Members of Wicklow County Council have unanimously backed a resolution objecting to plans to create a large landfill in the county in its current form.
Councillors held a special meeting on Monday to discuss the proposed backfilling of Ballinclare Quarry. Kilsaran Concrete have lodged a planning application with An Bord Pleanala because the project is a strategic infrastructure development (SID) due to its scale.
Permission is being sought for the development and operation of an inert landfill facility to backfill the existing quarry to original ground level and other associated site works. A 20-year grant of permission has been sought. The site has a capacity for over 6.15 million tonnes of material, according to the planning documents.
The Chief Executive's report on the proposal was discussed in detail during the monthly meeting on Monday, June 14, where councillors raised a series of concerns about the development which could be the largest landfill in the state, due to its size. According to a transcript of the meeting, many councillors in south and east Wicklow also expressed concern that they had not been informed by council officials about the proposed development at an early stage. Councillors decided to hold a special meeting this week to allow elected members of the closest municipal districts, Arklow and Wicklow, to meet separately.
At the special meeting, members of Wicklow County Council agreed to a resolution objecting to the development in its current form. They also recommended An Bord Pleanala facilitate an oral hearing.
The resolution laid out the following grounds of objection: lack of consultation with Arklow and Wicklow Municipal District local representatives; lack of consultation with Wicklow County Council Climate and Biodiversity SPC; lack of consultation with local land and property owners; the excessive nature of the scale of the proposed development in a rural area; negative impact on the environment; negative impact on watercourse in particular Potters River and Brittas Bay Special Area of Conservation; impact on local residents and wildlife of noise pollution; negative impact on surrounding residents' quality of life; negative impact on mental and physical health of the local community; health and safety concerns for the local community including road safety; negative impact on biodiversity; concerns in relation to future environmental and traffic management monitoring and enforcement; concerns about the potential negative impact and devaluation of local properties; concerns about the absence of any consideration towards the provision of a local community fund; concerns in relation to the inadequacy of the surrounding road network and width of the local road to facilitate the amount of HGVs proposed; negative impact on surrounding tourism attractions; concerns in relation to the close proximity of a local school to the proposed landfill access routes; and concerns about potential inaccuracies in the application.
Councillor Pat Kennedy (FF) opened Monday's special meeting by telling elected members that councillors from south and east Wicklow had met on Sunday night.
Cllr Sylvester Bourke (FG) said he had withdrawn a motion in relation to the development. According to a transcript of the June 14 meeting, Cllr Bourke had proposed access to the development by the L1113 and exit by the L1157, a reduction by 50 per cent in the proposed annual tonnage and a cut to HGV movements.
Cllr John Snell (Ind) proposed the resolution which had been agreed by members of the Arklow and Wicklow Municipal Districts.
Seconding the motion, Cllr Miriam Murphy (Ind) said: 'there was good healthy discussion and I feel we were all singing off the same hymn sheet'.
Cllr Snell appealed for elected members to back the resolution. He said: 'the reality is that the 32 members collectively share the job. I believe we work well together with officials and I regret on this occasion there was a severe lack of consultation'.
Cllr Snell said the proposed development was on a 'huge scale' and likely to be the largest in Ireland. A proposal of this kind had 'not happened overnight and would have taken a lot of dialogue to get to this stage'.
Cllr Snell said 'we felt very let down. I hope it's a one-off'.
He appealed to councillors from north and west Wicklow to support the resolution brought forward by the Wicklow and Arklow districts.
'It's unforgivable not to engage with us on this issue. We are the bridge between constituents and officials. There are so many avenues to engage with us.'
Cllr Snell said the lack of consultation had broken the trust between elected members and council officials, in what was otherwise a good working relationship.
Cllr Dermot O'Brien (SF) said he would have expected the proposed development to be brought before the relevant municipal districts and to be considered by the SPC.
He said the suggested resolution 'considers every element and threat that this development may bring',
Cllr Rory O'Connor (Ind), chair of the climate SPC, said he was 'uncomfortable' that the proposal had not been highlighted to the SPC and that he was informed of development by residents of the area.
Cllr Murphy said it was 'very hurtful' that local representatives were told by the public about the proposal.
'We are the ones answerable to the public. Do we believe the public will believe we did not know? I'm really hurt and annoyed.'
Cllr Tom Fortune (Ind) said the incident showed a 'lack of respect' for local public representatives. He called for a special investigation and a full apology to be made to councillors.
Cllr Peir Leonard (Ind) noted the hard work done by the Chief Executive for the county, however, 'trust had been fractured' between councillors and council officials.
She said there would be a knock-on effect of reducing the public's trust in elected representatives.
'Wicklow has the opportunity to lead the way with innovative solutions' to dealing with its waste, Cllr Leonard said.
She called for more transparency and greater communication in future.
Cllr Derek Mitchell (FG) said he was 'disturbed' that local councillors had not been made aware of the SID, arguing this highlighted a problem with the SID process.
Cllr Irene Winters (FG) proposed that the council write to An Bord Pleanala and the Housing Minister to outline their concerns about the limited role of councillors in the SID process. She said consultations between the developer and council officials had been taking place for at least 12 months, but councillors had only become aware of the proposal two weeks ago.
Cllr Edward Timmins (FG) suggested the resolution was amended to refer to claims made at the last meeting that there are inaccuracies in the application. This was agreed by all councillors and added to the resolution.
Cllr Mary Kavanagh (Ind) said the resolution had suggested an oral hearing where these claims could be discussed in full. She said a resident who lived close to the site had been in touch about the eco-system that had developed since quarrying stopped.
Cllr Kavanagh suggested the site could be suitable for an ecological restoration project and an alternative location identified for a landfill.
A vote was called with all 31 councillors present backing the resolution to object to the proposed development.
Frank Curran, Chief Executive of Wicklow County Council, told members that the local authority had followed the SID process as laid out in legislation.
The council was informed about the application by the Bord after it was lodged in April by the developer. He said the local authority needed time to prepare the report and the June meeting was the first opportunity to bring it to members to review.
Mr Curran said the council would do its best to let members know about SID projects as soon as possible. He also said he would consider Cllr Leonard's suggestion to add a section to the website about SID applications.
Elected members also agreed to write to the Minister of Housing and Local Government to request a meeting with him and Department officials to outline their concerns about the role of local public representatives in the SID process.