Environmental group describes decision by An Bord Pleanala as “disappointing”

Environmental group describes decision by An Bord Pleanala as “disappointing”

By Aideen O'Flaherty

AN ENVIRONMENTAL group has described An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant permission for a contentious tourism project at the Hellfire Club and Massy’s Wood as “disappointing”.

The €19m tourism project includes plans for the development of a visitor centre with an exhibition space, a panoramic café, toilets, changing facilities, a walkers’ lounge, an education centre and retail at the Hellfire Club, and a treetop canopy walk connecting the centre with Massy’s Wood.

Artists impression of proposed visitors centre compressor

Artists impression of proposed visitors centre

The plans were proposed by South Dublin County Council in 2017, before being put forward by the council, Coillte and the Dublin Mountains Partnership for planning permission.

Local farmers, conservationists and residents lodged objections to the plans, which led to An Bord Pleanála holding an oral hearing about the development across three days in November 2018.

Twenty third-party submissions were made on the plans about a number of topics earlier this year, when the window for submissions reopened following a request from ABP for additional information from the applicant.

The submissions included concerns about the red squirrel population, the bird surveys that were carried out by the applicant, the potential impact on biodiversity, and numerous submissions called for another oral hearing.

The appeals body made three separate requests for additional information, which the applicant supplied in each instance, and last week permission was granted for the development.

Aerial view of model of proposed visitors centre compressor

Aerial view of model of proposed visitors centre

Elizabeth Davidson from the Save the Hellfire group said that she was “disappointed” that permission had been granted, but added that she was awaiting the publication of the Inspector’s Report.

“It’s disappointing for us, and for the 160+ people who put in submissions, and the 24,000 people who signed a petition against the plans,” said Ms Davidson.

“We had substantial submissions and representation at the oral hearing, and we have been fighting against this development for four years.

“We’re worried about the impact the development will have on biodiversity – there is no time to waste when we’re dealing with things like climate change.”

When asked about her thoughts on the development going ahead, Ms Davidson said: “It’s an extraordinary thought, I think it’s completely incomprehensible that the council is going to do this.”

Permission for the development was granted on June 25 with a number of conditions, including the stipulation that the Operation Management Plan is to be updated to include proposals to ensure that there is no potential for conflicts between pedestrians and horses in Massy’s Wood.

When speaking at the oral hearing in November 2018, Paul Keogh, an architect for South Dublin County Council, said that a “do nothing scenario” would be unsustainable as visitor numbers are expected to increase in the coming years.

Mr Keogh said that the aim of the development was to “accommodate a large number and wider range of users” and that there would be economic benefits as the visitor centre would increase the “dwell time” of Hellfire Club visitors.

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