A proposal by Wicklow County Council to dump up to 200,000 tonnes of inert material dredged from the Dargle river onto environmentally-protected land has been rejected by An Bord Pleanála.
The 5.6 hectare site between Kilcoole and Delgany was chosen by the council, even though it had previously declared that the triangular plot should be protected as a natural habitat and barred to development.
In a blunt decision made this week, the board said the council’s plan, which the council said was for an “eco-park” in which it would also have a “mini depot”, was not coherent.
Local objectors charged that the council's plan was in reality nothing more than a ruse to create a landfill for its own convenience. Welcoming An Bord Pleanála's decision, local councillor Tom Fortune said the plan was "crazy".
The chosen lands are in a small valley, known locally as The Rocks and also Pretty Bush, sandwiched between the R761 Kilcoole to Delgany Road and the L1042 road linking the R761 to Kilquade.
In the council’s 2016-22 county development plan, the council-owned lands are listed to be preserved “in its existing state; to allow no development of these lands; to protect the lands as a natural habitat and biodiversity area; to protect the open nature and landscape quality of the lands”.
Last August the council applied directly to An Bord Pleanála for permission to dump the 200,000 tonnes, followed by its development as "an eco-park for use as a local amenity".
Eighty per cent of existing vegetation would be cleared in the first one to two years, followed by filling in, new top soil and replanting, with oak, hawthorn, mountain ash (rowan), elder, willow, hazel and gorse.
The council argued that the “eco-park”, which would have walkways and signage, would require limited maintenance and be allowed develop “in ‘wild’ status”, as the An Bord Pleanála inspector, Mairead Kenny, noted in her 59-page report on the proposal.
She rejected the idea, however, noting local objectors had characterised the plan as a “landfill disguised as an eco-park”, that was destructive of the existing ecology and for which “no substantial argument was made . . . other than financial”.
The development “materially contravenes” the existing development plan, including biodiversity, and is not justified “either in terms of policy [or] requirement to provide an eco-park or need to recover the dredge spoil”.
The loss of habitat “is not reversible”, she said. The “eco-park” is unsupported by any council policy, and the creation of an “eco-park” would diminish significantly its current ecological value.
Accepting Ms Kenny’s rejection recommendation, Bord Pleanála refused the application, citing the nature and extent of what was proposed, the existing ecology at the site and the Council’s own policy of preserving it.
“The Board is not satisfied,” it said in its decision, “that the design and vision of the proposed eco-park and mini-depot is coherent or would be effective in delivering a high quality and usable local amenity.”
“These are all the reasons we put forward to the board against this crazy application,” commented Cllr Fortune. “You would have to ask the question what is Wicklow County Council at?”
He said the “mini depot” for which the council was denied permission, was already emerging at the site. “An unofficial council yard is currently at the proposed site [and] there is no record of planning permission for this yard,” he added.
On Friday evening, the council said while the Dargle material was “clean and inert”, a change in the law had reduced the number of available disposal sites, and their use entailed long-distance haulage.
The Rocks site was seen as suitable and close to the Dargle, and in talks with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, “they were of the opinion that it would be an ideal site for an eco-park, and expressed that preference rather than a final use as playing fields”.