The Ferrycarrig Hotel has been refused planning permission by Wexford County Council to build a new residents lounge on stilts overlooking protected mudflats in the Slaney estuary on the grounds that the development would lead to a loss of bird habitats and because an existing pier on the site was built without approval.
Hotelier Liam Griffin applied for planning permission through O'Driscoll Lynn Architects to construct a detached single-storey residents' lounge of 100 square metres and an external deck at the hotel which is located within the Slaney River Valley Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Wexford Harbour and Slobs Special Protection Area (SPA). The application was accompanied by an Natura Impact Statement (NIS).
The proposal is to build a new residents lounge over an existing causeway in the River Slaney at the rear of the hotel, designed to give the appearance of a boathouse structure, with a platform raised above the existing stone causeway and a timber deck ramp connecting the new building to the existing hotel lawn.
The site is within and overlooking the Special Area of Conservation mudflats and the project would involve piling and construction work within the Natura 2000 sites along with the storage of materials and plant near the sites.
Wexford County Council notified the National Parks and Wildlife Service at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht which submitted detailed comments about the permanent loss of habitat.
The planning department unearthed a 1973 aerial photograph showing that the stone pier at the rear of the hotel was not in position at that time and there was no evidence of planning permission having been obtained for the pier.
It was considered that the construction and operation of the building would have an impact on outdoor recreational activities, siltation rate changes and loss of habitat with approximately 0.4% of the SAC lost or compromised and also disturbance to feeding and roosting birds.
It is likely that the initial effects would be significant, according to a planning inspector who referred to an NIS suggestion that the long term effects were likely to be insignificant as wading birds would become more familiar with the structure but no evidence of this was provided.
The inspector raised concerns about the permanent disturbance and displacement of wading birds from a portion of the estuary and mudflats.
'The significance of the impact that results from even a short term displacement should not be underestimated. In terms of foraging habitat, displacement from feeding opportunities not only reduces a bird's energy intake but also leads to an increase in energy expenditure as a result of the flying to an alternative foraging area. Displacement also has knock-on ecological effects such as increased competition within and/or between different species for a common food source', she said.
There is also the potential for disturbance from lighting, noise and general late night occupation of the proposed residents' lounge which would impact on the habitats and protected species including bats.
The planning inspector said the proposal was contrary to Objective NH03 of the County Development Plan which states that that any plan or project must be subject to appropriate assessment screening to ensure there are no likely significant effects on the integrity of any Natura 2000 site and that the EU Habitats Directives are fully complied with.
It was decided that permission for the development could be seen as a de facto granting of approval for the retention of the unauthorised pier and would also set a 'dangerous precedent' along the highly sensitive SlaneyRiver Valley SAC where there is considerable pressure for projects of this kind and where there are a number of enforcement cases against unauthorised developments of a similar nature. 'While I understand the desire for the proposed development I have to consider the precedents it would set and the cumulative impacts on the qualifying interests of the Slaney River Valley SAC and the Wexford |Harbour and Slobs SPA', said the inspector.