An Bord Pleanála is to concede in a challenge to its grant of planning permission for the development of a new cable car system connecting Cork’s Beara Peninsula and Dursey Island.
The authority granted Cork County Council approval last November for the decommissioning of the existing cableway structure and the construction of a two-way cableway system with operating stations, a mainland exhibition centre, a cafe and a car park.
The current cableway facilitates the operation of a single six-person cable car used by some 20,400 visitors each year, according to planning documents. It is, however, closed for maintenance until November.
The new cable cars would be able to carry 15 people each, with the number of monthly users capped at 5,000.
However, a challenge to the board’s approval was mounted by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) late last year and on Tuesday An Bord Pleanála confirmed to The Irish Times that it was conceding the case.
FIE argued that the environment where the infrastructure is being placed was “highly sensitive” with both the island and mainland sides captured within the Beara Peninsula special protection area (SPA) for birds.
Commenting on Tuesday, FIE said, “the board’s own inspector has written reports showing great concern for the SPA, but this was set aside by the board, without going into it reasoning”.
FIE, represented by Oisin Collins SC, instructed by O’Connell & Clarke Solicitors, took the challenge to the board’s decision on domestic and European law grounds.
It claimed the board “erred” in concluding that the development does not adversely affect the integrity of European sites when this allegedly could not have been ascertained beyond reasonable scientific doubt.
It was also alleged the board did not scientifically justify its reasons for setting a monthly limit of 5,000 visitors and said the estimated 60,000 annual visitors was a “very significant increase” in traffic to Dursey Island.
Friends of the Irish Environment also claimed the board failed to properly provide any actual assessment either in an environmental impact assessment (EIA) or appropriate assessment (AA) as required by national and European Union law.
An Bord Pleanála confirmed it has decided not to oppose the applicant's claim for certiorari quashing the board's decision.
One of the options open to the parties is to consider a new application which would include some but not all of the new development, for example including the new cable car, but leaving out the visitors’ centre. The case is before the courts again on May 9th.