -- and the developer behind the plan is confident it will be built, despite the collapse in the property market, writes Fiach Kelly.

The redevelopment of the Northside Shopping Centre in Coolock in Dublin was thrown into doubt after two objections were lodged to An Bord Pleanala, one of which came from Tommy Broughan, Labour's transport spokesperson.

However, a 16-storey tower at the centre of the 30-hectare scheme has been omitted from the permitted plan, with a stipulation that permission for a revised "landmark" be lodged within two years.

Brian O'Farrell, who bought the site from a Treasury Holdings subsidiary, says that an eight-storey tower will be included.

The scheme, one of the biggest to come before planning authorities for years, had been the subject of an oral hearing, but Mr O'Farrell, of N1 Property Developments, is hopeful that work will begin within 12 months.

The plan includes 1,340 apartments, libraries, medical centres and huge retail outlets, and Mr O'Farrell is confident it can still be a success despite the severe economic slowdown.

He says that the development will be built in phases over a five-year period.

Mr Broughan said last night that "it was very important to have an independent planning report" on the development.

"Dublin City Council is involved with the housing through a public private partnership so the council was basically a partner in the development, and residents wanted an independent planning process," he said.

Irish Independent

Corrib gas pipeline hearing opens

PLANNING chiefs opened a public hearing into the controversial Corrib gas pipeline route as a prominent protestor was jailed for the second time in less than two months.

Energy giant Shell and local environmentalists disagree on plans to extract massive stores of gas off the Mayo coast.

An Bord Pleanála opened its hearings into a revised onshore pipeline route yesterday amid claims by its designers that it was safer for local residents.

The hearings into the route are expected to last for possibly four weeks. Shell wants to lay 9.2km of onshore pipeline which will help will pump the raw gas ashore.

Shell’s engineers say the new onshore route is twice the distance from houses as the original design – 140 metres as opposed to the original 70. Shell also maintains the pipeline pressure is half what was originally put forth by the energy consortium for the last route.

The original pipeline route was exempt from planning nine years ago.

Shell and objectors drew up a schedule for hearings yesterday. The board’s inspector could complete a report on the hearings up to eight weeks after they are finished. It will then be up to board members to approve or reject Shell’s revised route.

Meanwhile, long-time Corrib protester and retired school principal Maura Harrington has been jailed for a second time in just two months. The 55-year-old has been jailed for 14 days for refusing to pay a €3,000 fine after being charged earlier this year with assaulting a garda.

Irish Examiner

Aerodrome can challenge rejection

WESTON AERODROME has been given High Court permission to challenge An Bord Pleanála’s rejection of its application to turn former farmyard buildings on its lands into light aircraft hangars.

Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe said Weston had established a substantial argument that the board, in refusing the permission, misinterpreted the meaning and effect of a previous permission for construction of buildings on the northeast of the aerodrome.

Weston claims the board misinterpreted the previous permission as having ruled out development involving intensification of use of the aerodrome.

The judge refused leave to Weston to pursue arguments that the refusal of permission was based on a material error or that the board had not complied with its obligations to state the reasons upon which the refusal was based.

He also ruled Weston had advanced no authority to indicate there was a presumption in the Kildare county development plan in favour of extending the aerodrome.

The private licensed aerodrome – between Lucan and Leixlip – got planning permission from Kildare County Council in 2005 for the change of use of farmyard buildings for storage of light aircraft. This was subject to a number of conditions, one of which Weston appealed.

An Bord Pleanála refused the appeal saying the development was unacceptable because it was intensification of the aerodrome in a piecemeal way and the location of the proposed hangars were likely to create a traffic hazard.

Irish Times

Revised Corrib route is 'safe'

Corrib gas consultants have said that a re-routed onshore pipeline is “safe” and meets all “relevant” codes and standards.

RPS Consultants for Shell E&P Ireland have told Bord Pleanála that the proposed new onshore pipeline route achieves “the optimum balance of community, environmental and technical criteria” developed by the consultants.

The consultants are among 17 witnesses for Shell E&P Ireland and partners Statoil and Marathon, listed to speak at an oral hearing which opened today in Belmullet, Co Mayo.

Some 78 submissions are to be heard for and against the application, which has been made under the Strategic
Infrastructure Act. The revised route for the 9.2 km onshore pipeline was selected as a result of a recommendation by Government mediator Peter Cassells in 2006.

Health and safety concerns about the original high pressure onshore pumping gas from the Corrib field off the Mayo coast into a refinery at Bellanaboy route led to the jailing of the five men known as the Rossport five for 94 days in 2005.

Opening the hearing, Mr Nolan expressed condolences to the families of the Belmullet-based Achill garda Terence Dever and Inver resident Stephen Conway, who both lost their lives in a car collision outside Belmullet ten days ago

Mr Nolan also appealed to parties at the hearing to engage in “reasoned point by point arguments” and making “heated contributions” would be less effective.

The hearing is expected to last three to four weeks with target decision take by mid-August.

Retired schoolteacher and Shell to Sea activist Maura Harrington was jailed for 14 days last night for
non-payment of fines related to her imprisonment for 30 days earlier this year. Ms Harrington has made a submission to the oral hearing.

Shell to Sea said it condemned “the continued persecution through political policing of protesters seeking to oppose the giveaway of Ireland’s natural resources through the Corrib Gas Project, and to protect the safety of the local area and its people.”

Erris fishermen who have not secured an agreement with Shell on laying the offshore pipeline in Broadhaven Bay have accused the company of breach of promise. Some of the fishermen staged a protest tie-up at Ballyglass pier this evening.

Irish Times

Oral hearing into new Corrib pipeline route opens today

ONE OF the last pieces in the complex jigsaw of statutory approvals needed for the Corrib gas project is due to be addressed in a Bord Pleanála hearing which opens today in north Mayo.

The oral hearing into a revised onshore pipeline route, linking the landfall at Broadhaven Bay to the Corrib gas refinery at Bellanaboy, is to be heard under the Strategic Infrastructure Act and is expected to last three to four weeks.

However, plans by Shell EP Ireland to resume attempts to lay the offshore pipeline with the ship Solitaire appear to have hit an obstacle, with failure to secure an agreement with Erris fishermen.

The Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association says that the company has not lived up to its promise in relation to discharges from an outfall pipe, which could harm sensitive marine areas.

“This is not about compensation or money – there is a principle involved here,” Eddie Diver, a spokesman for the Erris fishermen, told The Irish Times . Fishermen will remain at all times within the law, but will continue to fish in Broadhaven Bay, as is their legal right, he said.

An agreement secured by Shell last year had involved compensation for lost fishing time during pipelaying, but hinged on commitments to deal with the outfall pipe.

An Bord Pleanála inspector Martin Nolan is expected to hear some 78 submissions on a revised onshore pipeline routing, which represents the first ever planning application for any part of the pipeline. A second application by Shell EP Ireland and partners Statoil and Marathon for a compulsory acquisition order for access to private lands will also be handled at the hearing.

The original onshore pipeline route was exempted from planning approval under the Gas Acts. It was sanctioned by former marine minister Frank Fahey before the 2002 general election.

The hearing to open today will hear objections from a number of local residents and groupings. Statutory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency will also be represented.

Irish Times

Gas pipeline safety defended

CORRIB GAS project consultants have told an oral hearing of An Bord Pleanála that a modified onshore pipeline route is safe, meets all relevant codes and standards, and selection was open and transparent.

RPS Consulting Engineers technical director Ciarán Butler told the first day of the bilingual oral hearing in Belmullet, Co Mayo, that the proposed route achieves “the optimum balance of community, environmental and technical criteria” developed by the consultants.

However, the hearing heard confirmation that the Health and Safety Authority has no remit in the pipeline’s safety. The agency informed the appeals board that off-site gas pipelines are not controlled by the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2006.

Two objectors, landowners Bríd McGarry and Brendan Philbin of the “Rossport Five” group, also withdrew from the hearing after local residents sought unsuccessfully to clarify the jurisdiction of An Bord Pleanála in relation to the pipeline.

Michéal Ó Seighin, who was one of the men also imprisoned with Mr Philbin in 2005 over opposition to the original pipeline route, said clarification was important.

The appeals board, as an independent body, would be deciding whether people lose their land to the pipeline in a few months’ time, he said. Environmental consultant Peter Sweetman requested that one member of the inspection team from An Bord Pleanála hearing submissions should absent himself due to conflict of interest.

An Bord Pleanála presiding inspector Martin Nolan is hearing Shell EP Ireland’s revised onshore pipeline route application, and a separate application for compulsory acquisition orders to land on the route, under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

His supporting team includes An Bord Pleanála senior inspector Stephen O’Sullivan, pipeline expert Nigel Wright and geotechnical engineering expert Conor O’Donnell. The new route, identified by RPS, acting as consultants for Shell, runs a minimum 140 metres from occupied housing, according to Shell – twice the minimum separation distance of 70 metres from housing in the original pipeline route.

The route runs through special areas of conservation as protected under the EU habitats directive. It arose as a result of a recommendation by Government mediator Peter Cassells in 2006.

Describing the selection procedure for the 9.2km high pressure pipeline route from the landfall at Glengad to the gas refinery at Bellanaboy, RPS engineering expert Ciarán Butler said it included a more complex landfall valve installation at the shoreline at Glengad.

This was because a “fail safe” isolation valve had been designed to comply with the relevant codes and standards, as part of a commitment to reduce pressure in the pipeline to 144 bar.

The hearing is one of the last stages in the series of statutory approvals sought for the project. Shell EP Ireland is currently preparing to proceed with laying the offshore pipeline in advance of onshore approval, but has not secured agreement with fishermen who staged a peaceful protest at Ballyglass pier last night.

Witnesses at the hearing will include a number of Government departments and agencies. Local residents and groupings opposed to the routing include An Taisce, the Rossport Solidarity Camp, and Erris community groups Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal Le Chéile.

Pobal Chill Chomáin has successfully sought the intervention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development due to alleged breaches of guidelines. Pro-Gas Mayo, Chambers Ireland, the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association, Goodbody Economic Consultants and the Council for the West have made submissions in favour.

The hearing continues today.

Irish Times

Monday 18 May 2009

Major security operation planned for Corrib pipe-laying

A SHIP that will lay the underwater pipeline for Shell EP Ireland’s controversial Corrib gas project in Co Mayo is due to recommence work there within a month.

Gardaí are planning a major security operation to ensure the ship’s work is not interrupted by protesters. Security sources have told The Irish Times that while the policing plans are still being formulated, the Garda is expected to seek assistance from the Naval Service in protecting the Solitaire pipe-laying vessel.

The Navy’s ships are expected to patrol Broadhaven Bay, near Belmullet, in an attempt to deter protesters from paddling up the Solitaire and disrupting its work, as they did last year.

The Solitaire was damaged last September as work began laying the pipeline from the Corrib gas fields to the landfall site at Glengad beach near Belmullet. A 100m section of the Solitaire’s pipe-laying apparatus, known as “the stinger”, became detached in high winds and heavy swell.

The work was abandoned for the winter in mid-September but not before protesters in kayaks repeatedly clashed with gardaí patrolling the bay in small vessels. Naval vessels were also drafted in to patrol the area.

Tensions between locals and the Garda and Shell’s private security staff were heightened when one local protester, Maura Harrington, went on hunger strike. The 55-year-old retired school teacher called off her action when the Solitaire was forced to leave Irish waters for repairs.

The 300-metre Solitaire, the largest pipe-laying vessel in the world, is due back in Co Mayo as early as the second week in June. However, that arrival date is provisional because the vessel will only be able to lay the underwater pipeline if weather conditions permit.

The vessel’s arrival is likely to result in further protests in the area. Gardaí believe that, like last year, the ship’s presence will attract protesters from the UK and mainland Europe.

Recent protests at the Glengad landfall site have become increasingly robust. Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy visited Belmullet Garda station last week to address gardaí there. Sources said he told those present that while people opposed to the project had a right to protest, local gardaí had his support and the support of the public in keeping those protests within the law. Mr Murphy was in Mayo to attend the funeral of Garda Terry Devers, who was killed in a road collision while travelling to work in Belmullet last Sunday morning. Local teenager Stephen Conway, who was driving the other vehicle, was also killed.

Three weeks ago trouble flared almost immediately Shell began works at the landfall site in Glengad after the winter break.

Gardaí said on April 22nd about 15 masked men carrying chains and iron bars gained access to the construction site. One of the men started a digger and used it to damage the site’s perimeter fence.

One security worker sustained an arm injury before he and has colleagues fled the site.

A number of hours later protester Willie Corduff was hospitalised after he was removed from the site, where he had climbed under the wheels of a lorry to prevent it from being used.

Mr Corduff said he had been held down and beaten by a group of men after he emerged from under the lorry to stretch his legs.

Last weekend seven protesters were arrested and charged after attempts were made to pull down fencing. Protesters believe the State has negotiated a poor deal that will benefit Shell with little benefit for the public coffers.

Irish Times

Sligo's main street may re-open to traffic

SLIGO’S MAIN Street may re-open to traffic almost three years after it was pedestrianised – despite the fact that close to €500,000 has already been spent on the project.

Local city councillors have directed the county manager to re-open O’Connell Street to traffic on the basis that the estimated €4.5 million cost of carrying out the long-awaited enhancement works is unlikely to become available in the current economic climate.

Councillors unanimously backed a Section 140 motion at this week’s meeting of the council directing county manager Hubert Kearns to re-open the street.

But Mr Kearns is now seeking legal advice on the basis that the motion may be in contravention of the local development plan. In a report to councillors, officials said that any decision to open the street to traffic might require legal advice, because pedestrianisation was included in the Sligo and Environs Development Plan 2004-2010.

Mr Kearns has pointed out that there was no motion on the agenda to vary the plan. He has also questioned whether funds will be available to reopen the street.

According to officials €453,120 has been spent so far on pedestrianisation, while another €224,404 has been committed in 2009. Elected members were told that it will cost an additional €100,000 to re-open the street to traffic, given the cost of upgrading footpaths, re-surfacing the street and putting in pedestrian crossings.

Elected members argued that it was premature to close the street before funding was in place to provide the necessary street furniture and to enhance the amenities.

Communities living in the riverside communities of Doorly Park and Martin Savage Terrace have welcomed the decision to reopen the street, while others have argued that returning traffic to the city centre would be a backward step. Residents in the east ward have argued that they are cut off from the other side of the city because of the current traffic flow.

It has also been suggested that failure to complete the necessary refurbishment works has meant that many people still keep to the footpaths and do not perceive the street as an amenity for pedestrians.

The street was closed to traffic in August 2006.

Before that, an estimated 600 vehicles per hour at peak times and 7,000 vehicles per day travelled down O’Connell Street.

Officials argued that before O’Connell Street was closed, it was pedestrian unfriendly because narrow footpaths forced pedestrians on to the road surface and hindered mobility for wheelchair and pushchair users.

They also argued that enhancement works can take a long time to complete; pointing out that, for example, the enhancement of Grafton Street in Dublin took eight years.

Irish Times