JUDICIAL REVIEW

unknown

Notice on gate at entrance to farmland in Co. Meath along the route of proposed interconnector. Pic. © Michael Fisher

JUDICIAL REVIEW OF BORD PLEANÁLA DECISION ON ELECTRICITY INTERCONNECTOR

Anti-pylon campaigners representing landowners from Meath and part of Co. Monaghan are taking part in a court case in Dublin this week aimed at overturning the planning approval for the North-South electricity interconnector. An Bord Pleanála granted approval last December for the major infrastructure project involving almost 300 pylons and overhead high voltage wires running across countryside from the border at Lemgare, near Clontibret in Co.Monaghan, to a sub station at Woodland, near Batterstown in Co. Meath. EirGrid has said the overall cost of construction will be €286 million, €180m for the proposed development in the Republic and the balance for the shorter SONI section in Co. Armagh leading to a sub station at Turleenan near the Moy, Co. Tyrone.

In February the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign, which has led the opposition amongst landowners and residents to the 400kV overhead line since it was first proposed eight years ago, was granted leave to apply for a judicial review of the Bord Pleanála decision. The case is also in the name of Maura Sheehy, a farmer, of Teltown Road, Donaghpatrick, Co Meath, one of the hundreds of objectors who attended the lengthy public enquiry held in Carrickmacross last year.

As well as challenging An Bord Pleanála, the case is also against the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; and the State. The developer, EirGrid, is a notice party. Nigel Hillis of the County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee was among the interested observers at the Commercial Court on Tuesday when the hearing opened in front of Mr Justice Max Barrett.

unknown-1

High voltage electricity line and pylon. Pic. Michael Fisher

The court was told that in approving the development, An Bord Pleanála had failed to take into account the potential impact of the UK planning to leave the European Union. A lawyer for the applicants, Conleth Bradley SC, said the grounds of challenge included a failure by the Board to address properly the rights of the affected landowners as well as environmental issues and the implications of Brexit.

The judge will later hear two separate but similar challenges over the permission granted for the interconnector. They are being brought by David Malone, of Eurolaw Environmental Consultants, St Joseph’s Terrace, Portarlington, Co Laois, and Val Martin, a farmer and environmental campaigner of Gortnakesh, Co. Cavan. The case continues.

INTERCONNECTOR TIMELINE

Unknown-1.jpeg

High voltage line electricity pylon  Pic. Michael Fisher

Plan for second interconnector goes back 14 years
Line has been designated by EU as one of 195 key energy infrastructure projects

Michael Fisher  THE IRISH TIMES

Nearly 18 months ago EirGrid applied to build a high-capacity electricity interconnector between Dublin and Tyrone, the second between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
The proposed line stretches over approximately 135km, linking the existing transmission networks in both jurisdictions between an existing substation in Woodland, Co Meath, and one planned for Turleenan in Co Tyrone.

In the Republic the development, now approved by An Bord Pleanála, will pass through Monaghan, Cavan and Meath, requiring 299 steel lattice-style pylons, ranging from 26m to 51m in height, linked to an existing pylon line.
The line has been designated by the European Commission as one of 195 key energy infrastructure projects across the EU that have been dubbed as projects of common interest. Such projects, the Commission says, “are essential for completing the European internal energy market, and for reaching the EU’s energy policy objectives of affordable, secure and sustainable energy”.

The decision by An Bord Pleanála–- one that has come with conditions – followed a second oral hearing in a Carrickmacross hotel in Co Monaghan. It lasted 12 weeks, and was one of the longest such public inquiries in the State’s history. The plan for a second interconnector between the Republic and Northern Ireland goes back 14 years when an initial feasibility study was carried out on the possibility of building a 220KV line between Tyrone and Dublin.

However, as the peace process bedded down, plans became more ambitious, and a further North/South study was carried out in 2005, which this time investigated the potential and the need for a 275KV line. A year later the cross-Border interconnector that had been shut down during the Troubles following a bomb attack on pylons near Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, was finally restored.
Information days
Meanwhile, approval was given for planning for a second line – one that had now grown to a 400KV plan – which saw EirGrid hold information open days in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. It launched an information telephone and email service in October 2007, though two years passed before it submitted a planning application to An Bord Pleanála under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

Following a statutory consultation period, an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála began in Carrickmacross in May 2010. However, it was brought to a sudden end within weeks, and Eirgrid withdrew the application.
The late Fine Gael councillor Owen Bannigan had revealed an error in EirGrid’s plans in the stated height of the proposed electricity pylons that would run across Monaghan on the 21st day of the oral hearing.
Two years later, Eirgrid’s then newly-appointed chief executive Fintan Slye told agendaNI magazine that a second North/South interconnector was “absolutely critical” for Northern Ireland’s future security of supply. In November 2014, EirGrid submitted its draft application file to Bord Pleanála for review. Four months later EirGrid republished its proposed line route, one that would form the basis of its planning application.
Alignment
The route plan followed a review of the December 2013 line design. The review resulted in some of the proposed tower locations being repositioned along the alignment, but the alignment itself was not changed. By June 2015, EirGrid was ready to place a public planning notice in newspapers, followed by the submission of an application shortly afterwards to the Strategic Infrastructure Division of An Bord Pleanála.
Ten weeks of public consultation followed, one that prompted 900 replies. Last January, Eirgrid offered to meet people in their homes or at one of their information offices or elsewhere to discuss their concerns.Throughout campaign groups in Monaghan and Meath have criticised the consultation, but most particularly EirGrid’s “insufficient attention” to alternatives.

Localised impacts
“In England they’re pulling down pylons; in Ireland we’re putting them up,” said one Meath resident. The final ruling from Bord Pleanála runs to 615 pages. In its conclusions the planning authority declares that it recognised that the pylons’ plan would “result in a limited number of localised impacts”. However, “having regard to the identified strategic need for the development”, the plan is in accordance with planning rules “subject to compliance with the mitigation measures” that the planning appeals board has laid down.

ANTI PYLON REACTION

images.jpeg

Padraig O’Reilly NEPPC Pic.Michael Fisher

Anti-pylon action will dwarf Shell to Sea campaign, says NEPPC
Group says campaign against EirGrid will make Corrib protests ‘look like walk in park’

Michael Fisher THE IRISH TIMES

Unknown.jpeg

Anti-pylon sign in Co.Meath  Pic. Michael Fisher

Campaigners have warned that the battle to stop the erection of hundreds of electricity pylons will make the Shell to Sea campaign “look like a walk in the park”.
Responding furiously to An Bord Pleanála’s decision to approve EirGrid’s plans to build a North South electricity interconnector, the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign (NEPPC) described it as “deplorable” and “an affront to democracy”.
Describing it as “biased”, Padraig O’Reilly, of the NEPPC, claimed it would only deepen public cynicism towards bureaucracy and intensify local opposition to the pylons.
However, he drew comfort from the fact that the project still has to navigate Northern Ireland’s planning system, while court battles will continue in both jurisdictions.
Woefully inadequate
A “viable, realistic and publicly acceptable option” to put much of the electricity line underground along public roads does exist, but it has never been properly examined, he went on. However, EirGrid had already decided on an overhead line and had put out, and awarded, a contract tender even before public consultation had taken place, he charged. EirGrid’s planning application was woefully inadequate and failed to contain enough information for an acceptable environmental study, he claimed.

Meanwhile, the utility had not accessed 75 per cent of the lands proposed for the 300 pylon towers and had communicated with only 5 per cent of the landowners, he added.
The planning decision ignores these deficiencies and heralds the end of An Bord Pleanála’s status in the public eye as an objective, independent decision-making body, he continued.

However, the anti-pylon group insists that there is still time for EirGrid to be ordered by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten to place the lines underground. “If political action is not taken, this project will make the Shell to Sea debacle look like a walk in the park. The will of the people will prevail,” said the NEPPC.

Meanwhile, opponents in Monaghan are equally determined in their opposition, saying An Bord Pleanála had “waved the application through”. “It’s a bad day for the Irish planning system,” said Nigel Hillis, who was particularly critical of the decision to issue such a finding so close to Christmas.

Monaghan County Council chairman PJ O’Hanlon described it as “very unfortunate” and supported calls for an emergency council meeting early in January.
There, councillors – who are all united against the pylon plan – will, he said, examine the ruling in detail and look at ways to oppose it.

Opponents in Northern Ireland remain hopeful that the planning authorities there will make a different decision when they rule on the pylon plan.
“We are disappointed at this ruling by An Bord Pleanála,” said a spokesperson for the campaign group, Safe Electricity Armagh and Tyrone (SEAT).

DÁIL QUESTIONS ON INTERCONNECTOR

CALLS IN DÁIL FOR ELECTRICITY INTERCONNECTOR TO BE PUT UNDERGROUND

Minister awaits decision by An Bord Pleanála

Michael Fisher  Northern Standard  Thursday 23rd June p.14

At question time in the Dáil last week, Deputy Seán Fleming (Fianna Fáil, Laois-Offaly) asked the new Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources Denis Naughten to support putting the North-South electricity interconnector underground using high-voltage direct current technology. He asked the Minister if he would make a statement on the matter.

13411743_10206605579242715_3461134040631709056_o.jpg

Shane Cassells TD asking question in Dail to Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten TD

Deputy Shane Cassells (Fianna Fáil, Meath West) also asked the Minister if he would support the undergrounding of the North-South interconnector using the technology now available. Will the Minister put a halt to the current plan?, he enquired. Deputy Cassells said the current EirGrid proposal for which planning permission was being sought would destroy the landscapes of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan if monstrous pylons were to be constructed in these three counties.

Deputy Denis Naughten: In fairness, all Deputies in the region have contacted me at this stage on this issue. EirGrid is the designated transmission system operator. Its roles include the operation, maintenance and development of the electricity transmission network in Ireland. As detailed in the government policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission and other energy infrastructure, the government does not seek to direct EirGrid in the development of energy infrastructure to particular sites or routes or technologies.

EirGrid made a formal application for a North-South 400 kV interconnector project to An Bord Pleanála on 9th June 2015. This is the subject of a statutory independent planning process and is currently before An Bord Pleanála. Part of this process included an oral hearing that concluded last month. As the planning process is still ongoing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

Deputy Shane Cassells: I am appealing to the Minister, on behalf of the people of these counties, to become involved because this is a major issue for Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. Not only would it destroy the landscapes of these counties, it would destroy people’s homes. I have sat in the homes of people throughout County Meath. These monstrous pylons will be built beside their homes and will destroy their lives. It is amazing to think that in 2013 the EirGrid chairman, John O’Connor, sat before a Dáil committee and said he would not want to live beside one of these pylons. However, he seems to think it is good enough for the rest of the people in these counties.

The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign is led by Aimée Treacy and Padraig O’Reilly. They have spearheaded a campaign to stop the project but they are being thwarted by the formidable legal people of EirGrid. I was at the High Court hearing some months ago when the project was challenged. The Minister’s office, under the previous officeholder, and EirGrid used powerful legal teams to fight against the community groups. We need the Minister to stand up for the people rather than EirGrid. EirGrid is spending money relentlessly on public relations campaigns to try to curry public favour, but it is destroying people’s lives. I appeal to the Minister to get involved and arrange to put these pylons and cables underground. The people need the Minister to stand up for them.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I understand the frustration among people in this case, but the government does not direct EirGrid on what mechanism it should use. We need an interconnector. People agree that we need an interconnector. The debate has been how that connection would be made. The government has not directed EirGrid in any way in this matter. This project is before An Bord Pleanála at the moment. An Bord Pleanála has weighed up the options and all the arguments on all sides. We are going to get a decision from An Bord Pleanála.

I have read some of the numerous reports into undergrounding. However, the reality is that the North-South transmission project is required to ensure security of supply of electricity to Northern Ireland. The existing 225 kV double circuit overhead transmission line between Louth and Armagh is simply insufficient to meet the needs.

Deputy Shane Cassells: The Minister referred to the An Bord Pleanála hearing. I was there and gave evidence at the hearing in Monaghan as well. Representatives from EirGrid came in on numerous occasions during the hearing and changed aspects of their application during the hearing. They came with images that bore no resemblance to the application. These people are ruthless in the pursuit of their aim and do not care about the people. This Chamber is here to care about the people. The government can most certainly become involved.

The previous two Ministers had no wish to hear from the people’s side. Therefore, I am appealing to the Minister not to read out the material prepared by the Department but to listen to the voices. This can be stopped before the September ruling by An Bord Pleanála. We need to see an intervention by government in this respect.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I have listened to a number of Members from the areas concerned, all of whom have expressed their concerns on this matter. I have not yet come across one person who takes the view that we do not need the interconnector. It is needed because if the existing line were to go down, there simply would not be enough electricity reaching the north east of the island to keep the lights on.

Deputy Shane Cassells: I agree with the Minister.

Deputy Denis Naughten: We have a single electricity market and we need it. It is helping to drive down the cost of electricity for every person throughout the country. 

Deputy Shane Cassells: The point is that it should be done underground.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I hear what Deputy Cassells is saying and I have heard and listened to what other colleagues in the House have said as well. I understand the frustration that exists but a statutory process is ongoing.

Deputy Shane Cassells: The frustrating thing is that Pat Rabbitte said the project would drive up prices.

ENERGY PRICES

In an earlier question on energy prices, Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister whether the Electricity Supply Board should consider reducing its charges for electricity, given its reported profits of €635 million in 2015; he said high energy prices were being maintained to make the ESB an attractive proposition for privatisation. Surely the Minister is not satisfied with the minimal 6% cut in electricity prices by Electric Ireland. Does he agree that the company must go much further than this? Does he believe the ESB is being fattened up for privatisation?… 

Deputy Denis Naughten: Prices are not being kept high. No one in this country can keep prices high because they are unregulated. There is an open market. Representatives of ESB tell me the company makes little of its money from the Electric Ireland arm. Thankfully, ESB is in the black and making profits a little short of €300 million. A considerable amount of this profit comes from other arms of the company, including the network and electricity generation arms. I am told that of the pre-tax profits generated by the ESB, approximately 14% relate to the retail arm.

Other companies in the sector make margins as well. It does not seem to me to be excessive. The Commission for Energy Regulation is accountable to the House and the relevant Dáil committee. I call on Deputy Barry to make direct contact with the Chairman of that committee and bring the commissioners before the committee to quiz them on the issue.

Deputy Mick Barry: There the Minister goes again. Like Pontius Pilate he is washing his hands of the situation. I will ask the Minister a far simpler question. How does the Minister feel about the fact that consumers in this country are paying the second highest electricity rates in the European Union, while, at the same time, the ESB is making profits which, whether we use the Minister’s figures or my figures, run to hundreds of millions of Euro?

Deputy Denis Naughten: Electricity prices are higher here than in most parts of Europe. However, we need to remember that Ireland is on an island. We have a small electricity market. It includes the North and South and we have had reference to the single electricity market on the island of Ireland. There are geographic issues.

The other point is that we have to important a substantial amount of our energy. We are not self-sufficient in the energy sector and that adds to the costs. As a result of the size of the market, there are additional transmission costs and such costs are not incurred in continental Europe. As a result these particular challenges are built into the cost.

I am not trying to wash my hands of it. By law I cannot directly intervene in this matter. However, Deputies can question the Commission for Energy Regulation. I am calling on Deputy Barry to use the tools available to him in the parliamentary committee to raise these questions.

EIRGRID AGM

EIRGRID DEFENDS OVERHEAD INTERCONNECTOR IN ANNUAL REPORT

Michael Fisher  NORTHERN STANDARD Thursday 2nd June 2016 p.14

The EirGrid Chief Executive Fintan Slye has said the proposed North/South electricity interconnector will secure energy supply across the island of Ireland. His comments are included in the company’s recently published annual report 2015 ‘Connecting Jobs and Prosperity’.

Mr Slye attended the oral hearing in Carrickmacross twice in the closing stages in May to observe the proceedings and to talk to the company’s representatives. But he made no comment on the hearing itself.

Chairman John O’Connor presented the EirGrid annual report to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White, following the company’s annual general meeting. Mr O’Connor said: “delivering the right electricity grid and operating it securely and efficiently for the entire island of Ireland, north and south, is what guides us in EirGrid Group.

Last year continued a trend of strong financial performance. Group revenue was €706.2m, making it €37.9m (5.7%) higher than 2014. Profit before tax was €40.7 million, with underlying profits at €16.9 million. Based on this strong performance, we are able to deliver a proposed dividend of €3.5 million to our shareholder (the exchequer).”

Mr O’Connor continued: “in the previous annual report 2014, I said that the EirGrid group of companies were on a constant mission to improve how we do things and that this requires us to embrace change. A year on, I can truthfully say that this commitment can be seen across all aspects of our business.”

“It is evident in the way we are planning for the future needs of the electricity transmission grid. It is evident in the way we are reaching out to and consulting with communities and individuals who are affected by, or have an interest in, our projects. It is evident in the way we are breaking new ground in accommodating an ever higher share of renewable generation on the grid. It is evident in the large investment in new wholesale electricity market systems to ensure we have the most competitive prices possible,” he added.

EirGrid Chief Executive Fintan Slye commented: “throughout 2015 we have worked closely with some of the biggest companies in the world to foster jobs and prosperity in communities across the island. Much of this work has focused on the development of data centres, for example, Apple in Athenry, Co. Galway, Facebook in Clonee, Co. Meath and Microsoft in Grangecastle, Co. Dublin. Large data centres are high energy users, so they will often connect directly to the electricity grid. Developments such as these bring construction jobs, long-term employment and increased rates to fund local council facilities.”

“Though electricity is just one element of the critical infrastructure that underpins these investments, we work hard to ensure that power quality, energy prices and security of supply bring such customers to the table. I would like to thank Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White, and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland, Jonathan Bell, for their positive engagement throughout the year”, the CEO added.

In the annual report Mr Slye said 2015 was a milestone year for the North/South Interconnector project, as the company submitted a planning application to An Bord Pleanála in June. In the same month they also submitted the necessary paperwork to the Department of Environment in Belfast, thus completing the information required for recommencement of the public inquiry into the project in Northern Ireland. The North/South Interconnector will secure energy supply across the island of Ireland, Mr Slye said.

EirGrid Chair John O’Connor said the North/South interconnector was the single most important and most urgent infrastructure project on the island of Ireland. Designated a ‘Project of Common Interest’ by the European Commission, the interconnector was urgently needed to secure adequate electricity supply in Northern Ireland. It would facilitate the optimal operation of the all-island electricity market, for the benefit of people and businesses everywhere.

According to Mr O’Connor the interconnector also provides a local benefit to the people in the North East, by increasing the capacity of the electricity network in the region. In turn, this would help to attract inward investment and jobs. Subject to the planning process now underway, EirGrid were committed to delivering this project as soon as possible for the benefit of electricity consumers in both jurisdictions.

Rosemary Steen, EirGrid’s executive director of external affairs, said the launch of their draft grid development strategy, “Your Grid, Your Views, Your Tomorrow”, in March 2015 was another significant step forward for the group. This draft strategy was a response to feedback received from the public during consultations on major grid development projects. It also represented a key part of their efforts to encourage greater participation in the decision-making process.

Your Grid, Your Views, Your Tomorrow reflected an updated view of the economic context for developing the grid. The strategy further incorporated EirGrid’s growing experience of promising new transmission technologies. It included a new Regional Option for the Grid Link project and a hybrid option for the Grid West project. It also concluded that overhead lines were the best solution for the North/South interconnector.

Ms Steen said: “we continue to engage with local communities on this key project and have recently initiated a wide-ranging outreach and information campaign. This has resulted in meetings and dialogue with many community members on issues including undergrounding, environmental interests and health concerns. We are staffing community offices, holding regional discussion forums and are communicating more widely to better explain our plans. A key initiative has been the appointment of Agriculture and Community Liaison Officers across the island, as well as a public affairs lead in Northern Ireland. The development of a consultation handbook and toolkit, plus the adoption of “plain English” in our publications, further reflects our commitment to meaningful and accessible engagement.”

She added: “we seek to engage early with public representatives in Stormont and the Oireachtas, and across local government. This provides government feedback while also acting as an avenue to engage with local communities. Our Chief Executive appeared twice during the year (2015) at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. This was accompanied by outreach and walk-in sessions with Senators and TDs, which provided some valuable feedback. We also worked within the framework of the government’s new Regional Action Plan for Jobs. We were delighted when the North South Interconnector was identified as a key enabler of jobs and development through this forum.”

“In Northern Ireland, we carried out a significant body of political engagement, which included briefings with all tiers of elected representatives across each political party; from Councillors to MEPs. We were honoured when Minister Jonathan Bell opened our new SONI offices in June. We also briefed several of the new local government districts or ‘super-councils’, a programme which will continue throughout 2016.”

“As we look forward, engagement, consultation and outreach will continue to form a key part of our grid development strategy. While further consultation is not required as part of the planning process for the North/South interconnector, we are committed to continue informing and engaging with local communities.”

John Fitzgerald, executive director grid development and interconnection, explained how the company had been delivering the grid to meet future needs. In co-operation with NIE and ESB, they identified and submitted an application for planning approval for the North/South 400 kV interconnection development. The interconnector, he said, would increase the security and reliability of electricity supply to households and businesses throughout the island of Ireland. It would support growth and boost existing industry in the North East region and ensure a continuing reliability of electricity supply. It would enable the all-island wholesale electricity market to work efficiently, allowing for increased competition in electricity supply, thereby offering consumers choice and competitive prices.

SALARIES

The annual report also gives some details regarding remuneration. The Chairperson’s fees were equivalent to €21,600 per annum during the year (2014: €21,600). Directors’ fees were equivalent to €12,600 each per annum during the year (2014: €12,600). The only executive Board Member during the year was the Chief Executive, Fintan Slye.

The Chief Executive’s remuneration is set by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The remuneration of the Chief Executive consists of basic salary, taxable benefits and certain retirement benefits. The retirement benefits of the Chief Executive are calculated on basic pay only and aim to provide in retirement a pension of one-eightieth and a gratuity of three-eightieths of salary for each year of service as Chief Executive.

The increases in accrued pension and accrued gratuity excluding inflation during the year to 30th September 2015 were €2,125 (2014: €2,125) and €6,375 (2014: €6,375) respectively. The total accrued pension at the end of the year was €16,170 (2014: €14,045) and the total accrued gratuity was €53,660 (2014: €47,285). The transfer value of the relevant increase was €28,541 (2014: €27,141).

The Chief Executive’s remuneration:

Basic salary €170,000 30/09/15 (€170k 2014)

Annual Bonus – –

Taxable benefits €18,000 (€18k 2014)

Pension contributions paid €29,000 (€26k 2014)

Director’s fees – –

TOTAL: €217,000  2015   (€214,000  2014)

EIRGRID AT ORAL HEARING

EIRGRID’S TEAM WAS WELL PREPARED FOR ORAL HEARING

 Michael Fisher  Northern Standard Thursday 2nd June p.14

Throughout the oral hearing in Carrickmacross into the proposed North/South electricity interconnector, EirGrid had a team of up to forty people lined up to address the inspectors. Each was not present every day for the thirty-five days of the proceedings and some were relied on more heavily than others to make the case for the 400kV overhead line and 300 pylons stretching from Meath to Tyrone, through Cavan and Monaghan. They included staff members and consultants and their contributions were led by a legal team.

EIRGRID TEAM:

 THE LAWYERS

JARLATH FITZSIMONS SC is a well-known barrister practising in the area of planning and environmental law. He is a former lecturer in Law at Trinity College, Dublin.

BRIAN MURRAY SC has been a Senior Counsel since 2002 and has a particular expertise in the area of constitutional law and company law. He has been involved in many high profile cases and has appeared in inspection, restriction and disqualification cases on behalf of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Educated at Trinity College Dublin and Cambridge University, he previously lectured in company law at Trinity College Dublin.

STEPHEN DODD, Junior Counsel is a practising barrister. He has written widely on commercial, planning and other areas of law. He is the author of the Consolidated and Annotated Planning and Development Regulations 2001/2005 (Round Hall, 2005) and the Consolidated and Annotated Planning and Development Acts 2000/2007 (Round Hall, 2008).

DEIRDRE NAGLE, Senior Solicitor, EirGrid

A highly dedicated senior planning and environmental lawyer, with extensive experience in advising on legal matters within the energy industry. A member of the GC Powerlist: Ireland for 2015. As Senior Solicitor, she has ensured the provision of a legal services across the EirGrid Group, while managing a significant case load.

EIRGRID STAFF

DES COX, Senior Planning Consultant EirGrid. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin BA Mod geography and sociology and at UCD where he obtained a Master’s degree in regional and urban planning (MRUP). He worked for three years as a senior inspector with An Bord Pleanála and was Operational Director for RPS Planning Dublin before joining EirGrid in 2010 as Senior Co-Ordinator Public Planning and Consents.

SHANE BRENNAN, Project Engineer, EirGrid/SONI. A native of Co. Monaghan, he represented the company at the information office in Carrickmacross and has been involved with the Northern Ireland end of the project.

AIDAN GEOGHEGAN, Project Manager. He played a key role in explaining why the company had chosen an overhead line and had ruled out undergrounding.

WILLIAM MONGEY, Senior Engineer, Grid Development. Responsible for the co-ordination of wayleaves.

DR MAEVE FLYNN, Senior Ecologist. Lead Ecologist in the department of Grid Development and Interconnection at EirGrid. Her role is to provide ecological expertise and support to project teams within Grid Development and to promote best practice in ecological impact assessment for projects.

FERGAL McPARLAND, Senior Programme Manager, Transmission Asset Management. An experienced senior projects manager, principal engineer and team leader with a successful track record delivering national renewable and extra high voltage transmission infrastructure projects. Senior Project Manager for delivery of Transmission System Operator (TSO) commerical offers associated with Gate 3, the group renewable processing scheme for over 3000 MW of renewable generation established by the Commission for Energy Regulation. He was educated at UCD (MBA) and the University of Bath (MSc in electrical engineering).

DAVID MARTIN, Senior Communications Specialist. An expert in public relations, he is the senior lead communications specialist at EirGrid. Over the past five years, his role has involved the management of political and stakeholder relations, strategic corporate communications and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

MARK NORTON, Manager Transmission Network Planning.

PHILIP O’DONNELL, Manager Energy System Analysis.

CONSULTANTS

ESB INTERNATIONAL

ROBERT ARTHUR, Senior Consultant, Construction. He made a significant contribution to the EirGrid case, explaining the company’s expertise over more than thirty years of erecting pylons and overhead lines. He was asked to explain details of the proposed method of construction for the pylons. He outlined how they could be built in different terrain, including bogland and on sloping ground. Started his career in 2000 working in EMC testing & EMF Human Health surveys with Compliance Engineering Ireland Limited. Joined ESB International in 2004, dealing with HV Transmission Line Conflicts. Maintained specialist work in EMF field when taking up EMF Specialist role in 2006 within ESBI. Currently High Voltage Transmission Lines & Cables Maintenance Manager within ESBI’s Asset Management Services group. Responsible for a team of 22 staff dealing with overhead transmission line and HV cable maintenance. Educated at DIT and University of Bath (MSc electrical power systems).

JARLATH DOYLE, Senior Consultant, Construction. Project Director 400kV projects. Specialises in design and construction of transmission lines; project management; tower foundation design; material testing and specification; preparation of environmental impact statements. Educated at NUI Galway (BE) and University of Limerick (MBA).

KEVIN COFFEY, Line Routing Specialist.

BRENDAN ALLEN, Senior Planning Consultant.

DR PADDY KAVANAGH, Environmental Director.

EXPONENT:

DR BILL BAILEY, Principal Scientist.

DR GABOR MEZEI, Medical Doctor & Senior Managing Scientist.

RPS:

NEASA KANE-FINE, Senior Communications Specialist.

LEAH KENNY, Operations Director & Director of Planning.

TOBIN:

DAMIEN GREHAN, Director of Energy & Environment.

JOHN DILLON, Senior Environmental Engineer.

DAIREANN McDONNELL, Senior Ecologist.

TOM CANNON, Senior Traffic Engineer.

According to Tobin Consulting Engineers, there is no doubt about the significant benefits that the North/South 400kV interconnection development will bring to the people of Ireland, north and south. It will link the power distribution network in both parts of the island of Ireland, and it will improve competition by reducing the constraints that are restricting the efficient performance of the all-island Single Electricity Market. It will improve security of supply by providing a reliable high capacity link between the two parts of the all-island transmission system; it will support the development of renewable power generation by enhancing the flexible exchange of power flows over a large area of the island and it will specifically reinforce the security of the electricity supply in the North East.

TOBIN is a key member of the consultancy team on this nationally important strategic project. The company brought their GIS capability to route selection along the approximately 60km southern section of the proposed development, screening the entire study area under all constraints such as designated conservation areas, dwellings, surface water features, cultural heritage features, geology and landscape designations. This work enabled the identification of the route corridor options that minimised environmental impact as it ensured the avoidance of the most significant constraints. The Environmental Impact Statement for the Meath section of the indicative route was linked and coordinated with that for the Cavan-Monaghan section prepared by other colleagues. Planning for this development fell under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

TOBIN’s ornithological team undertook detailed ornithological surveys focusing on the Whooper Swan, over a number of years within Counties Meath, Cavan, Monaghan and Armagh for this project to determine the location of both feeding and roosting sites as well as regularly used flight lines between sites. As part of this study, they completed both field surveys and aerial surveys. TOBIN is the only consultancy to have such expertise within Ireland, possessing the most significant and up-to-date body of national research for this specific species.

The project has drawn its share of controversy, but the TOBIN approach, of presenting the fundamental facts, in a focussed, patient and calm manner, concentrating on the fundamental matters of concern, has been respectful and productive, according to the company. Their consultations have been, in many instances, one-to-one briefings.

AECOM:

AECOM is a large international company providing a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.

JOERG SCHULZE, Senior Landscape Architect. He played an important role during the hearing introducing photomontages of critical points along the interconnector route and commenting on the likely effects on the landscape, including sensitive area such as the Hill of Tara. He has over twelve years’ experience as a landscape architect. He has a comprehensive track record in managing the preparation of landscape and visual impact assessments for road schemes, transmission lines (overground and underground), wind farms, substations, quarries, light industrial developments, wave energy units and domestic housing developments throughout the island of Ireland as part of the EIA process. He is also involved on a broad range of projects including master planning and detail design of commercial, residential, tourism and civic developments throughout Ireland. He also manages the production of GIS mapping, photomontages and preparation of ZTV mapping. He has been an expert witness at oral hearings and public inquiries. He is experienced in working closely with other disciplines, stakeholder engagement, community consultations and has organised and participated in public workshops for a number of projects.

BARRY SHERIDAN, Acoustic Consultant. Environmental Engineering Project Manager with fifteen years’ experience in Noise and Vibration Specialism and Environmental Health and Safety.

KEN GLASS, Principal, Community, Tourism & Leisure, Environment & Planning, Ireland & Scotland.

ALISTAIR HENDERSON, Digital Visualiser.

INDIVIDUAL CONSULTANTS

DECLAN MOORE, Principal Archaeologist, Moore Group. He studied Archaeology and English at University College Galway, graduating in 1991. He obtained a certificate in Management Studies in 1994 and became a licence eligible archaeologist in 1999.  Since graduating he has gained over twenty years’ experience as a field archaeologist, site supervisor and consultant. He is a member of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland and the European Association of Archaeologists. He founded Moore Group in 2001. His professional experience stems from a comprehensive knowledge of Irish field archaeology, historical research and Irish archaeological legislation. During the hearing he was asked to comment on several sensitive areas for the proposed interconnector such as Teltown and Brittas in Co. Meath and Lemgare and Lough Egish in Co. Monaghan.

CON CURTIN, Agricultural Consultant with almost thirty years’ experience. He has assessed the agronomy impacts on several major infrastructural projects.

TOM CORR, Chartered Valuation Surveyor & Agronomist. A native of Co.Monaghan he has over thirty years’ experience in the areas of property and agriculture and possesses a strong technical knowledge across both areas. He has a major focus on providing creative solutions and ideas to client issues and projects.

PROFESSOR CATHAL WALSH, Chair of Statistics, University of Limerick & member of Insight Statistical Solutions. His research interests include Bayesian modelling, evidence synthesis, disease and epidemic models, and biomedical statistics. He has published over 100 journal publications in these areas. Professor Walsh is also a HRB Research Leader in Health Decision Science. Specific areas in which he has used his expertise are in the modelling of heterogeneity using latent variable models and in combining evidence from multiple sources. He has held visiting appointments in Bayesian groups in Brisbane and in Boston. He contributes to the statistical societies in the UK and Ireland and is currently a member of the Council and theme Director for the Royal Statistical Society. He is an advisor to the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics on statistical methodology for Health Technology Assessment and on the Scientific Advisory group for HTA for the Health Information and Quality Authority.

MICHAEL SADLIER, Veterinary Surgeon specializing in Equine Management. He gave evidence about horses in the vicinity of power lines and drew up a report for EirGrid on equine psychology and behavior. The substantial body of research on both livestock and other animals did not indicate any adverse effects from transmission lines. There was therefore no scientific basis in the research literature to conclude that the presence of EMF from transmission lines would create conditions that would impair the health of horses or would precipitate abnormal behaviour.

DR PATRICK CRUSHELL, Director & Senior Environmental Consultant, Wetland Surveys Ireland. He gave evidence about the movements of whooper swans and other birds and wildlife. Dr Crushell established Wetland Surveys Ireland in 2007. He received an honours degree in Applied Ecology from UCC, a Masters degree in Environmental Resource Management from UCD and studied for a PhD (Environmental Sciences) at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. The focus of his PhD research was on soak systems of Clara bog, Co. Offaly. His research also took him to the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia and Argentina. The multidisciplinary approach to his research has given him a broad range of expertise including restoration ecology, eco-hydrology, hydrochemistry, vegetation science and aquatic macro-fauna ecology. He is a Full Member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), adhering to their code of professional conduct. He has been working in the area of nature conservation and ecological assessment for the past 15 years. He has worked as a consultant ecologist in the preparation of Ecological Impact Assessments on over 300 different projects for a range of organisations including government agencies, engineering firms, local environmental groups and NGOs and has appeared as an expert witness on numerous occasions. Dr Crushell’s roles include project management, site surveying, GIS data management and mapping, report compilation and editing, hydrochemistry co-ordinator and data analysis.

DR MARTIN HOGAN, Medical Doctor & Occupational & Environmental Health Specialist. He was called to comment on the effects of power lines on children with autism. Dr Hogan graduated in 1987 at UCC and trained as a specialist in Occupational Health at the University of Manchester. He is the current national specialty Director in Occupational Medicine responsible for training specialist in Occupational Medicine.
Dr Hogan lectures in Occupational Medicine and is a specialist trainer and examiner for the Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. He sits on a number of expert committees in the pharmaceutical industry. He is also a consultant occupational health advisor to the Health and Safety Authority in Ireland.

RODNEY FEWINGS, Aviation consultant. Former senior research fellow at Cranfield University, England.

DR NORMAN MacLEOD, Technical Director HVDC, PB Power

THE OBSERVERS

Apart from specified bodies such as Monaghan and Meath and Cavan County Councils, and the public representatives, the main observers were represented by two voluntary groups.

NORTH EAST PYLON PRESSURE CAMPAIGN

DR PADRAIG O’REILLY

AIMEE TREACEY, Chair

DR COLIN ANDREW

Co. MONAGHAN ANTI-PYLON COMMITTEE

NIGEL HILLIS

MARY MARRON

MARGARET MARRON

ALLEN MCADAM

The Bord Pleanála Inspectors who will now report back to the Board after the eleven weeks hearing that began in March were:

BREDA GANNON

DEIRDRE MCGOWAN.

 

 

 

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY35 MONAGHAN

EIRGRID ACCUSED OF BULLYING LOCAL PEOPLE AS INTERCONNECTOR ORAL HEARING ENDS

DAY THIRTY-FIVE

Closing submissions were made as the oral hearing entered its eleventh week

Michael Fisher  NORTHERN STANDARD  Thursday 26th May p.14

JAMES MCNALLY, Latnakelly, Anyalla, made his submission on Day 34. He said it would be an absolute travesty for the Board to approve such a poorly prepared planning application. His submission dealt with a section of the proposed route from where it would cross the border at Lemgare, near Clontibret, to Cornamucklagh. He said he had identified a number of discrepancies within the Environmental Impact Statement, but had received no credible answers.

He claimed the route selection process was flawed, by EirGrid choosing the “crooked elbow route”, through vulnerable elderly peoples’ property, adding a further 3km to the route and at least 11 or 12 additional pylons for which no rational or verifiable explanation had been provided. There would be a drastic negative impact over a considerable distance on the main tourist asset and local area of natural beauty, “The Monaghan Way” walk, he said.

Mr McNally claimed there had been avoidance of compliance with national and EU Legislation and habitats directives in relation to protected species such as the marsh fritillary butterfly and their habitat, bats, and badgers on the site of one of pylons. He claimed there was potential for the destruction of a nationally recognised site for rare orchids on the “Tassan grasslands”. He said there were three separate erroneous measurements on the distance of the proposed line from Tassan Lough national heritage area.

Regarding the presence of old mine shafts, Mr McNally claimed EirGrid had given no consideration to the risk for toxic lead, zinc, or arsenic run-off, into the ecologically sensitive Tassan Lough area and the potential for poisonous pollution to the local water table as a result of disused mine shaft collapse underneath two of the proposed pylons and other unidentified mine shafts in Lemgare and Annaglough. There was also the omission from the planning maps of a significant poultry unit in Lisdrumgormly. (EirGrid has already given its response on the mines issue, published last week).

EirGrid could not, and would not be allowed to force or coerce the people of Monaghan to accept an overhead powerline, he said. That was a fact that had been well established and emphasised by the numerous oral submissions at the hearing. No amount of posturing, or belittling, of the public submissions, would diminish the landowners’ resolve to have this powerline undergrounded. The community without access to experts, had spoken with one voice. He said it was now up to the inspectors to reflect that voice to the Board for its deliberations, however unpalatable it might seem to EirGrid.

CMAPC SUBMISSIONS

MARGARET MARRON of the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee said for the last nine years since the project was first announced, the process pursued by EirGrid had been very stressful, annoying, frustrating and contrary to what would be expected of a publicly funded organisation. An organisation which she said had used taxpayers’ money arbitrarily to focus exclusively on their own narrow-minded objective, namely to build this powerline overground on pylons, with absolutely no regard for what the affected communities or their political representatives thought.

From the outset, the observers and public concerned, including the landowners, did not sense that procedural justice was high on the list in the oral hearing. Time limits were imposed on public participation and there were constant reminders that the process being conducted was “a fact-finding mission”, not an oral hearing on the application in front of the Board. The landowners were totally dismayed at the inaction of the inspectors in dealing with the “errata” identified in the EIS and the proposed modifications to route access points, the developer being allowed continually to improvise and amend the planning application throughout the hearing process.

CMAPC in association with NEPPC felt there was no alternative but to withdraw from a process which, in the eyes of the landowners, was flawed and biased in favour of the developer. We witnessed the developer being permitted, without hindrance or comment by the presiding Inspectors, to use the “fact finding mission” and information gleaned from the public submissions to address the deficiencies in the EIS and planning application, she said. The public therefore had a right to ask: where was the right to “access to justice in environmental matters” as stipulated in Article 1 of the Aarhus Convention?

Ms Marron continued: “Public hearings should not facilitate a “single-sided” approach while the opposition is absent, or where the public is unaware of the matters being proposed by the developer for acceptance by the Board. The only conclusion which the public can justifiably arrive at is that natural justice is being denied, and the whole planning process is therefore undermined. It could be easily construed that this whole planning process was just another ‘let some steam off’ or ‘tick the boxes’ exercise, designed to placate the public, while meeting the ever changing and seemingly flexible criteria of planning legislation to the advantage of the developer.”

She said it was incredible for the Board to allow a developer and its richly rewarded advisors blatantly to deny in public that there would be any health or life-changing impacts on vulnerable elderly people and mothers with autistic family members. She felt it was heart rending and shocking to watch private people who felt forced to outline their own personal family circumstances in a public arena. No attempt had been made to hold any of the public hearing “in camera” or in private, which was normal practice to accommodate people when issues of a sensitive nature were being considered.

She pointed out that throughout the oral hearing the developer had been seen to request the Board to ignore the established planning standards, regulations and laws, which had been strictly adhered to and implemented by planning authorities both at local and national level, and to allow the developer to carry out pre-construction verification surveys as a solution to their failure to carry out onsite surveys. This was not a solution which could be applied in drumlin topography and it had the added danger of setting a new precedent i.e. that established planning regulations could be totally ignored in future major development proposals.

The failings of desktop studies, aerial photography and LiDAR orthophotography were emphasised throughout the oral hearing process and were shown to be totally ineffective in identifying features on the ground. Some of the proposals provided by the developer to gain access over hedgerows and drains were farcical, totally inappropriate and bordering on the ridiculous.

The suggestions for transport of vast volumes of concrete and washing down of dumpers were equally absurd. The use of mini-diggers to gain access underneath enclosed hedgerows and rock surrounded entrances was impractical, yet the authenticity of such proposals was not questioned by the inspectors in most instances. Were members of the public present at the hearing expected to believe that what was being proposed by the developer was actually feasible, she asked.

In the opinion of the CMAPC, the EIS and planning application did not provide a neutral observer with objective, concise, and adequate detailed evidence to justify the destruction of a scenic unspoilt part of the Monaghan landscape. The developer had other options such as the use of more modern HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) technology which could be put underground along existing infrastructural road networks which are owned by the state. The cumulative costs in terms of destruction of the unique drumlin landscape, the environmental and ecological destruction of protected species and habitats, the negative visual impact from a visitor and tourist perspective, the obtrusive overshadowing of national heritage assets, the increased risk to health and safety and possible fatalities underneath the proposed line, the decimation of house and land values along the alignment were some of the factors which in their view substantially outweighed the likely benefits of the proposed overhead 400kV power line.

The incompatible visual intrusion of industrial scale large steel pylon structures up to 52 metres high with the drumlin countryside would detract from the attractive rural character, appearance, amenity and setting of the landscape. It would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of County Monaghan.

CMAPC were requesting the Board to consider the recovery of costs incurred by the public in this second planning application process and asking for a mechanism to be drawn up by the Board whereby the public and their advisors were reimbursed the fees incurred in participating in the “fact finding process” which had lasted over a number of weeks and months. People had endured considerable stress and emotional torment over an extended period during this entire planning process and were entitled at least to reimbursement of the direct costs associated with the hearing.

In conclusion Ms Marron said the anti-pylon committee had absolutely no doubt about the importance of Co. Monaghan to its residents and the devastating impact EirGrid’s proposal would have on their little bit of heaven. “We believe we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we merely borrow it from our children and we want to ensure that future generations can inherit and enjoy the unique, unspoiled drumlin landscape, flora and fauna that we are fortunate enough to enjoy. We attended this hearing in good faith; we hope justice will prevail in the end and the Board will reject this planning application”, she said.

NIGEL HILLIS of the CMAPC referred to the government white paper on ‘Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015 – 2030’ launched in December 2015, which mentioned the need for the interconnector no less than six times. In para. 241 it stated: “The proposed North-South transmission line, which is currently in the planning process, will improve security of supply and reduce electricity transmission costs across the island”. Mr Hillis said it was implicit therein that the line would get planning permission. In his opinion this statement was tantamount to political interference and an attempt to finesse the planning process. It should be seen in that light by you and the Board, he told the presiding inspector.

The developer had stated over and over again that this project was needed for the economic development of the island of Ireland. As we have seen, it is of far greater economic importance to Northern Ireland than to us as they will supposedly run out of power in a few years’ time. So in the sense of economic development it was very much the case of the tail wagging the dog, he said.

Sustainable development in latter years had been very much driven by and embraced by climate change, he said. There had to be a compelling argument that undergrounding the project, which EirGrid’s CEO Fintan Slye had admitted was not only possible, but was also acceptable, was even more worthy of the title sustainable. It integrated and satisfied the three pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social equity and environmental protection. Undergrounding was in fact the most sustainable solution as it totally satisfied this triple bottom line of sustainability.

EirGrid had argued it would cost more to deliver the project underground and he accepted that the ‘nuts and bolts’ capital expenditure would be greater. But Mr Hillis said the affordability of undergrounding had never been examined because a full cost-benefit analysis had never been carried out.

Regarding access to lands along the route, it had been revealed that only 25% had been accessed and they did not even know where or what they are. There was no breakdown as to how much of the land accessed actually would have pylons, how much would have only the wires crossing and how much would be within 50 metres of the line, having neither pylons nor wires. Mr Hillis said in his view this was not proper planning. Indeed the withholding of such details was the antithesis of proper planning because properly informed comment could not be made by the public in the absence of this vital information.

This was now a project of common interest and the very highest standards must apply in both jurisdictions. If NIE or SONI walked into the Northern Ireland planning authorities with their application and said: we have only had access to 25% of the land for environmental surveys, I have no doubt they would be told to take the application away with them and shown the door, said Mr Hillis. In fact a “Consolidated Environmental Statement Addendum” was published in June 2015, the purpose of which was to provide the planning authorities with additional environmental information based on full access to 97% of the land in Armagh and Tyrone.

Mr Hillis noted that An Bord Pleanála had specifically requested that the NI planning documents and in particular the consolidated ES would be appended to EirGrid’s planning application. He requested that the inspectors and the Board took careful note of the huge difference in the quality of the environmental information, due mainly to the fact that 97% of land was accessed not once, but twice, in the N. Ireland section.

He then turned to his own area of expertise, namely construction, and a section in the Environmental Impact Statement regarding the requirement for temporary access tracks. It stated: “for the purposes of this appraisal, all temporary access routes have been assessed based on very wet weather conditions, expansive construction techniques with heavy machinery or equipment”.

Mr Hillis pointed out that only nineteen access points in Monaghan and Cavan and six in Meath were deemed to require temporary access tracks. This was totally ludicrous and nonsensical and was complete and utter guesswork and not evidence based on actual walk-over surveys in very wet weather, he said. He wondered what other areas of the EIS were totally deficient owing to the lack of proper on-site surveys at appropriate times of the year.

With regard to the so called mapping anomalies and incorrect capturing of roadside entrances, Mr Hillis claimed these were semantics in order to cover the fact that the roads had not been not driven on. He claimed the assessment was all done from out-of-date blurry large scale aerial maps on a computer, sitting in an office.

Again as more and more anomalies were brought to light by the landowners the machinery got smaller and smaller: mini diggers and mini piling rigs and concrete unloaded into dumpers ranging from 6 tonnes right down to 3.5 tonnes, the removal and double handling of spoil from sites, but yet the logistics for these operations had not been properly appraised at all. Mr Hillis said during the course of the hearing he had asked for a method statement to be prepared in order to understand better exactly what was entailed in this ever-changing construction methodology. But EirGrid’s barrister had immediately jumped to say that this would be going into excessive and inappropriate detail.

Mr Hillis continued: the Bob the Builder approach constantly taken by the developer (Can we fix it? Yes, we can) had no place at an oral hearing, in particular when the developer was a semi-state body which should have its planning application developed to the highest standards in all respects. The construction methodology had been totally revised in the course of the oral hearing and that section of the EIS was now, in his opinion, totally deficient and not fit for purpose.

He pointed out to the inspectors that in March 2016 an independent review group had published its organisational review of An Bord Pleanála. The review group was chaired by Gregory Jones QC who wrote in his foreword: “Planning is all about shaping the places in which we live. Planning decisions are not always easy. They involve judgements based upon balancing competing interests upon which people may have strongly held and divergent views. The issues are often complex and controversial.”

“The way in which planning decisions are taken also involves striking a balance between many factors. Some of these factors pull in different directions. We want planning decisions to be taken by people of integrity. We want decisions-takers to have fully considered the evidence and for their decisions to be soundly and carefully reasoned. We want everyone to have had a fair say.”

“Many challenges, such as, providing sufficient housing, securing sustainable economic growth, environment protection and addressing climate change, are shared by us all. In meeting these challenges countries can learn from one another. On the other hand, successful planning systems must also be fine-tuned to reflect the culture and values of the country and people they serve. One size does not fit all.”

The foreword by Mr Jones ends: “An Bord Pleanála enjoys a well-deserved high reputation for its integrity and professionalism. It is an internationally unique body playing a vital role in the planning system of Ireland. I consider it an honour and great responsibility to have been appointed to chair this Review.”

Mr Hillis addressed his closing remarks to the presiding inspector: “I don’t know, Madam Inspector, if you consider it an honour or not to have been appointed to this case or indeed if you simply just picked the short straw. But you do have a great responsibility, which cannot be abdicated, and I would ask you to dwell on those words of Gregory Jones QC. In particular, has everyone had a fair say at every stage of the process and does this application reflect the culture and values of the people that EirGrid are mandated to serve?”

“I ask you to give very careful and serious consideration if this strategic infrastructure application is indeed in accordance with proper planning and sustainable development in the linear area through which it is proposed to be sited. Whether that be the royal county of Meath, the intangible cultural areas of Loughanleagh and Muff in Cavan or the unique drumlins and scenic small lakes of Monaghan and indeed on the land of each and every landowner (big and small) on which it is proposed to be sited. I would respectfully submit to you that on the basis of the information gathered at this oral hearing it very definitely is not in accordance with proper planning and sustainable development.”

COLETTE MCELROY, Ballintra, again expressed concern about the proposed construction 475m from her house of a pylon with 400kV wires. She repeated her worries about the noise that would emanate from the lines, especially in wet weather and the impact the development would have on health.

EIRGRID have previously responded that during standard conditions there would be no significant noise emission from the overhead lines, but during wet conditions, corona noise might occur. The company said (using international standard methodologies) this noise was not predicted to cause significant impact at sensitive receptors. But for people with noise sensitivity, there was a need to consider this on a case-by-case basis.

MONAGHAN POLITICIANS

CAOIMGHÍN Ó CAOLÁIN TD, Sinn Féin deputy for Cavan-Monaghan, said the lives, hopes, plans and ambitions of people had been suspended in midair for the past nine years as a result of the application. If EirGrid thought the repeated statements that had been made favouring an underground route were a bluff, then let them call their bluff and they would see how strong the support was for undergrounding the interconnector.

He said the health risks from the proposed interconnector were real, as were the fears of local people. Over the past nine years the plans had caused stress on individuals, families and communities. He again raised concerns about the impact on the environment, on agriculture, on property and land valuation, as well as the effects it would have on tourism in the five coubnties affected.

He said his party was just one of the many political voices that had unanimously opposed the overhead lines. The EirGrid plan was also collectively challenged by the three County Councils in Monaghan, Cavan and Meath. An Bord must take note of their written and oral presentations on the project, he said. In 31 years as an elected representative he had rarely seen such a crass example of corporate bullying than had been demonstrated by EirGrid.

CLLR SEAN GILLILAND said the EirGrid application was “upside down” and it was the local community who had turned it upside down by showing its flaws especially regarding access routes and plans to build pylons on ground that EirGrid had not been able to access. He asked the inspectors and Bord Pleanála to let the people of Monaghan Cavan and Meath back to their normal lifestyle by rejecting the plan. The nature of the application was an insult to the people, to the inspectors and to the Board, he said.

Cllr Gilliland again claimed that photomontages produced by EirGrid at a number of locations were selective, using narow angle lenses so that in some cases the proposed pylons were hidden behind hedgerows, gateposts or road signs. On other occasions a wide angle lens had been used when it suited.

JOERG SCHULZE, the lanscape architect consultant for EirGrid previously pointed out in response to Cllr Gilliland and others that the photomontages had been taken at designated viewpoints on the public road. All had been produced in accordance with the relevant Landscape Institute guidelines for landscape and visual impact assessment.

NEPPC SUBMISSIONS

PADRAIG O’REILLY of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign told the inspectors the EirGrid planning application remained invalid and should be rejected. Dr O’Reilly said multiple changes to the application that had been made during the eleven weeks oral hearing were an unacceptable waste of public monies. He said An Bord Pleanála had a duty not only to reject the application outright, but to direct that an appropriate alternative be considered for the future.

Dr O’Reilly said the application had been in the public domain for almost a year since it was submitted to An Bord Pleanála last June. In the past ten weeks the plan had been laid bare at the hearing. NEPPC which represented around 200 landowners mainly in Meath said its position in June 2015 was that this was an application so inadequate and deficient in so many aspects that it should never have been accepted as a valid application by the competent authority of An Bord Pleanála.

Now that the hearing was ending, the group’s position was that the application was even more inadequate, deficient and by default invalid than had originally been realised. The significant changes, errata, omissions and admissions made during the oral hearing were a testament to this invalidity and to the fatally flawed contents of the application. The legitimacy of the application and indeed of the applicant was therefore tarnished beyond redemption.

Dr O’Reilly said EirGrid to this day had refused to carry out the relevant analysis and costing of a site-specific underground high voltage DC cable solution along public roads. It followed from this fact that the planning application had failed to include an objective consideration of alternatives, and this fact alone should render the entire application invalid.

EirGrid was unaware of the latest publication from the European underground cable manufacturers representative body – Europacable – highlighting and proving their argument that an appropriate HVDC cable could easily be accommodated along the roads of the North-East. This publication had to be handed to EirGrid by the NEPPC.

According to the NEPPC, EirGrid’s blatant disregard for the whole process of consultation was on display at the hearing for the last ten weeks. Over fifty access route changes onto farmers’ lands were made during the hearing. No landowner notification, let alone consultation, occurred prior to any of these announcements. In fact the landowners affected by the first five announcements on Day One were never even informed until three weeks later.

There was a refusal by the company to make any attempt, such as public notices or other forms of media, to inform affected landowners promptly. There was also a refusal to put any of these changes on its website, until reluctantly consenting to do so at the very end of the hearing.

Significant changes had been made to the planning application during the course of the hearing. The Board had refused to clarify if these proposed changes were being accepted. This raised critical questions such as: why are significant changes to the planning application being entertained at this late stage? And why was there a refusal to date to clarify if the changes would be accepted?

NEPPC claimed EirGrid had taken an ‘a la carte’ approach to the planning application. For example there were now a series of options regarding access routes, guarding construction methods, concrete delivery methods, off-loading concrete, traffic movements and traffic management options, and a choice of forestry clearfelling, namely manual versus mechanical. This approach accoding to the group was contrary to all normal planning guidelines and instructions for the rest of the country.

The oral hearing process shone the spotlight on the glaring deficiencies in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The only rational conclusion that could be drawn was that the EIS was so deficient as to render it impossible to arrive at an adequate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The NEPPC pointed out that EirGrid was unable to access at least 75% of the lands for which it intends to construct over 300 massive pylons. The Environmenal Impact Statement was thus 75% deficient in detailed site-specific information on such critical aspects as flora and fauna and soil geology. Finally, EirGrid had interviewed only 5% of the landowners on whose lands it required access and co-operation. For these reasons, Dr O’Reilly said, the Board had a duty not only to reject the application outright, but to direct that an appropriate alternative be considered for the future.

AIMÉE TREACY, Chairperson of the NEPPC, spoke on behalf of concerned residents groups in Co. Meath. She said EirGrid had given no prior notice nor had they been in consultation with landowners before they made more than fifty changes to the original planning application, most of them alternative access routes for construction. She described the application as deeply flawed and claimed it was invalid. It would never be accepted by the public, she said. Her contribution was applauded by the large crowd of observers.

Dr COLIN ANDREW of the NEPPC said the EirGrid application had been catastrophically flawed from the outset. EirGrid representatives had prevaricated and filibustered and refused to give straight ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers to questions raised by observers. He said the application had not shown that there would be any benefit to the electricity consumer by building the interconnector.

MEATH POLITICIANS

PEADAR TÓIBÍN TD Sinn Féin deputy for Meath West said the Board now had an opportunity to put the rights of citizens and of the community at the centre of the planning process. He claimed EirGrid were stealing equity away from families by attempting to put pylons on their property.

REGINA DOHERTY TD, government Chief Whip and Fine Gael deputy for Meath East called on An Bord Pleanála when making their decision to take into account the impact the plan would have on real lives, which she said could not be underestimated. She said that EirGrid had behaved with what could only be described as arrogance, and with very little respect for the public, the affected communities and landowners.

She told the inspectors it was almost exactly ten years since she first attended a public meeting in Trim, organised by the NEPPC, for the initial proposal for the North-South interconnector. “I find it incredibly difficult to fathom, exactly how EirGrid, ten years later, have made so many last minute, but substantial, changes to their planning application, despite having had six years since their initial application to An Bord Pleanála”, she said.

Ms Doherty continued: “For the second time, we have seen a planning application from EirGrid which is inherently flawed, in the form of what one can only assume to be carefully choreographed changes to fifty access routes, which have left both members of the public, and affected landowners, completely in the dark. As a result, we have been left unable to engage with these changes. I am reliably informed that some affected landowners have not even been notified by EirGrid as to these changes, despite EirGrid stating otherwise.”

“EirGrid, has essentially robbed Meath landowners and communities from being able to partake in what should have been a thoroughly democratic and transparent public consultation. I also share the confusion which was voiced in the room as to whether the Board will be adjudicating upon this planning application either with, or without, the extensive amendments to access routes presented by EirGrid.”

Ms Doherty said in conclusion: “I again echoed the striking absence of a fully costed alternative undergrounding, or partial undergrounding, of the interconnector, which, in and of itself, most are in agreement is a much needed upgrade to our critical national infrastructure. We cannot, and will not, take EirGrid on its word, that undergrounding is not feasible for long-term viability and sustainability reasons.”

 GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER

KEVIN BRADY, Principal Officer in charge of Strategic Energy Policy at the former Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said a white paper on energy (Ireland’s Transition to a Low carbon Energy Future) was published in December last year, setting out a vision and framework for energy policy from 2015-2030. He said Ireland valued its relationship with Northern Ireland including energy matters and they were part of an all-island electricity market. Mr Brady said the need for an appropriate energy infrastructure including interconnectors underpinned all energy policy. But the government was not seeking to determine specific details of the interconnector scheme or to direct EirGrid about particular sites, routes or technology.

A second interconnector would fulfil the three core energy policy requirements of competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability. The proposal had been designated as an EU project of common interest. They needed to ensure there was access to wider markets and both Ireland and Northern Ireland would benefit from security of supply by having a single system across the island, Mr Brady said.

EIRGRID CLOSING SUBMISSION

BRIAN MURRAY SC for EirGrid set out the reasons why a second North-South overhead interconnector was required. It was necessary to overcome the risk of system separation and to increase transfer capacity between the two electricity transmission systems on the island. It would help achieve the objectives of improving market competition in the context of the Single Electricity Market, to support the development of renewable power generation and to improve security of supply. “These are absolutely critical objectives”, he said.

Mr Murray re-stated the support for the proposal which had been voiced by government in its white paper on energy and other key stakeholders who had made presentations at the hearing. “Garrett Blayney of the Commission for Energy Regulation said that there was a ‘clear and pressing need for the construction of the interconnector as quickly as possible and in a cost efficient manner’. Mr Owen Wilson of the Electricity Supply Association said that ‘failure or delayed delivery of the North- South Interconnector risks significant damage to Ireland’s national interest’.”

“Mr Neil Walker of IBEC gave evidence that IBEC wished to see the interconnector proceed as proposed, as it will be of real benefit for all electricity users and the wider economy. Mr Iain Hoy of the Northern Ireland CBI said that successful construction was ‘vital to protect security of existing supply, facilitate competition of SEM and reduce costs’. Similar evidence was given by Mark O’Mahoney of Chambers Ireland.”

EirGrid’s closing statement outlined the requirement for an overhead, 400 kV Alternating Current (AC) interconnector. Mr Murray said the use of Direct Current (DC) as opposed to AC current had been considered. A DC option would not provide the same level of reliability and security of supply as an AC solution. A DC solution would be suboptimal. The complexity of the system required to accommodate a DC link introduced a big risk that things could go wrong, as Project Manager Aidan Geoghegan had explained. There was no example of a comparable HVDC scheme embedded in an AC system.”

EirGrid’s view was that the proposed 1500MW capacity was required in order to provide adequate contingency in the event of a failure of the existing interconnector. It was also necessary to provide sufficient additional capacity to allow the longer term sustainable development of the network as demand for electricity grew both in the region and on the island of Ireland.

Mr Murray continued: “Cost is certainly a relevant and important consideration. EirGrid is mandated by statute to develop the national grid in a manner that is safe, secure and cost effective. A DC underground cable would cost €670m more than the proposed AC overhead line”. However, contrary to what had been said repeatedly at the hearing, cost was not the only consideration.

“It is not technically feasible to underground the entire interconnector using AC cable. This is because the distance is simply too great for an AC underground cable of the size and power carrying capacity required for this project to operate safely”, the lawyer for EirGrid explained.

Mr Murray also spoke of the environmental considerations in the proposal. “The potential for impacts on designated European sites (River Boyne and River Blackwater) have been comprehensively assessed in the Natura Impact Statement. It has been clearly established that no structures or works will be located within these or any designated European sites. Mitigation by avoidance at the design stage, in addition to effective and proven robust mitigation measures, must lead to the conclusion that there will be no impacts on the integrity of any designated Natura 2000 site.”

Regarding the level of public consultation carried out as part of the project, Mr Murray said “this project has been the subject of exhaustive consultation. It is not and never was a ‘box ticking’ exercise. It is something viewed by EirGrid as central to the future of the project.”

Mr Murray addressed the issue of temporary access routes, which had been raised on several occasions during the hearing. “The access routes do not form part of the development. Therefore, no part of the development has changed in any way in the course of the hearing. The access routes are included as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). For that reason, EirGrid has quite properly taken account of information gathered in the course of that process.”

“It is in this context that EirGrid brought a number of access routes to the attention of the attendees at the hearing in order to enable the Board to assess the modifications proposed to those access routes. These have been advised to affected landowners.”

EirGrid said it had considered all potential deviations or mapping discrepancies, whether those issues arose from the EIS access route mapping or the larger-scale landowner mapping. The review process had revisited aerial imagery, landowner access mapping and EIS figures with follow-up vantage surveys, as necessary, according to Mr Murray.

He concluded: “EirGrid submits that the second North-South interconnector is a project which is critically necessary. It is a project which we believe can only be sustainably developed in the manner proposed, and it is a project which minimises adverse impacts to the greatest extent possible.”

Referring to the court case brought by the NEPPC seeking to halt the oral hearing, Brian Murray SC said the inspectors would recall that on the eve of the hearing, some observers sought to halt it, and repeated that application before the hearing. Thus on Thursday May 12th, just as the submissions were concluding, the High Court delivered its judgement on the application for leave to seek judicial review.

The High Court determined, effectively, that the various grounds which had been raised before it were (save for PCI) in the first instance matters properly for An Bord Pleanála to determine rather than for the High Court. Mr Murray said that did not preclude a judicial review on those grounds following a decision of the Board if the application was granted. But it did mean that it was the Board which must decide those issues first, on the basis of the facts and evidence it has before it.

The application to build a 400kV overhead line with almost 300 pylons stretching 135km from Meath to Tyrone was made to the Board in June last year. It has been examined in detail at the oral hearing that began in March and lasted 35 days. It was one of the biggest ever such enquiries into what is said to be the largest single infrastructure development in the state in recent years. The inspectors will now prepare a report for the Board, which is expected to announce its decision towards the end of this year.

A preliminary hearing under the auspices of the Planning Appeals Commission in Northern Ireland will take place in Armagh next month. This first stage will discuss legal and procedural issues surrounding the SONI application for the 34km section of the interconnector with 102 pylons from Crossreagh, Co. Armagh (near Clontibret) to Turleenan near the Moy in Co. Tyrone, where a substation is due to be built.