"All hell will break loose” if even one tree in Courtown Woods is cut down for the provision of a new footpath in the area. That was the view of Councillor Diarmuid Devereux at a meeting held in Ballycanew Resource Centre last week to discuss the future of the woods.
Organised by the Courtown Community Council (CCC) the meeting saw local councillors and members of the public come together in an effort to safeguard an amenity which was taken over by Active Tribe last year.
However, although six elected councillors were present at the meeting (Diarmuid Devereux, Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin, Joe Sullivan, Mary Farrell, Donal Kenny, and Andrew Bolger) they admitted they remained in the dark regarding the route of the Courtown to Gorey footpath and the impact it would have on the woods.
“We haven’t been told of anything happening, some of us did make the proposal that certainly the trees shouldn’t be taken out of brickyard hill, all that area,” said Councillor Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin. “The desire of the community is to go by the back of the woods, the main thing is to link up the two areas anyway, how that will be finalised is another thing.”
Fearing that the “bulldozers are going to arrive and it’ll be done” without anyone knowing anything about it, Linda Sinnott of the CCC said to date there had been no indication of a meeting with the stakeholders and that private landowners likely to be affected by the development had not been consulted either.
With fears that heritage areas Brickyard Hill, Gate Lodge, The High Cross of Kilbride and the woods themselves, would be impacted by the construction of the footpath, Cllr Devereux said he had outlined those concerns to Wexford County Council (WCC).
“We were told at the last county council meeting that it’s out for a feasibility study. There’s a grand plan to match a bridge to the Ballinatray bridge, but I have told them if they take a saw to even one of those trees, all hell is going to break loose,” said Cllr Devereux. “I am not going to sit quiet on an issue where we spent huge sums of money on a footpath that, at any stage, has to interact with private property, because us putting money into a project that interacts with private property and the public interest in all circumstances like this usually ends up in tears.
"I don’t think we know anything of what’s going on, we’re doing this feasibility study and we may just sit back and watch it. But 90 per cent of the people I meet out walking in the woods, if you ask them what do they want, they’ll all say the same ‘I want nothing’. ‘I love it the way it is’.” We want Coillte to buy the woods back from the private owners and take WCC, because WCC are not the public body that should be running this.”
Deirdre Robinson is also a member of the CCC and of the Courtown Woodland Alliance (CWA) and she feared that a lack of action would allow those making the decisions to act with impunity.
“The position we’re in currently is one of passivity, we’re waiting for more bad stuff to happen to us and to happen to the woods, what we should be focusing on is what we can do to intervene in this feasibility process,” she said. “We’re being overlooked and perhaps we shouldn’t be so accepting of that. We don’t want to be in the same position we were in after the sale of the woods, we want to head this off.”
But Cllr Devereux believed it was already too late to make any intervention.
“I believe it’s been finalised already, it’s decided and it was before the woods were sold,” he said. “A plan is in place that the private owners of this woods will get access to the footpath as part of a commercial enterprise married into a public enterprise. I don’t, in theory, have an issue with that, but it’s the lack of transparency. At the next council meeting we can request the CEO to invite the feasibility study consultants into a meeting to explain what they are thinking.”
For some of those present the creation of a footpath to Gorey, at a time when so many other services are lacking, seemed a considerable waste of taxpayers money.
“Why did they decide this footpath was what Courtown needs?” asked one member of the public. “€372,000 (the figure allotted for the footpath) is a lot of money, we have no doctor, there’s loads of other services that are huge priorities. Somebody had the bright spark of an idea that a footpath is the answer to all our prayers.”
Ultimately, it was left to Councillor Joe Sullivan to sum up the scale of opposition to any interference with the wood. “It would be vandalism to do anything to it, when you hit the top of the Brickyard Hill, when the trees are growing, you have an arch you go through, it would be environmental vandalism to interfere with those trees. We want the footpath to go down but not at the expense of what has been there for hundreds of years,” he said.