Planning refused for Slane bypass

 

Residents of Slane have said they are “shattered” and “devastated” following An Bord Pleanála’s refusal to approve plans for a bypass of the Co Meath village.

Meath County Council had sought approval for a 3.5km route crossing the River Boyne on a new bridge between the townlands of Fennor and Crewbane east of the existing Slane bridge.

In its refusal, the board said the proposed bypass, which was to be located some 1.1km to the east of the existing N2 Boyne bridge, which is within the “viewshed” of the of the Brú na Bóinne Unesco world heritage site, “would be acceptable only where it has been demonstrated that no appropriate alternative is available”.

Campaign group Save Newgrange, which opposes the bypass, has called for a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) ban in the village, while the Slane Bridge Action Group and the Slane Bypass Group expressed scepticism that such a ban could be enforced. The village crossroads is a major junction of the N2, the main Dublin to Derry road, and of the main Drogheda to Slane road, the N51.

Minister for State and local Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee said planning for an alternative route for the bypass “that will get through the planning process a second time” should begin immediately.

However, the National Roads Authority (NRA) said the board’s decision appeared to reject any proposed bypass of Slane and “is focused on a traffic management solution”. The authority said this was “disappointing especially for the people of Slane, but the NRA accepts the decision.”

The NRA was told last year to finish planning on all current road schemes and it does not have a budget to prepare a new route. Department of Transport sources said the decision, taken in the current economic context, effectively meant the bypass “will not be built in the next decade, at least”.

Meath County Council said it noted the decision with disappointment, but remained committed to finding a solution to the serious traffic and safety issues in Slane. “We will now examine the reasons for refusal and the report of the planning inspector and will work with the NRA to establish what further steps can be taken to address the issues raised by the Bord,” a spokeswoman added.

Speaking to The Irish Times, John Ryle of the Slane Bridge Action Group said the locals were “shattered and devastated” by the ruling. “We don’t see why aesthetics, a view, should be take precedence over people’s lives,” he said.

Mr Ryle said there were already extensive traffic calming measures in Slane and a 30km/h speed limit leading to the bridge, but nobody obeys it. “What respect does a runaway truck have for a speed limit whether it is 30km/h or 100km/h,” he asked.

Even if the ban worked, he said HGV traffic would simply divert through Navan or Drogheda rather than pay tolls on the M1 and M3 motorways.

He said some 22 people had been killed in crashes on the bridge, including two-year-old local toddler David Garvey and two people who died when their car exploded after a collision.

In another incident, a HGV failed to negotiate the sharp turn onto the bridge. It toppled over and slid along the parapet towards the centre of the bridge before tumbling into the river below, killing the driver. Two days later, the operator of the crane used to lift the wreckage from the riverbed died when the crane toppled into the river.

Mr Ryle said he believed there would be further crashes on the existing route in the absence of a bypass. Many more crashes went unreported because they were not fatal incidents, he said.

Slane Bridge Action Group spokeswoman Michelle Power also expressed regret at the decision. She said life in the village has been "overwhelmed" by the dangerous volumes of traffic. “We now feel that as we have exhausted every avenue open to us that we are now entirely helpless," she said. “The decades of inaction and failure to deal decisively with this appalling situation are nothing short of a national scandal.”

Ms Power, who survived a multiple pile-up on the bridge in 2009, said the planned route was outside the buffer zone around the Brú na Boinne and set in a valley. She said she believed the visual impact would have been acceptable in light of the loss of life on the road.

Save Newgrange spokesman Vincent Salafia welcomed the decision as "a huge victory for heritage and sustainable development in Ireland" and called for an "immediate" ban on HGV vehicles in the village. "The Unesco World Heritage Site is our most popular tourist attraction, which will play a key role in our economic recovery, and it deserves the highest level of legal protection,” he added.

An Taisce said An Bord Pleanála had made “an eminently logical decision and [which] has protected a very important piece of Irish National Heritage”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Thomas Byrne said this evening the decision was a "severe bodly blow" to the people of Slane.

"Meath County Council must meet immediately in order to gain approval for this request for a judicial review. My colleague, Cllr. Wayne Harding has already requested this in writing to the Cathaoirleach of the County Council and we await his reply,’ he said.