Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ballyshannon 'ready to fight on the long road'

Mick Sayer, Deputy Martin Heydon, Joanna Costello, Matthew Burke, Peter O'Connor, Geraldine O'Connor, Cllr Ivan Keatley, Sarah Burke and Jim Burke.
"Let the message go out from here that this will be a long road, but we are up for it."

That message, from last night's public meeting in Ballyshannon, writes Brian Byrne, was as much for communities in the wider area as it was for up to 150 local people in the hall who came to voice their concerns about a proposed quarry planning application. It was also a clear message to applicants Kilsaran that their road to getting permission will likely be a rocky one.

In the short time since the application by Kilsaran hit the desks of Kildare's planners, a Ballyshannon Action Group is now up and running and girding for a battle that not just affects them, but also areas such as Kilcullen, Ballysax, Martinstown, Suncroft and others.

The meeting was chaired by Deputy Martin Heydon and attended by a strong cohort of other public representatives of all political persuasions and from both Athy and Kildare-Newbridge municipal districts. If it is of any succour to Ballyshannon, the politicians are with them en masse.

A summary of the issues raised by Kilsaran's project for Ballyshannon itself was given by resident Peter O'Connor who lives with his wife Geraldine close to the proposed quarry. He noted that the development would change what is now farmland into an industrial process which will have a 'huge' environmental impact on the village and surrounding area. "It is unprecedented here. It is totally inappropriate. We have three primary schools in the immediate area. Our roads won't cope. Our homes will be devalued. And because Kilsaran has bought other parcels of land in the area, there is a huge potential for this to evolve far beyond this initial application, and go on for much longer than ten years."

Matthew Doyle made a short presentation on how submissions should be made to the application, including examples of successful objections against similar developments. Themes include the effects of traffic, noise and air pollution, contamination risks, and negative results of such developments on water, farming and the equine industry. Intrusion on privacy and potential dangers to children are other issues. "What carries most weight is how many individuals make submissions," he emphasised, a matter reinforced by many contributors through the evening.

Opening the floor to questions, Deputy Heydon reminded those present that Kilsaran has acquired a number of farms in the wider area and 'this could go on for much longer'. "People not affected by this application could be affected later. For the people of Kilcullen and Sunnyhill, for instance, where the roads are already congested, think of the impact of another 72 heavy truck movements a day."

Eoin Houlihan, one of several members of Kilcullen Community Action present, said the prospect of increased traffic in the town was 'totally crazy', and invited the Ballyshannon group to come to Kilcullen and see the trucks already going through the town. A Ballyshannon resident observed that the Kilsaran proposal would result in the equivalent of three hours a day of extra truck traffic between the proposed development and Kilcullen.

Cllr Suzanne Doyle, Cathaoirleach of Kildare County Council, made the point that local communities don't have the resources to monitor what goes on in such developments, and that if the site is developed as proposed it should be a condition that an independent body be tasked with doing this. "Whether the agency is the Council, or the EPA, it must be properly monitored."

Cllr Tracey O'Dwyer told the meeting that Kilcullen 'will not accept' any more traffic through the town. "You definitely have the support of Kilcullen in this fight," she said, adding that it would be a very good idea if the night's presentation was also done in Kilcullen.

Local man Jim Burke pointed out that while Kilsaran's own trucks are recognisable and likely to stay on agreed routes, there will also be private hauliers coming to and from the site. "They will come on any road they can. They are under pressure to get as many loads as possible in the day. Also, Kilsaran have been thinking about this for a long time. That vein of aggregate goes right across the region. It is going to be massive and they have it worked out to a 'T'. If they get their boots in here, they'll be around for generations. What's that going to do to our lifestyle, to our children's lives?" He urged families with teenage children to get them involved in any submissions.

Cllr Patricia Ryan supported the concern about uncontrolled hauliers travelling on local roads. She also spoke of a similar development in her own area where 'people can't even hang out their clothes to dry' because of the dust.

Cllr Mark Wall raised the contradiction that planners are against allowing people to build homes on their own land in areas like Ballyshannon, yet they allow 'monster' developments like this. "The people of Ballyshannon have to stand strong on this one," he said. "All the councillors I have spoken to are against it and we're behind you."

Another speaker recalled how planners allowed Roadstone to continue to quarry on the Hill of Allen, a 'protected space', some years ago. `'But there was no local community behind it, and they got away with it. Don't be under any illusions ... they'll walk all over you if you let them, and they will dig, dig, dig."

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin concurred with the tone of the meeting, adding that in terms of objections 'the quantity is absolutely important'. "But at the end of the day there is sand and gravel needed for building," she warned, "and the planners will be looking at applications in that way."

Cllr Ivan Keatley noted that communities in the area 'are surrounded by Kilsaran', with quarrying sites, sites that take in construction fill, and the tile factory site in Silliot Hill. "I'm concerned that this will eventually be out of our hands and in An Bord Pleanala. If the submissions aren't strong enough, then the people who are applying for this will walk all over our communities." He told the meeting, 'be under no illusions, this is a long term game'. "A planning decision will eventually be made sometime in 2020, and then it could be another two years for appeals to be heard." He added that under the appeals procedure, conditions imposed by the local planning authority can be changed, such as making reductions in development levies.

Cllr Fiona McLoughlin Healy emphasised the importance of the community being united for this fight. "Don't just leave it to the people who are most active to do the work. Only a united community can deal with the very strong forces involved here."

Resident Joanna Costello said she had lived for years on the Naas Road in Kilcullen and was very aware of how a small quarry can grow large, through the development of the Brownstown Kilsaran site. She warned that initial planning permissions were not the end of such developments. "At the end of the ten years, they will seek a review of the permission so they can continue, and they are likely to get it."

Deputy Heydon reiterated that it was up to individuals to make submissions, and he urged those present to do so, and to make sure their friends and relations did so too. "Every case is fought on its own, and for one I think that Kildare is being asked to provide far too much sand and gravel for houses that are not being built here. It should be spread much wider." He noted that a glossy brochure produced by the applicant had been 'selectively' circulated in advance of the lodging of the application for planning permission. "But I don't think their engagement so far has been anything like enough." He said the community was 'very open' to having Kilsaran representatives come and talk with them.

He also said that 'communities can and do win' such fights, but they have to be professional. "I'm impressed at how professional this group has been already, but you are up against professionals, and at some stage you will have to employ professionals."

Closing the meeting, Peter O'Connor thanked all who had turned out, especially the councillors and TDs. "We really appreciate it. It is above and beyond what we thought we would get."

There will be a clinic in Ballyshannon Hall on Friday night from 7.30pm, for anyone who wants guidance and help in filling out submissions.

(In a follow up to last week's interview of Geraldine O'Connor with Clem Ryan on KFM, she will again be on air this morning. It's understood there will be a representative from Kilsaran there too. UPDATE: There was NO Kilsaran representative, just a statement relating to last week's interview.)

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