Please read down for a copy of the response
Readers will remember that in November/December last year there was a short public consultation on a draft management plan for part of the Boyne Estuary SAC. Meath County Council has released the public submissions, 5 in total and they are copied below.
We’ve learned via an access to environmental information request that Meath County Council has incurred costs of almost half a million euro to date, mostly for external consultants.
The table of costs is copied below
Meath County Council gave notice today of a consultation on a draft management plan for the protected dunes at Mornington. These dunes are protected by the EU Habitats Directive which requires a management plan to restore them to good status and keep them in good status.
A draft plan has been published and there will be a public meeting in Donacarney school on 2 December.
The public can make comments between 24 November and 8 December using the Meath website https://consult.meath.ie/en/browse
Today we publish records we obtained from the Department of Education about its purchase of the Educate Together Secondary School site at the corner of the Mill Road and Colpe Road.
The information that was released to us from the Department of Education suggests that
- Shannon Homes was paid more than two and half times the Department’s valuation of the site with €1.88 million + VAT being paid in the end valuing the land at €170k per acre compared with the Department’s valuation of €73k per acre
- In 2012 when it bought the Gaelscoil site the records record the Department’s view that it paid “way over market value”
- The Department paid €1.33 million + VAT as a contribution to road works that were part of a Shannon Homes’ commercial development and which it appears it had contractually agreed to build and maintain at its own expense.
- The Department’s property consultant reported that Shannon Homes was looking for residential value but there is no record of it pointing out that the site was not zoned for residential use.
- The Department’s property consultant also reported in January 2020 without comment that the lands had “first class zoning” in the new county development plan, despite the plan’s adoption still being two years’ away
You can also read the coverage in the Irish Examiner
The documents released to us are lengthy and are copied below, but here are the key extracts:
Comment from Department of Education that they paid “way over market value” when they purchased the site of Gaelscoil an Bhradáin Feasa in 2012
Department notes that vendor (Shannon Homes) has “unrealistic price expectations” for Educate Together site.
Department’s property consultant tells them that Shannon Homes will look for residential valuation, no evidence of any advice that the site zoning did not support residential or why such a high valuation was justified.
Department of Education values site at €720,000 but are told that site has first class zoning in “new” county development plan, the adoption of which was still two years away. There was no evidence in the records released to us of an independent appraisal of the site from the Department’s property consultant.
Department ends up agreeing to pay €1.88 million for site plus VAT (€170k/acre + VAT)
But that’s not the end of the story, when the Department agreed with Shannon Homes to rent the site for the temporary school, part of that contractual agreement was that Shannon Homes would build a road and roundabout which already had planning permission at its own expense:
Throughout the documentation there are multiple references to this e.g.
However, in the end the Department ended up agreeing to pay Shannon Homes €1.33 million + VAT for works that it had already agreed would be done by Shannon Home at no cost to the tax payer.
We embed the documents below (note we have redacted personal data but some information has been redacted by the Department and this is under appeal to the Commissioner for Environmental Information)
Document 1 – Department of Education rents land from Shannon Homes in 2019 for temporary school
Document 2 – Long email exchange detailing negotiations to buy the site 2019 to 2020
Document 3 – Dept Preparing for final negotiation meeting with Shannon Homes – February 2021
Document 5 – Contract for Sale agreed November 2021
There has been understandable dismay over An Bord Pleanála’s decision to refuse to grant planning permission for the proposed Drogheda to Mornington Greenway. In an area devoid of any meaningful cycling infrastructure, the provision of a greenway to connect the coastal villages with Drogheda and further beyond is an important project.
People in the area feel aggrieved by the failure of this headline project to secure planning permission, but we think it is important that people also understand the reasons for it, which essentially is a function of the Council’s decision to select a route close to (and in some cases actually inside) a Special Protection Area for birds and to terminate the route at the Mornington Dunes which are within a Special Area of Conservation, both of which are protected by EU law. In particular Birdwatch Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service expressed serious concerns about the impact of the project on these habitats and species.
There are two key documents (see https://www.eastmeath.org/greenway-refusal/) that need to be read together to understand the decision
- The Inspector’s Report which sets out an independent analysis of the application file and the submissions from the public and from public bodies.
- The Board Order which is the decision of the Board taken in light of the Inspector’s Report
The Inspector’s Report
An inspector of the Board was appointed to prepare a report which also contains a detailed opinion from the Board’s in-house ecologist on the scientific information presented by the Council in relation to the habitats in the Boyne and along the coast at Mornington.
The first thing to say is that there was extensive consultation with 233 public submissions and several submissions from statutory consultees. These submissions raised many issues both for an against the project. Following receipt of these submissions the Board asked Meath County Council to provide further details and there followed a further round of consultations with 75 submissions from the public.
The inspector’s report is detailed and diligently analyses the project looking at it from all angles, both for and against.
The first thing to say is that the inspector accepted the principle of a Greenway in the area and was off the view that it complied with national and local policies. The inspector said it would provide a sustainable transport route for commuters and would support future development of a national sustainable transport route. However the inspector said that despite the greenway being acceptable in principle the impact on the protected sites in the Boyne, the environment and on traffic needed to be examined so that an assessment of these issues could be taken into account.
In relation to transport, the inspector indicated that she would be concerned that it had not been adequately demonstrated as to how public transport will link up to the serve the greenway. Furthermore she identified the lack of any dedicated parking areas as a significant issue raised in submissions. She said it would result in congestion including at Mornington. The inspector recommended refusal on this point.
The Inspector noted that while the proposal did examine alternatives none of them referred to the possibility of locating the proposed greenway elsewhere, i.e. away from the protected sites in the Boyne. She said it would have been preferable if an alternative route could have been looked at to ensure less impact on the Boyne habitats.
The inspector also raised concerns about the removal of a significant number of trees and hedgerows along the route resulting in a considerable impact on landscape and visual amenity.
The inspector dealt specifically with the Boyne Coast and Estuary SAC which includes sensitive dune habitats and the Boyne Estuary SPA which is home to large numbers of wintering birds. These habitats are protected by EU law which says that the planning authority cannot grant permission unless it can be ascertained that there will be no adverse impact on the integrity of the habitats from the project.
In relation to theses habitats a detailed analysis was undertaken by the Board’s expert ecologist who raised a number of concerns:
- The ecologist identified a number of methodological issues include misapplication of the assessment approach.
- The potential impacts were not correctly considered in the Council’s reports
- Given the current unmanaged situation at Mornington Dunes, any meaningful avoidance of further impacts could not be achieved through signage and the Council had not demonstrated that adverse effects could be excluded. She thought that the proposal would actually further delay the achievement of the conservation objectives for the Dunes.
- Lack of information on construction and operational impacts on habitats in the river
- Uncertainty about measures to mitigate disturbance of birds from walkers and dogs
- Adverse effects on the dunes
- Proposed reliance on post-consent monitoring to identify further adverse effects is contrary to EU law
The Board Decision
The Board makes its decision taking into account the inspector’s report.
In its decision the Board agreed with the inspector’s conclusions concerning European habitats but disagreed and found that there would not be significant adverse impacts on traffic and landscape despite the concerns of the inspector.
To conclude, the greenway was refused because adverse effects on the most sensitive habitats and species in the area, which are protected by EU law, could not be ruled out. In essence, either the Council had not done enough to rule this out, or alternatively it is not possible to rule them out given the route that was selected.
We are just posting the decision of An Bord Pleanála refusing permission for the Drogheda to Mornington greenway. We may issue some commentary in due course.
Our friends at the Irish River Project are doing sterling work publishing environmental information from around the country. One document got our attention, the Meath 2022 National Enforcement Priorities Progress report which is a report from the council to the EPA about the council’s environmental enforcement activities.
You can access the report at this link.
This report reveals among other things that sewage from at least 4 houses in a Duleek estate, constructed in 2000, flows straight into the Nanny River. This is because the council discovered that when the houses were built, the sewage was connected to the storm drain and not the foul drain. The foul drain (toilets, washing machine, dishwasher etc) goes for treatment while the storm drain (rain run-off) goes straight into the Nanny River. Worse still, the Council doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to fix it.
This is what the report says:
Meath CC carried out misconnection surveys at a residential estate in Duleek, with blockages reported on the storm line by Meath CC water services. Initial inspections (visual inspections of manholes) identified foul sewage in the storm line and narrowed the scope of investigation to a line serving 19 of the 57 houses in the estate.
The storm line outfalls to the main channel of the river Nanny, immediately upstream of WFD monitoring site 08 N 010500, which was classified as Q3-4 in 2018 and deteriorated to Q3 in 2020. EPA Biological Survey report for River Nanny in 2020 notes filamentous algae and siltation issues along its entirety, however, misconnections affecting the storm line are assessed as a significant pressure at this location.
The misconnection surveys in this estate were carried out by calling to the possible identified misconnected houses, following manhole inspections, over a two day period, explaining the nature of the visit/inspection and requesting to perform a dye test on the day, if allowed infeasible. There was a very positive reaction to this request, with every available homeowner facilitating these inspections.
In total, 36 visits were made over the two days, with dye tests performed at 14 houses, including three houses outside the initial scope to verify that the area of investigation was correctly identified. Of the identified 19 houses, 14 inspected, including three outliers, four were found to be miss connected, with eight houses remaining to be inspected. The foul sewerage is directed to the stormwater line.
The estate in question was granted planning permission in 2000 (36 apartments and 120 houses) and was taken in charge by Meath County Council in 2011, and it appears that checks in advance of the taking in charge process to ensure that foul and storm lines were constructed correctly were not adequate to identify these problems.
The works required to rectify matters at this stage will involve two possible options – individually connecting the miss connected properties to the foul line, this would involve extensive works digging up front gardens, footpath, roadway, possible electrical services etc or to connect a section of the identified misconnected storm line to the foul line both of which are on the public road within close proximity of each other. At this point, it is assessed that as the misconnections do not arise from actions or faults of the individual homeowners the approach of connecting the section of storm line into foul sewer may be preferable. On completion of remaining dye test an investigation comma the findings will be flagged with Meath CC and council planning section regarding the need for robust procedures in the TIC [taking in charge] process to prevent recurrence of similar issue.Meath NEP Report 2022
We thought locals would want to see the comments of the Meath Conservation Officer on the proposed 24m mast that is under consideration by An Bord Pleanála.
The officer said:
“As the station, station masters house, railway line, overhead light industry and track bridge that already exist are inherent industrial structures, I have no objection to the addition of a 24-meter telecommunications Monopole, a modern industrial addition to the already industrial landscape that exists around this protected structure.”
It will come as something as a revelation to locals in East Meath that Laytown, a quiet sea-side village, is an “industrial landscape”. Are we missing something?
Protect East Meath has appealed to An Bord Pleanála against a decision by Meath County Council to granted permission for a 24m telecommunications mast at Laytown train station. Members of the public can make observations online before 4 September by clicking on this link. You can access the Meath planning file here (click twice), and the An Bord Pleanála website here.
This is our appeal