M11 upgrade will ‘devastate’ historic houses, say conservationists

Proposed options include widening existing route through Glen o’ the Downs nature reserve and an 8km western bypass of the glen

Traffic passing through Glen o’ the Downs. Photograph:Cyril Byrne

Traffic passing through Glen o’ the Downs. Photograph:Cyril Byrne

 

A proposed upgrade of the M11 motorway through Co Wicklow will devastate some of the county’s most important protected buildings, historic gardens and landscapes, conservationists are warning.

The Irish Georgian Society (IGS) said it was dismayed at the suggested routes for the road improvement – a flagship scheme in the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 masterplan – and the “apparent lack of any consideration” to their impact on the area.

Plans to ease traffic congestion along a 22km section of the N11/M11 in south Dublin and north Wicklow were unveiled in recent weeks.

Seven proposed options include one widening the existing route through the Glen o’ the Downs nature reserve, another involving an 8km western bypass of the glen and two through Delgany golf course.

Others include new sections off the existing motorway between Bray and Kilmacanogue, near Rocky Valley or rising towards the Little Sugarloaf.

Donough Cahill, executive director of the IGS, has called on Wicklow County Council – the lead local authority for the scheme – to scrap all the published options.

In a rebuke of the proposals he has written to the council detailing “serious concerns” about their impact on protected buildings, including Dargle Cottage, Kilcroney House, Hollybrook House, Tinnapark House and Mount Kennedy House as well as Bellvue Demesne.

“The current road improvement scheme would have a devastating impact on the distinctive character of an area which has drawn visitors for centuries and would see the irretrievable loss or significant diminution of multiple sites through demolition or massive earth works,” Mr Cahill warned.

Dargle river valley

The current road proposals would have a “direct and severe impact” on the northern end of the Dargle river valley, he said, including an important garden laid out by Sir Basil and Lady Goulding in the 1940s and two protected structures: Dargle Cottage and the Goulding Summerhouse.

The picturesque setting of the cottage orné and summerhouse “would be ruined”.

The proposals would “completely destroy” the setting of Kilcroney House, would have a “hugely detrimental impact” on the setting of Hollybrook House and “forever compromise the character and special qualities” of Bellevue Demesne, he wrote.

One of the route options would have “a significant impact” on the setting of Tinnapark House and “slice through” a section of Mount Kennedy House demesne, which Mr Cahill describes as among the most architecturally significant houses in Co Wicklow as well as a building of national architectural importance.

A sizable portion of the historic designed landscape at Mount Kennedy “would be lost forever”, while “the celebrated views from the ridge above the Glen o the Downs would be forever compromised”.

“Ireland’s architectural heritage and its historic gardens and designed landscapes are intrinsic to the multi-layered character of its countryside.

“This is particularly evident in County Wicklow, where its picturesque landscapes have been celebrated since the 18th century through the work of artists and writers, and continues through to the present day with the county having deservedly earned the moniker of ‘Garden of Ireland’.

Traffic on the M11/N11 road has risen dramatically since the Glen o’ the Downs road was widened to a dual carriageway, going from 25,600 vehicles a day in 1999, to 53,000 last year. Photograph: Eric Luke
Traffic on the M11 has risen dramatically since the Glen o’ the Downs road was widened to a dual carriageway, going from 25,600 vehicles a day in 1999, to 53,000 last year. File photograph: Eric Luke

“If any of the various corridor options proposed for the N11/M11 improvement scheme are implemented, they would have a devastating impact on some of the county’s most important protected structures, historic gardens, and designed and natural landscapes.”

Consultation

In a statement, Wicklow County Council said it was at the start of a lengthy public consultation process on the roadworks “which seeks to be both informative and collaborative”.

“We understand that interested parties have their views and concerns, and we welcome all input into the process,” a spokesman said.

“Ultimately, through collaborative engagement with all parties, our aim is to achieve a rational and practical outcome so that the optimum solution is achieved on this strategic and critical southeast corridor.”

Traffic on the M11/N11 road has more than doubled since two decades ago, when the Glen o’ the Downs road was widened to a dual-carriageway, going from 25,600 vehicles a day in 1999 to 53,000 last year.

At the time of the last widening a 2km stretch through the glen was the scene of a three-year Save the Trees campaign, with demonstrators occupying the nature reserve in a an attempt to prevent any further destruction.