This section was devoted to elected representatives from Monaghan, Cavan and Meath
Michael Fisher The Northern Standard
Public representatives from the three main parties in Meath and Cavan/Monaghan were united in their opposition to EirGrid’s plan for a North/South electricity interconnector when stage two of a Bord Pleanála oral hearing into the planning application began on Monday. All pointed out that local communities and landowners were strongly against the overhead line. EirGrid again defended its decision not to put the cables underground on grounds of cost and security.
CAOIMHGHÍN Ó CAOLÁIN T.D. party spokesperson on health and Cavan/Monaghan TD said there was very real anger and anguish in families and communities along the proposed route of the interconnector and further afield. He had experienced the vehement opposition to EirGrid’s plans at public meeting after public meeting. It knew no political or religious boundaries or borders. That vehement opposition equated with a mighty roar and one that must be heard, heeded and respected.
Like the overwhelming number of those directly affected by EirGrid’s plans, his party did not oppose the development of a North/South interconnector. What they opposed was the proposal to introduce this infrastructure by means of pylon supported overhead power lines. They supported the project proceeding by underground cabling, a technically feasible and very affordable method of delivering what they were told was a necessary power delivery link-up. Undergrounding was not only the most cost effective way to proceed, it was the only way to proceed. Holding to the overhead pylon approach meant facing continuing strong resistance, including protracted and costly court appearances and likely physical blockading and ever deepening entrenchment, with growing public disquiet and negativity towards EirGrid.
He said the company had shown scant regard for the wellbeing of the targeted and unwilling host families and communities in the affected area. Those who lived in close proximity to the proposed route had suffered grievously from stress and anxiety that had impacted on their physical health and mental wellbeing.
He claimed people were suffering from depression, sleep disorders, concentration difficulties, nervousness, loss of appetite and from fatigue. Men and women, fathers and mothers, had lost the yen for life, he said, and the interest in investing their energies and talents into developing and improving their holdings, their homes, their enterprise.
While they were told that overhead power lines were low-frequency, there was no disputing the fact that the electromagnetic fields they created caused a heating effect in matter within a given proximity and this was increased by the degree of energy in transit. He quoted from a World Health Organisation report (2004) on ‘Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity’ that said between 1% and 3% of the world’s population were affected by electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome. Mr Ó Caoláin claimed this meant, by extension, that between one and three in every 100 people across five counties from Meath to Tyrone who would be exposed to the overhead power line EMFs would, because of their natural make-up and disposition, develop one or any number of potential ill effects.
NIAMH SMYTH T.D. Fianna Fáil expressed her total objection to the proposed development in its current form and said it could not go ahead without public acceptance. Local people were distraught by this development on the grounds of health, devaluation of land, destruction of local heritage, flora and fauna along with many other reasons, she said.
She told the inquiry government policy had been to allow such development to take place in the west as an underground project. She urged An Bord Pleanála to use the same social conscience for the people of Cavan, Monaghan and Meath. She accepted the need for the North-South interconnector but vehemently disagreed with both the scale of the proposal and the choice of overhead transmission lines instead of underground cables. She said people’s concerns had not been adequately answered by EirGrid to give them peace of mind. Therefore this application did not have the basic principle in place of “public acceptance” and could not go ahead.
The reasons why local people were so distraught by this proposed development related to health, devaluation of land, and destruction of local heritage, flora and fauna
along with many other reasons. She referred to the beautiful and historical Lough-an-Leagh mountain, a major tourist attraction in East Cavan with nature walks such as Adrian’s Way and home of the sacred grounds of an ancient mass rock which attracted thousands of visitors every year. This was in very close proximity to Muff National School with 130 children. There was also the famous and oldest festival in the country, “The Fair of Muff”. The proposed line would run near these locations.
People in that area were very concerned that if the North/South interconnector was approved, it would soon be followed by a major substation near Kingscourt. EirGrid had conceded the interconnector could only be built if public acceptance existsed. Why then was undergrounding being dismissed as if the will of the people was irrelevant? Great play was being made by the company on the ‘urgency’ of this project and on the risks to consumers in the North if it did not go ahead. If it was genuinely so urgent, then surely undergrounding was the best way forward, even if ‘sub-optimal’?
In the North it had been decided for the same project to have two separate stages to the public hearing: firstly determine if the application was valid, then and only then engage the public in the oral hearing process. Why was this not considered in the Republic, to reduce the public’s potential waste of time and resources? Why has NEPPC to go to the courts basically to achieve the same parity of esteem automatically accorded to the people in Northern Ireland?
BRENDAN SMITH T.D. her Cavan/Monaghan constituency colleague claimed people in the North East were being treated as second class citizens compared to other parts of the country. He said the proposed monstrous pylons were not acceptable. Undergrounding was not estimated to be 1.5 times the cost of an overhead line and the EirGrid Chief Executive had said it was ‘technically feasible’.
EIRGRID RESPONSE ON UNDERGROUNDING
Following the submissions by public representatives EirGrid project manager Aidan Geoghegan again explained why the company had opted for the cross-country overhead route. He also denied that they had not consulted about an underground option. Mr Geoghegan also dismissed claims that the interconnector would bring no benefit to the three counties in the Republic that the proposed line would cross.
As well as the TDs, evidence was also given to the inspectors by a former Fine Gael TD Sean Conlan and by eleven of the eighteen Monaghan Councillors.
CLLR NOEL KEELAN, Cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, said he wanted to put on record the total opposition by the people of the county to the project in its current form. There was a sense of déjà vu: nothing had changed in the past six years since the previous application, he claimed. It was unacceptable that people in this area were being treated totally differently than elsewhere by EirGrid. He claimed the application showed a number of possible breaches of the county development plan 2013-19.
CLLR PAT TREANOR of Sinn Féin (Ballybay-Clones) said at each meeting between the Council and EirGrid representatives the members had sought further information on undergrounding of the cables to allow construction of the interconnector on that alternative basis. But none had been forthcoming. He said there was almost absolute unanimity on this issue, with an estimated 97% of landowners in Monaghan opposing the application but supporting undergrounding. The plan before the Board did not have public or community confidence or acceptance, he said.
Cllr Treanor said the appointment of liaison officers and EirGrid’s references to ‘community gain’ were seen overwhelmingly as an attempt to divide communities. The call for real and meaningful engagement, with a full consideration of all options, including undergrounding, had long been voiced by residents, landowners, campaign groups and public representatives. But he had no confidence that this had happened.
The County Monaghan Development Plan stated that undergrounding should be considered in the first instance. The Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 (Section 36) required the applicant to submit information to allow An Bord Pleanála to decide on its jurisdiction over the project. But there had been so many amendments by EirGrid to the original application that in his view, An Bord did not have the proper information in order to make a decision. He urged the Board to reject the application.
FIANNA FÁIL COUNCILLORS
CLLR SEAMUS COYLE introduced the Fianna Fáil representatives. He said the access routes EirGrid proposed to use for construction work were generally narrow country roads with no lay-bys for traffic to pass and their structural condition was already very poor. EirGrid had not carried out a detailed investigation about the road structures. They were proposing to use for access to pylon sites (in several cases) small private laneways that had been designed for a horse and cart.
The elected representatives in Monaghan strongly felt that the proposed overground option instead of undergrounding would provide long-term negative health, amenity and financial impacts for the residents and landowners in the affected areas. They felt the underground alternative had not been properly researched by EirGrid. In the case of the Grid Link and Grid West projects numerous alternative detailed options had been offered and the most advantageous solution accepted.
The potential for short-term cost saving gain had to be measured against the long-term overall implications for the most important factor: the residents of the area who would have to live their lives against the backdrop of unsightly intrusive pylons, a damaged roads infrastructure, potential pollution of ground waters, dramatically reduced land values and visual eyesores that would remain there for generations to come.
Cllr Coyle noted that this was a Project of Common Interest (PCI) as it was a transboundary application between two jurisdictions. In his party’s view, the quality of the applications should have been equal in detail. The major difference between the applications was that in the Northern Ireland application, access was given by landowners for Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) to access their lands to carry out detailed surveys and assess the land terrain and access lanes, wildlife and hedgerows.
The absence of detailed measured and levelled surveys for each individual site was a source of concern. Access lane widths and road widths should be accurately measured to ensure that the proposed access by construction vehicles was possible, as well as determining if hedgerows needed to be removed to facilitate sight visibility splays. He said the proposal did not satisfactorily address the policies in the current Development Plan for County Monaghan that as councillors they had helped to prepare.
From an environmental viewpoint the protection of rivers and watercourses as well as the roads infrastructure was vital. The proposal did not in their opinion address these concerns to a satisfactory level, he said.
Protecting the landscapes and the tourism and amenity value of the county was another aspect that the elected representatives would fight hard to maintain. The EirGrid proposal did not provide enough information to ensure these core issues would be protected. The Fianna Fáil group strongly believed that the overground cable proposal selected by EirGrid was totally unsuitable for the project. They believed the provision of an underground cable network, clearly defined, offered the best way to achieve a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution. Facilitating the supply of power to another jurisdiction should not compromise the natural beauty of our countryside or result in long-term scarring of our landscape. Short-term gain would lead to long-term pain in this instance, he concluded.
CLLR PADRAIG MCNALLY said in more than thirty years as a councillor he had never before witnessed such a galvanisation against any project. There had been a lack of proper communication with the community by EirGrid, he said. They could not allow the company to come along and put a blot on the landscape in Monaghan among the hills, because the county was hoping to adopt a new strategy to attract tourism in the next few years.
Cllr McNally said EirGrid had lost a lot of credibility owing to the errors in the previous application. He referred to a planning application he had made to Monaghan county council, which he said operated strict criteria. One letter of the townland name in the address had been spelt incorrectly. He had been asked to withdraw it and re-apply because of that small mistake.
CLLR PJ O’HANLON queried why EirGrid had applied to open a temporary storage yard outside Carrickmacross for the sections of steel pylons and for soil removed from the various pylon sites beside one of the finest hotels in Ulster, where they were attending the oral hearing (a short distance from the Nuremore Hotel on a stretch of abandoned road beside the N2 Carrick bypass). That showed the amount of concern EirGrid had regarding tourism in the area, he claimed.
In the Corduff/Raferagh area the pylons would be placed close to one of the largest poultry producers in Ireland. Who was concerned about the effect on the chicken farmers? He claimed EirGrid was only thinking of its own balance sheet. All political parties were united against this application and it should be rejected, he said.
FINE GAEL COUNCILLORS
CLLR SEAN GILLILAND queried the photomontages that had been produced by EirGrid taken at various vantage points along the route. He showed the inspectors a series of photographs which he said gave more realistic views of the effects of individual pylons close to property and sited on top of drumlins. He claimed the line would be seen from a high point at Mullyash mountain even though it was 6km away.
He said EirGrid had gone to great length to persuade An Bord Pleanála that they had taken immense pains to minimalise the visual impact of the pylons on the environment. He said his photographs would show that (even at its least intrusive) a scar of 108 Pylons through the county of Monaghan would have a devastating impact on the visual environment, the people who lived there and their ability to promote the Farney county to potential tourists.
Cllr Gilliland pointed out that the shaping of the visual topography of County Monaghan was the legacy of the vast ice sheets during the last ice age and the deliberate human management over 5000 years of human settlement. EirGrid had described the landscape as ‘sparsely populated’, suggesting it was ‘uninhabited’. Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. County Monaghan was a patchwork of small residential farms adjacent to their land holdings. Families had inherited these small enterprises from their predecessors along with traditions and community bonds. The value of this inheritance and the value of the land and homes was inalienable. But if EirGrid got permission to overground the project then the farm and home would become worthless. Families would have nothing to hand onto the next generation; people would leave and then the land would become uninhabited.
The deliberate and careful management of the landscape had been ongoing for thousands of years; the issue at the heart of the matter was its protection. He would illustrate that the overgrounding of the North/South interconnector in no way protected the landscape; it defiled it.
EirGrid intended to place 65% of its 108 pylons on the top half or directly on top of hills and drumlins. This would have the effect of magnifying the visual impact of the pylon in the immediate environs. Many pylons would be towering over homes and in full view of scenic walks such as the Monaghan Way.
Cllr Gilliland observed that EirGrid had provided a series of photomontages to illustrate the visual impact. He claimed the company had been dishonest in the placement of many of the photos and it was his intention to provide additional photos so that presiding inspector could get a better understanding of the devastation the pylons would have on the environment. He suggested that the inspector should visit proposed sites herself as that was the only way to appreciate the damage that would be caused and what people were set to lose. (EirGrid responded later on the methodology used for the photomontages. The consultant involved said they had been out together in accordance with international guidelines).
CLLR CIARA MCPHILLIPS said EirGrid had not adequately responded to some of the issues raised by Monaghan County Council and the elected members. As the Board was aware, and as had been highlighted by other objectors, EirGrid had failed to identify a number of access points for tower construction. As even the most lay person applying for planning permission knew, and as common sense alone would dictate, an applicant must identify how the proposed development would be accessed.
A further point related to access to lands adjacent to the proposed access points. The applicant had, during the course of this hearing, provided details to affected landowners of the proposed location of access points. However, it was not clear whether the applicant had contacted the owners of adjoining land parcels. This was important and necessary in view of the County Monaghan Development Plan 2013-2019, which required at a very basic level and in line with national policy that sight splays or sight lines of up to 150m be available in some instances, varying on the seniority of the road upon which the access point protruded.
What was different in Monaghan though, was a requirement in the County Development Plan that there must be not only agreement with those landowners but also that permission to cut back trees, hedges and vegetation is registered as a burden on the adjoining landowner’s property. This clause was in place to ensure an ongoing and continuous ability to comply with a grant of planning permission.
Cllr McPhillips questioned if the applicant had identified the adjoining landowners? Had EirGrid contacted these landowners? Had the applicant consulted these landowners?
The company might argue that they intended to use, in at least some cases, existing access points. In that case, had they shown that the proposed development would not increase or intensify the use of the existing access point by more than 5%? Surely such a claim was utterly unfounded, particularly regarding construction phase?
The applicant stated that they might use flagmen during construction phase in order to allow for the safe movement of traffic to and from sites. Was that really a safe solution? Also, what would happen in 10-15 years’ time when the applicant wanted to access the site? Would they use flagmen then? Who would police this? A grant of planning permission should have the capability of being definitely complied with, without the need for ongoing policing, she added.
Sight lines and sight splays and the necessity in this county to register the right to cut back adjoining hedges on adjoining land folios was an onerous obligation on all applicants for planning permission within the county. In order to ensure road safety it remained an integral part of planning law within the area. All applicants must comply, even the applicant who might seek to rely on ESB wayleaves.
In relation to the potential for property devaluation, the applicant had stated that there was very little research in Ireland or Britain on the effect of overhead lines on adjacent property. The applicant sought to rely on research carried out in North America. She said comparing Irish farmland values to those in North America was an insufficient basis to make such a claim in circumstances where Irish agriculture was expected to meet European standards, and depended greatly on its reputation for overseas exports.
Pylon construction traffic would move from one land holding to another. This presents a risk of disease being spread, such as foot and mouth. What preventative measures would be in place? She said EirGrid seemed confused as to whether they would wash and disinfect lorries or not.
Cllr McPhillips then addressed a number of heritage issues. She expressed concern about the effect of the proposed line coming within 750m of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland church Ardragh and also near to Corvally Presbyterian church and former national school. She pointed out that the County Monaghan Development Plan resisted developments which “upset the setting” of heritage points. No specific mitigation measures were in place regarding St Patrick’s. Corvally Presbyterian Church and the former Corvally school were both included in the national inventory of architectural heritage, but neither appeared in Appendix 14.3, “Architectural Heritage”. The school was included in photomontage 30 and was in the vicinity of two towers. She wanted to know why these sites had been excluded.
Cllrs David Maxwell and Aidan Campbell also expressed their opposition to the overhead line.
CLLR HUGH MCELVANEY said there was a clear need to put the cables underground. He posed a series of questions that he said must be answered by EirGrid. What benefit would the line be to County Monaghan? The answer was none, because there would be no substation built in the county or in close proximity that would be of benefit to the county.
Agriculture was the single biggest industry in the Republic. Monaghan farmers and landowners rightly claimed the project would devalue their land. They felt the plans to erect pylons would affect their livestock and turn their land into construction sites and had questioned the methods EirGrid would use for accessing their property.
Farmers he met told him the company had not gone out onto the ground and looked at the situation regarding access to their property for the construction work on the pylons. Was EirGrid aware this was contrary to the Monaghan County Council development plan 2013-19 and the sustainable development of the county? What had Eirgrid to say regarding farmers’ and landowners’ concerns regarding traffic on the local access roads needed for EirGrid construction work which would be totally unfit for purpose in areas such as Corduff and Raferagh?
Was it true that EirGrid representatives had not gone out onto the ground to inspect properties that would be affected, but had instead done an aerial survey? Why do the photomontages supplied by EirGrid not show the actual proximity of the pylons and their route to dwellings? Was it also true that EirGrid had not taken into account the implications for fauna and wildlife in the countryside as well as heritage spots such as ancient burial grounds?
The recent launch of new farming schemes showed certain requirements that were needed in order to be granted acceptance to the schemes. This meant land would be let go wild for gaming and wild bird cover. So if farmers on the grid were planning to let some of their crops go wild in order to meet these requirements, then the Department of Agriculture would find itself in contention with the Department for Energy, who are supporting the erection of pylons. It did not make sense when on the one hand the government was trying to help farmers, and this meant letting land go wild, and on the other hand, the same government was trying to let EirGrid go ahead.
Regarding the question of electricity supply: whose supply are we talking about here? EirGrid says there needs to be a 400kV line fit to carry 1500 megawatts of power, but the existing Louth to Tandragee interconnector can carry 1200MW and can be upgraded to carry 1500MW. Why can this not be done? Does this just not entail upgrading or using the existing system and pylon sites, a method which has already been conceded as an alternative in the south east of the country?
This line is being developed solely to supply electricity to Northern Ireland, plain and simple, and is not of strategic importance to the Republic of Ireland, he said.
Regarding the upgrading of our electricity supply, Why has EirGrid downsized the proposed Grid West project from Mayo to Roscommon and the proposed Grid Link Cork to Kildare project? Grid West was downgraded from a 400kV line to a 220kV line capable of carrying 500MW with an option that 30km of cabling capable of being undergrounded.
Regarding Grid Link which runs from Kildare to Cork the proposal is to now to underground a cable carrying 700MW. So why can’t the proposed N/S interconnector be undergrounded?
Are our citizens and their families being asked to sanction an overhead line through their land and in sight of their homes (with possible health risks) so that the cost of electricity to Northern consumers is reduced?
SONI and EirGrid, the Transmission System Operators (TSOs) for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland respectively, publish an annual generation capacity statement which outlines the expected electricity demand and the level of generation capacity available over the next 10 years, together with an analysis of the adequacy of this generation to meet demand.
In the foreword to the most recent Generation Capacity Statement, published in January 2016, Mr Fintan Slye, the EirGrid CEO states , “ The medium term situation for security of supply in Northern Ireland has been alleviated by the recent signing of a contract which should provide sufficient generation capacity from 2016.” He does go on to say that the preferred solution is the installation of the North /South interconnector but this then begs the question as to the need for it at all as there is already an alternative supply contract now in place in Northern Ireland which could be enhanced in years to come.
Lots of questions arise out of this document not least of which is, are we, in this state, to subject our citizens, our tax and ratepayers, our farming community, and not least of all our children’s health to risk and ignore their concerns in order to bolster a failed electricity service in Northern Ireland?
Neither I nor any other right thinking EU citizen would oppose any such co-operation, including costs being borne equally between member states and indeed I will be the first to support this proposal if it was to be undergrounded but there are so many concerns regarding pylons and this planning process that neither I nor the electorate I represent can support the current proposal.
As you know the North-South interconnector project, announced in 2007, will stretch 140 km from Meath to Tyrone, with 40kms of that cutting through County Monaghan. This will entail the erection of hundreds of unsightly pylons through our county which is striving to attract tourism but worse still the proposal has raised major health concerns throughout our population. In particular, many people have expressed concerns about the effect on children’s health for those living along the route of the pylons.
A great deal of research has been carried out, with mixed results. However, the largest body of evidence relates to childhood leukaemia.. In 2005, the ‘Draper study’ was published in the British Medical Journal. This is the largest single study of childhood cancer and power lines. The authors reported an increased risk of leukaemia in children whose birth address fell within 600 metres of a high voltage overhead powerline. If there is any possibility of human health being affected, why then are Eirgrid insisting on putting huge pylons creating enormous EMF’s just 50 metres from some dwellings along the proposed route? Indeed can Eirgrid explain why is it that those 50 metres is measured from the centre of the pylon and not as it should be measured from the actual cable nearest to the dwelling/building?
Locally the questions are : What benefit will this be to County Monaghan and the answer is none because there will be no substation built in the county or in close proximity to it which will be of benefit to the county. How do Eirgrid answer the charge that this project, despite 97% landowner opposition, is the only EirGrid project that remains unchanged since 2009 following its exclusion from the EirGrid national review? Why have there been no public or site notices about the proposed access routes for construction of the pylons?
Is it not true that report after report, including one published by the government appointed International expert commission have clearly proved that undergrounding of the power lines is both feasible and possible? Is it not also true that the Chief Executive of EirGrid told the Oireachtas Communications Committee that it is ‘technically feasible’ to put the lines underground?
I respectfully submit that all my questions must be answered to the satisfaction of, not only my electorate in County Monaghan, but to all concerned citizens of this state living along the proposed route of the interconnector. However it is my contention that the answer to all of them is clear….underground the cables!
CLLR PAUDGE CONNOLLY said archaeological sites such as the Black Pig’s Dyke were not being dealt with properly. The tombs and monuments along the route belonged to the people of Ireland, he said. There were also issues regarding wildlife such as otters and badgers.
CONLAN SAYS PYLONS WOULD LEAVE HUGE SCAR
The first person to address the inspectors on Monday was former Fine Gael TD Sean Conlan who lost his seat at the recent election and who acted as legal advisor to the Co. Monaghan anti-pylon committee. He said EirGrid’s refusal to include the underground option in the application was a grave error. There were concerns among property and land owners how the prices of their holdings would be affected by the proposed line. If it went ahead, farmers would not be able to farm the land for a period of up to three years. By planning a visually intrusive line with pylons situated on the top of drumlins leaving a huge scar on the landscape, the tourism potential of County Monaghan would be affected. It would be in EirGrid’s interests to withdraw the application now and to go back to the drawing board. EirGrid had put in nineteen new access routes after the event and this was a fundamental flaw in the application, which left the company’s action open to a legal review (a potential move which the NEPPC already has in train).
CLLR DARREN O’ROURKE, leader of the Sinn Féin group on Meath County Council spoke about the serious and adverse visual impact the proposed 74 pylons and power line would have in scenic and historic areas such as Trim Castle, the Hill of Tara, Tailteann and Domhnagh Phádraig.
It would also affect the demesne landscapes of Ardbraccan, Brittas, Mountainstown, Gibstown, Teltown, Philpotstown, Rahood and Whitewood. He questioned whether the planning application was valid, and claimed the environmental impact statement was totally inadequate in terms of detailed information on flora and fauna, farming activities, soils and geology.
He said he found it incredible that Eirgrid announced, without any prior notice, 25 new access route changes to landowners’ properties. This included access entrances as far away as 135 metres from those submitted in the planning application. It also included now using private residence entrances as a means of access. Landowners had not been notified or consulted.
Cllr O’Rourke said the use of underground cable technology would solve all the issues created by the use of overhead lines and pylons. The cables can be placed alongside existing road infrastructure, without the need to pass through areas of historic importance such as Brittas or Teltown, and without the associated negative visual impact.
EirGrid has opted for what it sees as the easiest and most familiar technology of overhead transmission lines. It refuses to operate outside its comfort zone. The cost of this approach is for the County of Meath to bear the brunt of the negative impact of this technology, with zero benefit to its citizens.