‘END THIS COSTLY CHARADE’ SAY ANTI-PYLON CAMPAIGNERS
EIRGRID ACCUSED OF TURNING HEARING INTO FARCE AFTER MORE CHANGES MADE TO ITS PLANNING APPLICATION
Michael Fisher MEATH CHRONICLE p.1
EirGrid has been accused by anti-pylon campaigners in Meath and Monaghan of making up their application as they go along. They have accused the semi-state company of turning the planning procedure into an absolute disgrace during the oral hearing into the proposed North/South electricity interconnector. The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign called on An Bord Pleanála to put an end to what they said was a “costly charade”.
It follows the introduction by the company for the third time of modified access routes along narrow country lanes that would be used by contractors building the latticed steel pylons and erecting the power lines. Thirty-two separate changes have now been made by EirGrid since the hearing began last month.
On day 26 of the oral hearing a lawyer for EirGrid Jarlath Fitzsimons SC said there had been an ongoing review of the 584 temporary routes identified. Six new ones had been notified to An Bord Pleanála on the first day at the Nuremore Hotel on March 7th. Nineteen more changes were made a fortnight later following the discovery of discrepancies in mapping. Shortly before the close of proceedings last week, Mr Fitzsimons revealed seven more alterations to access routes. A further eleven minor mapping modifications to the routes were identified. According to the lawyer, EirGrid had responded in a positive way to observations made by landowners during the course of the hearing regarding specific tower locations.
Temporary access routes are included in the application to enable An Bord Pleanála to conduct an environmental assessment of all aspects of the proposed development. EirGrid spokesperson David Martin said: “With a total of 584 temporary access routes in the planning application, it is understandable that modifications to a small number have been proposed as information comes from observations made at the oral hearing and also from the continuing reviews.”
“In order to enter the area for the proposed development, we have identified 584 temporary access routes. We have listened with interest to the detailed submissions given by landowners along the proposed line route. Several have focused on the detail of the temporary access routes. This feedback has been very helpful as we endeavour to provide the most convenient access routes possible for landowners.”
The hearing in Carrickmacross in front of two Bord Pleanála inspectors is now in its ninth week and is not expected to finish until the end of May. It’s one of the longest such planning enquiries into what is one of the largest ever infrastructure projects in the state. EirGrid is proposing to erect a 400kV high voltage line with 400 pylons from Woodland in Co. Meath across parts of Cavan and Meath into Co. Armagh and finishing at Turleenan near the Moy in Co. Tyrone.
On the 22nd March, during week three of the hearing EirGrid announced a number of major flaws in its planning application and made a request to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) to change nineteen access entrances and routes to landowner properties. The NEPPC said landowners had neither been notified of nor consulted on these plans at this stage. EirGrid conceded that all landowners needed to be notified.
On Tuesday 26th April, EirGrid yet again announced without any prior notice a further request to ABP to change an additional 18 access routes, making ‘minor deviations’ to access route maps. The affected landowners, similar to the situation pertaining in March, had neither been notified of nor consulted on these plans at this stage. EirGrid again conceded that all landowners needed to be notified.
NEPPC in a statement pointed out that based on the extraordinary revelations on 22nd March they had requested the two inspectors to seek approval from the Planning Board that the hearing be halted. The inspectors had decided to continue with the hearing. NEPPC then wrote to An Bord Pleanála directly, requesting that at least the access route changes and other errata in the planning application be updated on the planning application website, but they had still not received any response. NEPPC said the latest changes made a mockery of the oral hearing and of the planning process itself. NEPPC called on An Bord to halt the oral hearing and take responsibility for not allowing the public’s time and money to be wasted by what they said were EirGrid’s farcical activities.
Spokesman Padraig O’Reilly said: “EirGrid is being allowed to make wholesale changes to its planning application on an ongoing basis, without so much as a query from ABP. It looks like EirGrid is running the show all by itself. In the latest letter received by landowners, where they have been informed of changes to accessing their lands, EirGrid states in relation to the ongoing oral hearing that “We will of course facilitate any submission you may wish to make arising from this modified access route”.
“The official position from An Bord was that anyone who wanted to make a submission to the oral hearing firstly had to have made a written submission by August 24th 2015 and then submit a request to make an oral submission by February 4th 2016. Yet EirGrid were now writing to landowners as if it was representing An Bord Pleanála (ABP) and making up their own rules for the oral hearing participation. ABP needs to quickly get a grip here before the whole integrity of the process in general is destroyed. It is simply not acceptable to sit on its hands and watch EirGrid take this brazen approach”, he said.
“NEPPC is yet again calling on elected representatives to put an end to this farcical situation. EirGrid is making a mockery of the strategic infrastructure process for a second time in five years. We cannot have a situation where a state company can remain immune to accountability and in so doing drain public confidence and bring the strategic infrastructure process into disrepute”, the statement added.
Mary Marron of the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee said what was going on was an absolute disgrace. She wondered if more information was going to be added during the rest of the hearing. People had been coming into the hearing and pointing out to EirGrid errors in the access routes. If this was what was going to happen continually then the remaining landowners due to make submissions would have to decide if there was any point.
Monaghan Fine Gael Councillor Sean Gilliland said he found EirGrid’s approach to be absolutely insulting to the An Bord and to the local communities in the county. EirGrid believed they had identified issues with access routes but it was the public who had done so. Cllr Gilliland wondered if the environmental impact reports were wrong then were the health reports flawed as well? Our lives and the future of our young people are in your hands, he told the inspectors.
Cllr Gilliland said the planning application was flawed. On behalf of people in this rural part of Ireland he said he was begging the inspectors to consider the recent submissions made by landowners and householders, all of whom objected to the overhead power lines. What was happening was unjust and absolutely contrary to democracy and civil rights. It was not morally right nor would it ever be. They were being pushed into the mud by EirGrid who were taking information and re-presenting it in submissions they did not understand.