BORD PLEANÁLA HEARING ON EIRGRID INTERCONNECTOR PLAN OPENS
Michael Fisher NORTHERN STANDARD
A legal move by anti-pylon campaigners failed to halt the opening on Monday of a planning enquiry into a major project by EirGrid to construct a high voltage electricity line through Meath and parts of Cavan and Monaghan extending into Northern Ireland. Two inspectors from An Bord Pleanála began a hearing in Carrickmacross concerning the proposed North/South 400kV interconnector.
The hearing has been divided into two parts and it’s expected it could last up to three months. Over 900 submissions comprising over 2000 people and groups were made to An Bord Pleanála, most of them objecting to the overhead power lines and pylons.
Project overview and views of the planning authorities.
The inspectors heard an overview of the project from EirGrid and brief submissions by planners from the three local authorities involved. But when the inspectors began the section dealing with legal and statutory processes, a challenge was made by a lawyer on behalf of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign.
He asked the inspectors to adjourn the oral hearing because NEPPC had earlier in the day attempted to get it stopped at the High Court in Dublin. Judge Humphreys did not grant an interlocutory injunction but agreed to a review involving all parties on Friday 18th March. Senior planning inspector Breda Gannon said she intended to proceed with the hearing until such time as she received any court order to stop.
Sitting alongside another inspector Deirdre McGowan, Ms Gannon explained at the outset that this was an information gathering exercise for the Board. She said she would prepare a report and make a recommendation. The ultimate decision on the application rested with the Board, who she said might or might not approve it, with or without modifications.
This is the second such inquiry in over five years. A previous hearing in 2010 ended abruptly when a discrepancy was exposed in the planning documentation regarding the height of pylons and EirGrid withdrew the application.
The high voltage line proposed by EirGrid would connect the electricity systems on both sides of the border. It would run for 103km from an existing sub-station at Woodland near Batterstown in County Meath, through a small part of County Cavan and through 42 townlands in County Monaghan. This section in the Republic would have 299 pylons ranging in height from 26m to 51m above ground level to carry the overhead wires. 165 of the pylons would be in County Meath, covering 54.5km and 134 in Cavan/Monaghan covering 46km of the line.
At Lemgare near Clontibret the line would cross into County Armagh and thence to Turleenan near the Moy in County Tyrone. This section is subject to a separate investigation by the NI Planning Appeals Commission, which will hold a one-day preliminary hearing in Armagh in June to consider legal issues.
A barrister for EirGrid outlined why the semi-state company needed to construct the second interconnector. He outlined some of the technical reasons why the line was needed to balance the supply systems North and South.
Jarlath Fitzsimons S.C. told the hearing the project was essential to secure safe, reliable, economic and efficient electricity supply between the Republic and Northern Ireland. He said that an independent report by international experts in 2012 had estimated that undergrounding of the wires would cost three times more than putting them overhead. EirGrid was therefore proposing that the best technical solution was for a wholly overhead line.
He explained that the electricity markets North and South were interlinked and interdependent. If for any reason either accidental or deliberate the current interconnector was disabled then the consequences would be very grave indeed. If the imbalance caused by such an event was not corrected quickly then a system could collapse, he said.
Mr Fitzsimons said it was estimated the development would save €20m annually from 2020 rising to between €40m and €60m from 2030 onwards.
EirGrid senior planning consultant Des Cox explained the proposed route for the interconnector. Using maps he showed how the pylons had been sited in order to avoid residential areas where possible. Consideration was also given to avoid areas where there were important archaeological or geological features, and heritage interests. He said the application included a temporary storage yard for materials outside Carrickmacross.
MONAGHAN COUNTY COUNCIL
Toirleach Gourley a senior executive planner with Monaghan County Council said the EirGrid response to submissions published in December represented much of what was set out in the original application. A number of issues previously raised by the Council remained to be addressed, he said. He outlined some of these for the inspectors. Some of the detail about temporary access routes for the construction of pylons was quite limited.
Regarding photomontages that had been supplied by EirGrid, he said a number of these were not representative of the views at various locations and no new information had been provided to address this issue. Concerning roads, the Council still had concerns about the transport of excess soil from pylon construction sites to a waste disposal area and how it could impact on local roads that could not physically accommodate larger vehicles. The proposed video survey of roads before and after the erection of pylons was inadequate in terms of identifying any damage to them.
Mr Gourley said the Co. Monaghan heritage officer believed there was still insufficient information regarding the potential impact on archaeology and protected structures. The view of the council’s tourism officer was that the development will have an adverse impact on tourism in the county, in areas such as the Monaghan Way.
A senior executive planner for Meath County Council Fiona Redmond pointed out that since their submission last year commenting on the EirGrid application, the Council had approved in December a new county development contribution scheme 2016-2021 which came into effect on 1st January. She pointed out that the infrastructure charge for erecting a 400 kV pylon would be €10,000 per pylon to be paid by the developer.
CMAPC SUBMISSION ON LEGAL PROCESSES
The County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee was represented by Nigel Hillis. He told the inspectors EirGrid last week published its latest All Island Generation Capacity Statement 2016 – 2025. It stated that the second North-South interconnector was vital to ensure the security of electricity supply for the future in both Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“In association with the competent authorities in the respective jurisdictions, we are actively progressing work to deliver this Project of Common Interest by 2019”, the document said.
Mr Hillis observed that it was not clear from this if the competent authorities referred to were the competent authorities under the (cross-border) Project of Common Interest regulations or the competent authorities with regards to planning matters.
In any event it did not matter as there was only one competent decision making authority in this case, namely An Bord Pleanála. So therefore, EirGrid and An Bord Pleanála were actively progressing work to deliver this PCI.
Mr Hillis asked if this planning application had been prejudged. “Has the decision been made? Are we wasting our time coming to this oral hearing?”, he told the inspectors.
A lawyer for the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign requested that their submission on legal matters be adjourned until the morning as their senior counsel was not in a position to make a presentation, owing to his involvement that day with the case in Dublin.
Presiding Inspector Breda Gannon said the NEPPC was inconveniencing the hearing. She had allocated five hours for them to speak and in the circumstances she had no choice but to finish the first day of the hearing early. She penalised the group by reducing their allocated time to three hours when the hearing resumed on Tuesday morning.