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.
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.
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.
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.