Arklow councillors have expressed serious reservations about proposals to develop what has been described as the 'biggest landfill' in the country in the north of the district.
The issue came up for discussion at the monthly meeting of Arklow Municipal District, held at County Buildings with social distancing measures in place last Tuesday, June 15.
Kilsaran Concrete have applied to An Bord Pleanála for permission to backfill the existing Ballinclare Quarry. As it is a strategic infrastructure development, the Chief Executive has complied a report which was discussed during the June meeting of Wicklow County Council.
Referring to the discussion at the full meeting of the local authority, Cllr Sylvester Bourke (FG) asked if his fellow councillors would be available to meet and agree a position ahead of a special meeting of the local authority. He said the principle of development had already been established at the site, and councillors may not able to prevent any development. He argued that councillors should suggest a reduction in the permitted annual tonnage to An Bord Pleanala.
Cllr Peir Leonard (Ind) asked if there had been any communication between district engineers and the developer. She said local councillors had only become aware of the proposal in recent days. The project had not been brought before a meeting of the municipal district.
Rob Mulhall, executive engineer, said there had been ongoing discussions between the developer and the local authority over the last 18 months. District engineers had been involved in talks alongside the road section. He said the level of complaints about the L1113/Deputy's Pass between the Beehive and Kilmacurragh Gardens had been taken into consideration in the proposal to split the HGV traffic between two routes. A give way system had been proposed for traffic on the road to the Tap pub to cut the amount of time HGVs are on local roads. Mr Mulhall said the developer had been open to suggestions about the haul route and had taken these on board.
Cllr Leonard noted that the proposed development was not mentioned during the discussion about the L1113 at the municipal district's May meeting. This road and its resident would be 'among those affected by quarry trucks,' she said.
Cllr Miriam Murphy (Ind) said the elected members who spoke at the June meeting of the local authority had highlighted the 'huge impact' of the development on residents living nearby.
A meeting with members of the Wicklow Municipal District ahead of the special meeting was also suggested. Cllr Murphy expressed reservations about the outcome of these meetings.
'I wonder can we come up with something to put in a submission that is strong enough to get a change? I felt from yesterday's meeting, we all had strong views and were singing from the same hymn sheet. But as I said, this was the best kept secret. Are we wasting our time putting in a submission?'
Colm Lavery, district manager, said an Bord Pleanala would have the final say about the application. Any suggestions agreed by councillors would be submitted alongside the Chief Executive's report to be considered by the Bord.
Cllr Bourke asked if Chief Executive's report would be changed if councillors made different suggestions.
Mr Lavery said it would not be updated, instead the elected members' recommendations would be submitted as an addendum to the report to the Bord to consider.
Cllr Pat Fitzgerald (FF) said he was concerned it could be challenging to obtain the backing of councillors from the north and west of the county on the issue. He also noted that residents objecting to the quarry restoration had engaged a prominent person to act on their behalf.
Cllr Bourke expressed the view that elected members from other districts would 'row in' with the view of councillors in the Arklow and Wicklow districts.
Cllr Leonard said she would prefer a minuted meeting between Arklow and Wicklow districts. She suggested councillors should try to get more time to get the 'right plan in place'.
She noted that Arklow is the county's pilot decarbonisation zone and there appeared to be a disconnect between the proposed backfilling of the quarry and the promotion of tourism in the area to sites including Kilmacurragh Gardens and the Avondale House.
'We need to decide what we want in these areas,' she added.
Cllr Bourke suggested a balance had to be struck. Construction waste from projects in Arklow such as the wastewater treatment plant would have to go somewhere.
Cllr Leonard said: 'I've no issue with landfill if it is done in a sustainable way. Councillors were not informed and we need to make a rounded decision. We have to think about all the implications.'
She added that while permission was being sought for a 20 year period, this could be extended. This made it more important to get the right decision for the area.
'Arklow has been a dumping ground over the years,' she said, pointing to the impact on the Avoca River.
Cllr Fitzgerald agreed that waste from future construction in Arklow would have to go into landfill somewhere.
'There has to be a balance between what we need to keep the town going and protecting the environment'.
The Bord inspector had described it as 'the biggest landfill site ever' in the country, Cllr Fitzgerald said. He asked if it would be restricted to inert waste from Leinster only. He also pointed out that the remediation of the Whitestown dump in the west of the county also had to be dealt with.
Cllr Pat Kennedy (FF) said, 'members did not know and negotiations were going on for 18 months. It was not mentioned during the County Development Plan.'
He added that there would also be a high volume of trucks using the haul route, equivalent to around one every two minutes. Local people would be unable to walk the road. 11 pull-in bays for trucks were also proposed along the 2km stretch of road.
'That's 25 per cent of the road. No individual would get away with that,' Cllr Kennedy added.
Cllr Tommy Annesley (FF) said it was unfortunate that councillors from the Arklow Municipal District could not meet with their counterparts in the Wicklow Municipal District during their time in County Buildings.
'A face-to-face meeting would be really important,' Cllr Annesley added.