Fertiliser factory faces planning challenge


an Bord Pleanála has still not decided if planning permission is necessary for a sludge-producing factory, Glancré Teoranta, in Mayo.

Sludge cake from sewage treatment plants will be used at Glancré to produce fertiliser pellets for garden centres, mainly for export. Glancré is located on the site of the old Norsk Hydro plant in Geesala - a peat drying facility which never engaged in commercial production.

Mayo County Council issued a permit to the factory last December to enable production to begin. Members of a local group, the Erris Action Committee (EAC), who are objecting to the factory because of health risks, referred the matter to An Bord Pleanála.

The board, which has a role as a reference agency in planning matters, informed all parties recently that, due to its heavy workload, a decision would not be made until June 18th at the earliest.

The matter was referred to the board on September 28th last. The council permit was issued following legal advice which stated that planning permission was not required as there was no material change of use from the Norsk Hydro operation of peat drying. It was argued that Glancré would redeploy the existing machinery at the plant.

However, legal and environmental advice for the EAC indicated that planning permission is required and that the Glancré operation is a major change of use. "It is my professional opinion that there are many environmental risks associated with the proposed sludge drying process," environmentalist Ms Margaret Daly said.

Mr Jorma Nieminen, who, as sales and technology manager for Finnish company Ahlstrom Engineering, provided "a flash dryer" for the then Norsk Hydro factory in the mid-1980s, claims that tests with sewage sludge created exhaust gases which "smell very badly".

A report from P.H. McCarthy and Partners, Consulting Engineers, who worked on the Dublin Bay project for Dublin Corporation, stated: "Converting a peat drying facility to a sludge drying facility is a change of use that will require careful design and control. There is no track record for changing an Ahlstrom peat dryer to a sludge dryer." The report listed "six major reasons" where "the proposed development for the sludge drying facility is materially different from the existing installation of peat drying".

Mr Noel Coyle, EAC member, said, "I feel that some members of the public are not aware of the health hazards involved. From what we have discovered, we are more adamant than ever to make sure that this factory does not go into production in this area. The information we have found out has only strengthened our resolve to oppose this project. It is an outrageous decision to site this plant in an unspoiled area."

Mr Seamus Cafferkey, chairman of EAC, said, "We are all disappointed that there will not be a response until June. There is no timescale on when a decision must be made when a matter is referred to the board. We have sent a letter to Glancré requesting them to meet us. Unfortunately, there is nothing arranged as of yet."

A spokesman for Mayo county council said that the council issued a permit on the understanding that planning permission was not required.

Mr Anthony Murphy, the manager at the Glancré plant, said that he would prefer to have a decision on the matter from An Bord Pleanála. He added that production trials have been carried outand equipment tested.

"We are effectively in production through the trial process," Mr Murphy said. "We have surpassed some of the conditions listed on the permit," he added, and said that he would be only too glad to show members of EAC around the facility.