INTERCONNECTOR DAY12

This section dealt with human beings: tourism and amenity

Dympna Condra, tourism officer Monaghan County Council told the presiding inspector the proposed pylons and power lines would affect their ability to sell Monaghan as a tourist destination, especially for angling. Landscape and the natural environment were important elements in attracting visitors to County Monaghan. She pointed out that the development had the potential to impact adversely impact on tourism in Monaghan in general, owing to the visual impact upon the landscape.

A line of pylons constituted a visual intrusion on the landscape. The promotion of Monaghan as a destination for outdoor activities such as angling, walking, cycling, golf, horse riding and forest parks would be impacted by the proposed development, particularly in terms of visual impact.

ANGLING

The tourism officer said angling was an extremely important niche product for Co. Monaghan. The Council’s submission had outlined their concern about the visual impact in the Castleblayney, Ballybay and Carrickmacross lakelands area, and particularly at Lough Morne and Lough Egish. Their view was that this visual impact might adversely affect angling visitor numbers. She said EirGrid’s response that this was unlikely to prohibit activities continuing at these locations lacked detail as to how this conclusion had been arrived at, she said.

Dympna Condra pointed out that Monaghan County Council had invested hugely in the angling product in recent years, particularly, but not exclusively, at Lough Muckno. This had led to a huge increase in the numbers of angling tourists to Monaghan in the last three years, with Lough Muckno being the key attractor.

However, anglers tended to move around to fish at different lakes in the vicinity and the proposed development ran through a substantial part of this area. Lough Muckno has moved from having one or two dwindling angling festivals in 2012 to having twelve festivals scheduled for 2016, most of which attracted international anglers, who spread out to other lakes in the area. In addition, an angling festival is being revived in Carrickmacross and this would also augment the number of anglers to this wider area. In our experience over the last number of years, these were repeat visitors as Monaghan had a growing reputation for catering for the angling visitor.

IMPACT DURING CONSTRUCTION

EirGrid had stated that ‘whilst the visual effects of the construction of the pylons are assessed as being “temporary and locally significant” this would be unlikely to be significant for tourism owing to a number of factors. These included the generally transitory nature of tourists during an Irish rural holiday stay, moving between locations rather than remaining in one place for an extended period of time. Monaghan County Council maintains that this does not apply to the repeat angling visitor.

The tourism assessment by EirGrid was based on the general tourist market and an effort was made to locate the proposed development away from these facilities. However, the plethora of lakes in the Ballybay-Castleblayney area were key assets to the angling visitor and this did not seem to have been taken into account, according to the tourism officer.

Dympna Condra noted that it was Failte Ireland’s view that tourism factors (in particular the landscape) had been insufficiently developed in EirGrid’s assessment and that a further evaluation of the potential development on the landscape character of the area should be undertaken. She said the Council concurred with this view that tourism and landscape character were closely aligned. A group of angling journalists from the UK had visited Lough Egish last week making videos. So the visual aspect of the landscape was important for them.

The County Council’s submission to An Bord Pleanála last August pointed out there were a number of small lakes in this angling heartland. It expressed concern that the proximity of the line of pylons to some of these lakes might impact significantly on the angling amenity.

Lough Egish – this 117 hectare lake is a valuable pike fishery.

Lough Morne – this 45 hectare lake is a good game fishery and contains brown trout. Examples of other lakes in the general vicinity of the proposed line include:-

Corlatt Lake/Shantonagh Lake – these lakes drain into the Knappagh River and the River Annalee. It must be noted that the majority of these waters contain most of the coarse fish species with the exception of bream and tench but are regarded as very good pike fisheries.

Tonyscallon Lake – this lake covers an area of approximately three hectares and contains very good bream.

WALKING


The Monaghan Way is a 56.5km long distance walking route between Clontibret and Inniskeen. It is a stimulating combination of quiet country roads, cross country trekking, riverside walkways and lakeside approaches. Reflecting the Monaghan countryside, the walk mixes gentle sloping hill gradients with flat stretches of open countryside. There are no long or steep climbs and the route reaches a maximum altitude of 317m at the summit of Mullyash.

Eirgrid has accepted that along a 2km section of the Monaghan Way which runs parallel to and then crosses the power line route, walkers “will experience open views of towers at close proximity where there is no intervening vegetation, resulting in localised significant visual effects”. The tourism officer said this was a particular worry for those walkers choosing to start in Clontibret and it might have a significant impact on the numbers using the route.

Toirleach Gourley senior planner Monaghan County Council said there would be knock-on effects for visitors and on the landscape setting with its many lakes. He expressed fresh concern that two of the photomontages displayed by EirGrid showing the impact on the Monaghan Way at Lemgare Rocks near Clontibret and at Lough Morne near Lough Egish did not show the two most prominent pylons along the route which were both situated on high ground.

Brendan Allen a senior planner with ESB International said in making their assessment for EirGrid, they had identified the chief tourism assets in Monaghan from Failte Ireland records and the Co. Monaghan development plan, as well as various tourism websites. The Irish Trails website had provided them with information about the Monaghan Way which showed it started in Monaghan town and it was therefore described as being 64km in length. He said it had not been possible to obtain visitor statistics for the walking route, unlike many other trails where volunteer counters were used to compile the figures.

He said the environmental impact statement had acknowledged that fishing and angling tourism were important for Co. Monaghan. He told the hearing the setting of some of the lakes would be changed by the interconnector project. Regarding the impact of construction activity, Mr Allen said this would be broken up over short periods of time at various locations. The effects would pass over time, he added.

He said it was important to point out that in the route selection they had avoided the main tourism assets that were identified in the county plan. But it was not possible to avoid fully all tourism assets, such as the road where the power lines cross the Monaghan Way at Lemgare Rocks. Mr Allen said they had given due consideration to the visual impact at this point and at Lough Morne. According to the company, “any impact on local tourism resulting from the construction and operation of the proposed interconnector…must be considered in respect of the strategic need for and importance of the project, and the careful consideration of alternative routes.”

Tourism and leisure consultant Ken Glass for EirGrid said the impact statement had concluded that “the operation of the proposed development will not directly inhibit any tourist and amenity activities along its route.”

This section dealt with air (noise; vibration; climate)

An environmental health officer with Monaghan County Council Dermot McCague said they would have to discuss construction noise at the stage the pylons were being erected. He hoped they could come to an agreement with the developer to consult the Council about measures to be taken to reduce the impact on residents at each tower location. Work would be carried out during daylight hours and would have to be with the permission of the Council.

Barry Sheridan an acoustics consultant for EirGrid said the mitigation measures to be taken had been listed in the application and the response to submissions. It was predicted that the construction phase would result in a moderate, temporary and transient noise impact. Portable noise barriers would be used to screen the noise from machinery and piling work. Mr Sheridan was asked a series of questions by the presiding inspector about how the noise levels were measured.

The consultant explained the impact of operational noise on the power lines, such as turbulent wind noise (which occurred rarely on 400kV lines) and potential corona discharge. The latter became higher and might become audible in wet weather and in close proximity to the line. But on such occasions the background noise level of rainfall and wind tended to mask the noise from the transmission line.

EirGrid said no significant noise impact on animals was predicted to arise from the operation of the proposed line. Noise from the construction phase of the project would be similar to any other building site and should not cause any significant impact to livestock. Regarding operational noise such as gap sparking on the power lines, an equine specialist Michael Sadlier said most animals became habituated to noises. Once they realised there was no threat then they no longer responded.

A consultant occupational and environmental physician Dr Martin Hogan from UCC on behalf of EirGrid said the potential health aspects of noise had been dealt with in the environmental impact assessment. The standards and guidelines used in the appraisal were very stringent and designed to protect the most sensitive and vulnerable, he said. Dr Hogan was asked about the potential effect of the power lines on a person with autism. He said there was no real reason to suspect that people with ASD would be adversely affected by the project.

The hearing resumes this morning (Thursday) at the Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross with a module on cultural heritage. Officials from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are due to give their opinion about the impact of the interconnector on various sites in Monaghan, Cavan and Meath.

HEARING SCHEDULE

The presiding inspector Breda Gannon said she intended to continue the hearing on the following days (the schedule is usually posted daily on the Bord Pleanála website):

Week 5  Monday to Thursday  4th-7th April

Week 6 Monday to Thursday 11th to 14th April

Week 7 Monday to Wednesday 18th to 20th April

Week 8 Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th April

Week 9 Tuesday 3rd to Thursday 5th May

Week 10 Monday 9th to Friday 14th May (dates updated on 20/04/16)

HIGH COURT APPLICATION

The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign will today (Thursday) before Mr Justice Humphreys at the High Court in Dublin continue with an application for leave to apply for a judicial review. Lawyers for the group have twice requested the presiding inspector to adjourn the hearing. But she has decided to continue with what she described as an “information gathering” exercise and said she would be reporting back to the Planning Board.

 

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY10

This section dealt with landscape and visual impacts

Joerg Schulze consultant landscape architect for EirGrid responded to comments on day nine by Toirleach Gourley, senior planner Monaghan County Council, about eight photomontages taken at points along the line in Co. Monaghan having limited legibility of pylons. He also replied to comments about the effect on the Monaghan Way at Lemgare Rocks near Clontibret.

Mr Schulze explained the process by which the photomontages had been assembled, using computer software with a 3D model of the proposed structure. If this picture was enhanced then it would produce an image that was not as close to reality.

He accepted that a small part of the Monaghan Way walking route would be affected. In selecting the route for the pylons, he had walked along parts of the Monaghan Way including the section at Mullyash mountain that were within the study area. He accepted that one pylon (tower 109) where the line crossed a local road at Lemgare Rocks near Clontibret would have a significant localized impact. 

IMPACT ON HILL OF TARA

The proposed interconnector from Woodland in Co. Meath to Turleenan in Co. Tyrone using overhead power lines “will not have a significant impact” on views from the important site at the Hill of Tara, according to EirGrid. But a consultant for Meath County Council claimed there would be high or very high impact on a view of national significance.

The differences emerged at the Bord Pleanála oral hearing in Carrickmacross into the plan for what is said to be one of the biggest ever pieces of infrastructure in the state. Joerg Schulze, consultant landscape architect for EirGrid, said that seen from the hill, the transmission line to the east would not dominate the landscape. It would be located in the middle distance, with the closest pylon being 6.29km away and would not be immediately apparent from that standpoint.

Concerns were also expressed by Meath County Council planners about the effect on Brittas demesne near Nobber, where a 74m wide swathe of mature woodland would have to be removed to make way for the overhead line.

The Hill of Tara with its Iron Age hilltop enclosure is Ireland’s ancient capital. It is a candidate UNESCO world heritage site, nominated by the government in 2010 on a list of properties considered to have cultural and/or natural heritage of outstanding universal value. Tara is one of five royal sites that represent ‘unique expressions of Irish society’ as places of royal inauguration, ceremony and assembly, representing each of the five provinces of ancient Ireland.

EirGrid says that in identifying a potential route for the interconnector it took into account key constraints such as architectural and archaeological heritage sites. Landscapes sensitive to visual impact and soil type, areas designated for nature conservation and the location of dwellings and buildings were also considered.

Meath County Council engaged Conor Skehan of planning and environmental consultants CAAS Ltd to assess all designated scenic viewpoints that were included in the County Development Plan. He concluded that seven views including Tara and at Bective Bridge would be affected by the proposed development.

EirGrid says the viewpoint in close proximity of Lia Fáil within the Tara Complex was located outside the 5km study area for the line route but had been included due to its elevation and available panoramic views. It states that “The landscape in this unit forms part of the cluster of low flat hills that includes the Hill of Tara. The flat nature of the surrounding landscape means that panoramic views are possible even from slightly elevated areas. The landscape is man altered and made up of medium to large scale fields within a network of roads including three regional roads and hedgerows which generally limit views into the landscape.” The magnitude of change and impact caused by the proposed development is considered negligible and not significant, the company concluded.

Landscape architect Joerg Schulze for EirGrid acknowledged that while he agreed with most of the assessments made by Mr Skehan, there was a considerable difference of opinion with Meath County Council regarding the effect on Tara. He said that in preparing photomontages from that viewpoint, he had very clearly attained what was and was not visible.

He showed the photomontages to the planning inspectors along with a picture that by using standard computer software superimposed the line of the pylons. Mr Schulze pointed out that an existing 220kV line from Gorman to Maynooth that was only 1.25km away was not immediately apparent and was barely discernible in the photomontages. The proposed 400 kV development would be located approximately 4.5 to 5km further away from this 220kV line and would be seen entirely against the land, which would reduce the general visibility of this type of development significantly further, according to EirGrid.

But Mr Skehan for Meath County Council was of the opinion that in this area the transmission line and associated towers would have an effect under many different lighting conditions.

In winter, he said, in conditions of low light and clear skies, the development would be noticeable over a wide area. In summer, with lots of clouds moving over the landscape, and partly light, it would also become noticeable.

EirGrid was also questioned by the presiding inspector about the effect of the proposed line on demesnes in Co. Meath, especially Brittas near Nobber. Mr Schulze revealed that the visual impact of the line had been assessed from public roads only, as many private properties were not accessible. The impact on the landscape at Brittas had been found to be significant as the planning included the removal of mature woodland.

Approximately 2.7 acres of mature woodland might have to be removed to allow for a maximum 74m wide corridor. The line route runs parallel to the public road in this location, and whilst the road was generally heavily vegetated, intermittent views into the estate were possible. At a gate lodge at an entrance to Brittas estate, the conductors would be visible crossing the road (as shown in a photomontage) and towers would be partially visible from the local road adjoining the estate in locations where boundary vegetation was thin, according to the landscape and visual impact assessment.

EirGrid had been asked earlier in the hearing why it had not included in this photograph the nearest pylon, which was 245m away from the gate lodge. The NEPPC had argued that the photomontages were not representative of the impact of the proposed infrastructure on the environment. The reply was that all the photography and photomontages had complied with Landscape Institute guidelines.

Mr Schulze explained that taking the overhead line through the Brittas demesne would have the least impact on being able to view it from public roads. If the route was moved away from the woodland it would be closer to the village of Nobber. But Meath County Council architectural conservation officer Jill Chadwick said the line would have a significant impact on Brittas House.

The EirGrid consultant was also asked about an option that had been examined for putting underground a short 3km section of the route between ten proposed pylons, instead of removing the woodland at Brittas. The company’s assessment was that there were no impacts of such significance envisaged, including those on landscape, which would introduce the need for consideration of partial undergrounding for the proposed development at this location. The inspector also asked EirGrid about the effect at Ardbraccan demesne.

Questions to presiding inspector by two Co. Monaghan residents Mary Marron and Margaret Marron from Shantonagh. Mary Marron asked when EirGrid would be producing maps for the nineteen landowners where the company had revealed it would require a new access point to their land for construction work, because of anomalies in the maps supplied in the original application last year. She claimed that people were being denied information that they needed in order to make a proper submission to the hearing. She also wanted to know the size and capacity of the machines to be used in construction, and how long the temporary matting to be used for some access roads into fields would remain in place. Landowners did not know physically how their holdings would be affected.

Margaret Marron said landowners were “up in arms” over EirGrid’s approach to the hearing. They did not have the expertise available to them that the company did. They needed to have the full information before them.

Responding for EirGrid Jarlath FitzSimons SC said the company would provide landowners within the week the new information containing 25 access route modifications. (These were hand delivered by courier on Good Friday). He said construction would take place over a period of three years but it was not a programme of work. The company would deal with individual issues as they arose when the hearing came to examine the concerns of specific land holders. The relevant experts would be made available at the stage required, he said.

Tom Corr, a consultant for EirGrid, (native of Killeevan, Co. Monaghan) is one of the authors of a report commissioned by the company into the potential relationship between property values and high voltage overhead transmission lines in Ireland, published last month. He told the inspectors that farmland process along the proposed interconnector route were not expected to be affected at all.

Working with Professor of Statistics at the University of Limerick Dr Cathal Walsh, their survey found that the presence of pylons or overhead lines had “no significant impact” on prices of residential and farm properties. It concluded that “the perception of potential decreases in sales value as a result of high-voltage overhead lines close to property far outweighs the reality borne out in actual sales data”. Where negative impacts were found there was evidence to suggest that they generally decreased with time, the study said.

An EirGrid policy consultant on compensation William Mongey revealed that the company is providing €4 million for a local community fund to be administered in conjunction with local authorities. EirGrid will contribute €40,000 per kilometre for communities in proximity to new 400kV pylons and stations. For owners of property there would be a proximity payment of €30,000 for residences at 50m from the proposed line. This would decrease to €5,000 at 200m. EirGrid said it sought to locate new lines at least 50m from homes but in exceptional cases where this was not achievable it would deal with the affected property owners on an individual basis. The total set aside for this compensation is €4.6 million.