Fáilte Ireland claims Eirgrid’s controversial plans to upgrade the electricity network between Munster and Leinster have ignored internationally-used guidelines for the selection of routes of high voltage power lines.
In its submission Fáilte Ireland claims Eirgrid has underestimated the significance of landscape and visual factors in a report which outlines several 1km-wide route options.
The €500m Grid Link project by Eirgrid to construct new overhead power lines along a 200km route from east Cork to Kildare via Wexford has sparked widespread opposition from local communities. Eirgrid’s plans will also require the installation of an estimated 750 pylons along the route which covers up to 10 counties.
A report by consultants, Brady Shipman Martin, commissioned by Fáilte Ireland said Eirgrid’s use of internationally-recognised guidelines for the routing of overhead power lines known as the “Holford Rules” were notable for the omission of landscape among “the highest-rated criteria”.
The first of the Holford Rules states that major areas of highest amenity value, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, should be avoided altogether if possible, even if it means the overall length of the route needs to be increased.
The second rule states that smaller areas of high amenity value such as conservation areas, listed buildings, parks and gardens, and ancient monuments should also be avoided.
Fáilte Ireland’s submission claims the significance of landscape and visual factors do not seem to have been “appropriately integrated” into the route selection process by Eirgrid. It claims Eirgrid has “insufficiently developed” tourism factors and their weightings in their route selections.
As a result, Fáilte Ireland maintains the potential impact of the proposed pylons and high-voltage power lines on tourism have not been “rigorously assessed”.
Its submission highlights the importance of how many tourism facilities such as walking routes and scenic drives are particularly dependent on the views of their surrounding landscape.
“Such routes are not simply lines on a map but are often wide landscape corridors that determine the experience, quality and intrinsic value of the amenity.”
Fáilte Ireland noted that Ireland, unlike many other countries, does not have a national Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) process or common approach to landscape designation.
Its submission said the absence of consistent LCAs by local authorities along the proposed routes did not remove Eirgrid’s responsibility to provide for “a full, balanced and objective consideration of the landscape”.
It also said it was unclear how Eirgrid, as it had claimed, had incorporated mapping of sensitive areas into its evaluation process.
Fáilte Ireland said it appeared Eirgrid had not carried out any quantitative or qualitative assessment of the overall landscape resource which would recognise the role of areas like the Comeragh Mountains, the Barrow and Blackwater river corridors, the Castlecomer Plateau and the Plains of Kildare. It said many other amenities and resources like trail heads, loop walks, open forests, picnic areas and golf courses did not appear to have been considered. In addition, woodlands did not seem to be considered into the mapping or route selection process.
The submission also criticised Eirgrid’s failure to identify the location of existing power lines and wind farms in its route maps.
Eirgrid said it had used “desk-top studies and site visits along with expert input and consultation feedback to develop route corridor options”.
Fáilte Ireland said its role as a prescribed body under planning legislation meant its function was to advocate for the sensitive development of Ireland’s landscape and to support the protection of key tourism assets.
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