INTERCONNECTOR: BRITTAS ESTATE

BRITTASGATE.JPG

Entrance Gate and Gate Lodge at Brittas Estate, Nobber, Co. Meath, close to where the proposed power lines would pass  Pic: Michael Fisher

EFFECT OF EIRGRID’S INTERCONNECTOR PLAN ON BRITTAS ESTATE EXPOSED AT ORAL HEARING

MICHAEL FISHER Meath Chronicle Saturday 30th April (WEEK 7)

Probing questions to EirGrid by a lawyer acting for the Brittas estate near Nobber in Co. Meath have revealed what anti-pylon campaigners believe are several inadequacies in the planning application for the North/South interconnector. An oral hearing by two inspectors from An Bord Pleanála is now in its eighth week. EirGrid has said the detailed environmental impact statement it submitted has complied with the relevant Irish and EU regulations.

Michael O’Donnell BL acting for the owners of Brittas House and demesne Neville Jessop and Oinri Jackson asked EirGrid why no site specific details were provided regarding construction of the proposed pylons, the felling of a section of mature woodland, and the impact the proposed line would have on the views from a wing of the house built in 1732 and incorporating an earlier residence from 1672. The house was extended in the 18th Century and a ballroom wing, designed by Francis Johnston (architect of the GPO), was added in the early 19th Century. The house is located approximately 430m to the east of the proposed development.

Three ringforts are within 400m of the proposed line. According to an archaeological consultant for EirGrid, Declan Moore, these monuments will have their setting impacted on by the proposed development. The environmental impact statement explained that as much as was practicably possible the topography of the area had been used to keep impacts on the setting of Brittas House to a minimum. Mr Moore found that where the proposed development crossed the entrance avenue, there would be no views of the house and likewise in the vicinity of the house there were no views of the proposed development. But he added that there was the potential there may be views from some of the upstairs windows of the house, especially during the winter months. The impact on the setting of the house was in his view slight to moderate.

Questioned by Mr O’Donnell, Mr Moore said he had not entered the demesne as permission had not been granted but he had carried out from the public road a visual inspection of some of the three archaeological monuments inside it. He insisted that the development would have no direct physical impact on any such monument. He also repeated a number of times that there were no national monuments within the demesne.

This was disputed by the lawyer for the owners. He revealed that a ministerial letter had been sent out in July 1997 to the then owners referring to a monument in the townland of Brittas with details of preservation requirements.

At a previous module Neville Jessop explained how one of the access routes proposed by EirGrid to a pylon site would require concrete lorries to pass over an old bridge which had cracks in the stonework. He told the company the access bridge was not available because of its condition. Any repair work that needed to be done on the structure would require notification to the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht. A lawyer for EirGrid said on Tuesday it did not know the bridge had been closed for health and safety reasons.

The previous week Michael O’Donnell BL told the hearing sheer devastation would be caused to the Brittas estate if EirGrid’s proposed power line with pylons was allowed to proceed. He referred to the inadequacy of the EirGrid documentation and claimed it was not acceptable under Irish planning law or EU rules. The company was treating the public with a level of contempt, he said.

Mr O’Donnell pointed out that Brittas was a protected structure equal to any other great Irish house such as Castletown, Carton or Russborough. Every structure in the demesne had the same status. It was an extraordinarily important piece of landscape with its own eco system. It was about to be devastated by a 400kV line traversing it, going through a section of mature woodland that would have to be removed.

This part of the oral hearing has been devoted to specific landowner and public issues from Co. Meath and near Loughinlea mountain in Co. Cavan, a popular tourist area.

EirGrid was accused of spending its money on things like sponsorship of the Virginia pumpkin festival, the GAA (under 21 and Australian Rules), two local radio current affairs programmes and advertising in local media. A company spokesman said a key finding of a number of reviews of EirGrid’s operations and engagement with the wider community had shown the need for effective communication of the necessity for grid infrastructure to ensure a safe and sustainable electricity supply. As part of the company’s strategy to address this, it was placing an emphasis on improving how it communicated its role, including through advertising and sponsorship.

David Martin said “We welcome the strong engagement from landowners, public representatives and community members at the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing. The oral hearing provides an opportunity for all relevant information to be brought before An Bord Pleanála, and ensures that their concerns are addressed. We encourage all landowners and concerned residents to attend over coming weeks. If you would like more information on any aspect of the project, you can talk to our team on the ground, or drop in to our offices in Navan or Carrickmacross. Contact details for our Community Liaison Officer Gráinne Duffy and Agricultural Liaison Officer John Boylan are at www.eirgrid.com. Since submitting our planning application for the interconnector in June 2015, we have continued to engage with communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.”

EirGrid said the consideration of alternatives to an overhead line, including underground cables (both cross-country and along public roads), had been outlined its planning application. This has relied on a suite of reports prepared by the government, third parties and EirGrid itself. One of these, prepared by PB Power, showed that an underground cable option is considerably more expensive, at €670 million more that overhead lines.

The government-appointed Independent Expert Commission found that an underground cable option would be €333million more expensive. The reason for the difference in these figures was that the PB Power report studied a cross-country option, while the IEC report considered a roadside route. The company said a further detailed study of roads in the project area had shown that the use of the M3 and local roads was simply not suitable for the interconnector project.

When considering alternatives for the project, cost was just one factor. Underground cables would also not be as reliable as overhead lines, causing greater complexity and greater risk. EirGrid said it also studied the use of disused railway lines and a subsea option for cables but they were not viable options for this project.

The presence of the North South Interconnector, should it receive planning permission, will provide benefit to communities in the North East, according to EirGrid. As with a bypass, the project would provide an alternative route for power flows, freeing up power in the region. This would allow large businesses to tap into the line, providing an opportunity for local investment and employment.

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