By Gordon Deegan
Clare County Council today put on hold contentious plans by fast food firm, Supermacs to build a €10m Barack Obama Plaza-style motorway plaza serving the Limerick to Galway motorway.
This morning, the local authority has put the project on hold by requesting additional information on technical aspects of the proposal planned for a site off the M18 motorway near Ennis and the village of Clarecastle.
The project has been mired in controversy over bogus letters of support for the project lodged with the Council.
A total of 187 letters of support were lodged in support of the project and around 40 people have since contacted the council to complain and 27 have formally withdrawn what were not their letters in the first place.
The bogus letters used people’s names and addresses without their knowledge and involved forged signatures.
Supermacs has requested Gardaí to investigate the submission of the bogus letters after the company stated that it was ‘horrified’ to learn about the bogus letters from the media “and disowns the actions taken and wants to distance itself completely from them”.
However, the Council does not refer to the ‘bogus letters’ in its request for further information.
Nor does the additional information sought refer to the concerns of local businesses over the impact the Supermacs proposal may have on the local economy in Ennis.
Instead, the further information request over five headings across two pages refers to issues concerning the main sewer connection to the project, traffic; landscaping; the operation of the plaza and surface water management for the project.
In a potential stumbling block to the application, the Council has told Supermacs boss, Pat McDonagh that Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has raised an issue with the feasibility of having the main sewer connection for the project on the N85 bridge crossing the River Fergus.
The Council state: “Therefore, you are requested to submit your proposals to satisfy that it is feasible to design, locate and operate the rising main through the bridge.”
The Council did grant planning to Mr McDonagh for a previous plaza application off the M18 near Ennis but this was overturned on appeal at An Bord Pleanala.
The current application is also likely to go to An Bord Pleanala if the Council does grant planning permission.
Already, the owner of the network of Applegreen service stations, Petrogas Group Ltd has lodged a strident objection against the McDonagh plan.
Currently, there is no motorway plaza on the motorway linking Limerick to Galway and Mr McDonagh has been unsuccessful over the past four years in getting the green light for the project.
As part of the proposal, Supermacs is planning to create 100 jobs during the operation phase and up to 80 jobs during the construction phase.
In its objection to Mr McDonagh’s fresh plan, consultants for Petrogas claim that the proposal is contrary to national policy for motorway service stops and is premature pending the concurrent proposed intention of Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to develop an online motorway service area on the M18.
Petrogas also claim that the proposal is excessive for its rural location and would have a visual impact on the M18 and also have a negative impact on existing retail in Ennis town.
The plan is also facing local opposition with a number of prominent Ennis businesses including the Old Ground hotel, the Temple Gate Hotel, Hotel Woodstock and a number of service stations coming together to lodge a joint objection.
The objectors state that the provision of the extensive food offer, travel, tourist and information centre with ample car parking and coach parking will significantly detract from Ennis Town Centre.
The objectors also claim that the proposal will act as a counter attraction to Ennis and the nearby village of Clarecastle and will have a detrimental impact on the vitality and viability of those centres.
The objectors also state that the scale of the proposal is excessive in comparison to other motorway service areas permitted nationwide.
Also, the individual to bring the last application before An Bord Pleanala after the Council gave the plan the go-ahead, Shane Brigdale has also lodged an objection against the new plan.
Supermac’s already has plazas in place at Moneygall in Co Offaly and another plaza near the M6 at Loughrea in Co Galway.
The Ennis plan will be seeking to repeat the success of the Barack Obama plaza at Moneygall.
Mr McDonagh first lodged plans at the site in 2014 and this was subsequently granted by Clare Co Council only to be turned down in 2016 by An Bord Pleanala.
The appeals board refused planning on three grounds and found that the proposed development, by reason of its design would not integrate satisfactorily with the rural and predominantly flat landscape in the hinterland of Ennis.
Previously, motorway service operator, Applegreen has been refused planning permission by Clare County Council and An Bord Pleanala for its own motorway plaza near Dromoland Castle after the five star hotel objected to the plan.