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.

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