Michael Fisher Northern Standard
Brian Murray S.C. for EirGrid confirmed that any work around the pylons would be within the 19m red line space indicated on maps supplied to the Planning Board. He clarified that there would also be a 30m working area around each of the pylons.
This working area would have fencing around it but the erection of the fencing would not involve excavation in any circumstances as the fencing would be free-standing.
Replying to a claim that in some cases temporary access routes to a pylon crossed walls, Mr Murray said if they had been identified, then EirGrid had addressed them by alternative routes and they were happy to address such matters if they were drawn to their attention. His colleague Jarlath Fitzsimons S.C. pointed out that the laying of mats and temporary fencing at a site did not constitute a development and EirGrid had clearly stated this. There would be no removal of gateposts at any location in the Republic, he added.
This section dealt with public and landowner consultation.
CMAPC VIEWS ON CONSULTATION
Allen McAdam, a representative of the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee, said the public consultation process had been selectively used by EirGrid to produce the desired outcome. He said the project would bring no economic benefit to Monaghan. However EirGrid said it had carried out consultation that had been meaningful and accountable in accordance with international principles. It also acknowledged that lessons had been learned from feedback received regarding the proposed development. All comments had been brought back and used by the project team.
The social and economic development consultant from Carrickmacross said CMAPC had major concerns in relation to the methodology, approach and execution of the public consultation undertaken by EirGrid and its agents. In the absence of generic national guidelines on best practice in public consultation, the experience by consultees along the proposed line route of the methods used for this project varied from confusing to chaotic.
Mr McAdam is a former chief executive of Cavan/Monaghan LEADER with experience of public consultation processes. He is not one of the landowners directly affected by the construction of pylons but his house is 350m away from the nearest pylon.
He said the consultation process had failed from the outset to provide the general public with adequate visibility of the project. Almost eight years after the process came into the public domain, EirGrid representatives started contacting schools, community groups to try and infiltrate local communities and bribe them with ‘community gain’ money. Mr McAdam claimed this was an underhand approach and a serious interference in the planning process, which the committee understood was a semi-judicial process.
The marketing of mis-information about the project was executed very professionally, he claimed. When the regional action plan for jobs was published by the Department of Jobs Enteprise and Innovation, the interconnector project featured as a driver of job creation, without any evidence to suggest benefit. This was the type of spin consultees on the project had to deal with, he told the inquiry.
Mr McAdam continued: “Let us be clear: this project has no economic benefits to Co. Monaghan. This project can be compared to a motorway going through Monaghan with no roads on or off. No electricity can be put onto this line except in Tyrone or in Meath, as there is no substation in the area.”
“The time has come for the smoke and mirrors to be pushed aside. This line is being developed solely to supply electricity to Northern Ireland, plain and simple. When we talk of strategic infrastructure, of strategic importance to whom are we referring. The answer is quite simple our neighbours in Northern Ireland, not of strategic importance to the Republic of Ireland.”
“The question needs to be asked as to why are the needs of the people of Monaghan in terms of protecting their properties, they livelihoods, their countryside and their beautiful corner of rural Ireland being sold out to accommodate the needs of Northern Ireland, who through lack of foresight and proper future- and resilience-proofing of their electricity supply needs, find themselves in a position where they will run out of electricity in a few short years. I ask the question: are the views and needs of the residents of Northern Ireland more valued than the residents of County Monaghan?”
There was no evidence to suggest any meaningful feedback was collated and relayed to the people of Monaghan, he said. In a number of cases regarding the route access point for construction of pylons, the landowners were not approached or contacted by any means to inform them of the proposal contained in this planning application until a few short days prior to the lodging of this second EirGrid application.
Accountable consultation meant a project only moved forward once each phase had been appropriately dealt with. Obviously EirGrid thought it was appropriate to move from the final re-evaluation stage to the preferred project solution stage in just six weeks without taking into account the consultation that was held in Co. Monaghan.
Mr McAdam told the inspectors that in March 2015, EirGrid reviewed the line and moved eleven pylons in Monaghan without so much as a shred of public consultation or indeed consultation with the affected landowners. They were just issued new maps and in essence told to like it or lump it.
County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee organised three consultation/information events in May 2013 in the local community centres of the affected areas (Cremartin, Aughnamullen and Corduff-Raferagh) in order to facilitate EirGrid. In excess of 600 people attended these events but yet again the genuine concerns presented to EirGrid were dismissed and relegated to an appendix in their final report which was published swiftly a few short weeks later.
A short one-page questionnaire was developed and made available for completion as attendees left the consultation after meeting EirGrid representatives. Of the 600 or so that attended, 460 questionnaires were completed.
Summary of key findings
- 65% of respondents were local residents, 34% landowners directly affected and 1% public representatives.
- 95% of respondents attended the consultation sessions to lodge an objection.
- 99% of respondents indicated that they were not in favour of the project in its current format.
- 53% felt that there questions were only partly answered by Eirgrid staff and 38% felt that their questioned were unanswered.
- 58% went to the consultations with a specific question they wanted answered, 9% had their question answered, 53% had it partly answered and 38% not at all.
The numbers of landowners with property directly in the path of the line route who have participated in the consultation process has not been documented or acknowledged, nor has the large percentage that have expressed concerns or opposition to the project through their properties.
It is therefore factually correct to say that the results of the consultation process were skewed and interpreted in an unfair manner, with a pre determined result in mind, which is in keeping with the pre-planning consultation meeting for the first attempt at this application with An Bord Pleanala in July 2007.
To this day no detailed breakdown of the results of the consultation process with the general public has been published. The opinions and views of landowners, community organisations or the broader local community have not been published. The only information that has been published is correspondence from state agencies that are in support of the project. This selective publication has proven divisive and counter productive and does nothing to generate any confidence in the planning and consultation process.
In conclusion Mr McAdam said the Anti-Pylon Committee felt strongly that the consultation process had fallen far short of what should be required for a project of this magnitude. They accepted that levels of engagement did improve the second time around, however no credence was given to the views of the vast majority of those that did participate.
Padraig O’Reilly of North East Pylon Pressure Campaign said there was a widely held view that the consultation process was a sham and a pretence. It was quite clear, he said, that EirGrid had pre-determined the type of application and the overhead nature of the line. From day one there were no plans to make any changes despite EirGrid’s rhetoric about consultation with landowners and members of the public.
Mr O’Reilly referred to the fact that the ballroom where the public hearing was taking place was quite empty on Wednesday compared to the previous hearing in 2010 when many objectors were present. He claimed this highlighted the lack of confidence and disillusionment among landowners in the way the process had gone over the last six years since EirGrid withdrew the previous application.
He added that the lack of public attendance was not a message that there was any reduction in resistance to the overhead lines proposal. It was still a very live issue and his group had held a number of very well attended public meetings in the past year to discuss their opposition. He told the inspectors there was no genuine plan by EirGrid to consult or to get information on landowners. The manner they had gone about it was unacceptable, he said.
He said a large number of landowners were totally unaware that EirGrid intended to use their land and property to get access to construct pylons on a neighbour’s lands. In addition, some of those landowners that were designated for having pylons erected on their property were unaware of plans by EirGrid to seek an access route that would go on a neighbour’s land.
The NEPPC representative quoted a letter from one landowner the group was representing at the hearing. He told them he had been totally unaware of what was being proposed for his property until they told him. EirGrid was planning to use his house entrance for an access route that would go through his property. He would be obliged to demolish a stables to allow access to his neighbour’s property.
The NEPPC representative pointed out that there had been no public or site notices about the proposed access routes for construction of the pylons. He claimed that in the current application the EirGrid submission had used a lot of the information that had been shared with them six years ago.
A company that had loads of resources should be doing its own job properly, he said. For that reason he was not in a position to give the company information about the problems of individual landowners on this occasion.
Mr O’Reilly claimed that photomontages submitted by EirGrid were not representative of the impact on the environment of the planned pylons. The photos rarely showed a house, he said. He compared three pictures provided by the Board with three of their own, which he said showed more clearly the effect of having a pylon close to a house
Neasa Kane is a consultant with RPS Project Communications which has been advising EirGrid on handling the public consultation exercise. She said that the company had learned lessons since the last application. Consultation had been meaningful and accountable. The feedback received regarding the proposed development had been brought back and used by the project team.
She said the company had adopted multiple channels in reaching out to people to ensure there was an awareness of the project at all stages. These included the establishment of a low-cost phone line, publishing brochures, opening information centres including one in Carrickmacross, extensive media campaigns and additional events.
Regarding a claim by the NEPPC and CMAPC that some landowners affected by the construction of the pylons were not identified by Eirgrid, project engineer Shane Brennan said as they as far they were aware, all landowners were identified based on the most recent and up-to-date land registry information.
The presiding inspector accepted that Eirgrid were constrained by the land registry information, but said the issue would come up at a later point in the oral hearing.
SINN FÉIN REACTION
Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West Matt Carthy attended the first day of the oral hearing along with Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín. Mr Carthy said: “The plan to construct 299 pylons at 26-51 metres height each through the counties of Monaghan, Cavan and Meath is fiercely opposed by the vast majority within our communities.”
He went on: “It is my firm belief that EirGrid have failed to understand the depth of local opposition to the construction of these pylons. Sinn Féin representatives have been working closely with all those groups and communities across Monaghan, Armagh, Cavan and Meath who have been campaigning on this issue since 2007 and it is clear that their determination is as resolute as ever. The concerns of local communities are very real; there are genuine concerns in relation to health, safety, the environment and economic development of the areas concerned.”
“The position of these communities is very clear – this project can only proceed if undergrounded. Sinn Féin supports this stance – the party has prepared a submission to an Bord Pleanála and my colleague Peadar Toibín prepared legislation on this issue during the last Dáil term. The fact is that EirGrid have been able to underground other projects on a similar scale such as Grid West and Grid Link and it has been confirmed that undergrounding is also possible in this case.”
“Indeed, many argue that in the medium to long term, undergrounding is economically beneficial. Of course, in order to address this issue in the comprehensive manner it requires there is an onus on the new government, when it is in place, to direct that all high voltage power line networks proceed only on the basis of undergrounding.”