Safety issue may swing Docklands battle

A MAJOR review of safety zones around hazardous oil depots and chemical plants in Cork’s docklands could jeopardise the city’s €2 billion docklands strategy, it was claimed yesterday.

Engineer Bernard Fitzpatrick told those attending the third day of a Bórd Pleanála oral hearing into a contentious compulsory purchase order (CPO) that the city’s docklands development is incompatible with three Seveso, or hazardous chemical sites, in its midst.

He was one of three witnesses called by the Munster Agriculture Society (MAS) who are objecting to the city council’s CPO of its Showgrounds home.

The 22-acre site, which is close to three Seveso, or hazardous plants, is the largest of five sites around Pairc Uí Chaoimh, the council want to acquire to secure the development of a €50 million Marina Park.

But Mr Fitzpatrick said the Health and Safety Authority is reviewing exclusion zones around the National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA), the Topaz depot and the Gouldings fertiliser plant, all within walking distance of the Showgrounds, following a major fire at a London oil depot last year.

If the zones, which range from 300 to 700 metres, are extended as expected, the zones will encroach into the Showgrounds, he said.

Locating large population centres close to such sites, as is envisaged in the docklands strategy, would be “unwise”, Mr Fitzpatrick said.

The hearing also heard that almost 150,000 people attended public events at the Showgrounds last year despite it being branded “under-used”.

The MAS outlined in public for the first time yesterday the full range of uses, both commercial and charitable, to which it has put the 22-acre site in recent years.

Its director of development, Gerard Murphy, said there were 90 days of activities on the site in 2005, excluding set-up days for certain events.

“It’s hard to put a figure on it. But my research indicates that attendance figures are somewhere in the region of between 120,000 and 150,000 people. That’s more than the population of Cork,” he said.

The society also invested up to €135,000 in upgrading its facilities over the last two years, he said. He criticised the council for basing its assertion that the site was under-utilised on nothing more than a trawl of the society’s website.

The city has five seats on the MAS management structure and at no stage were these channels used to establish the true level of usage, he said.

“If confirmed, the CPO could result in the demise of the MAS,” he said.

The hearing heard how the Showgrounds has been used this year for the Cork Summer Show, five horse and pony sales, a vintage tractor exhibition, a circus, Funderland, set construction for the Opera House, CAT Club and the Everyman, by community arts groups, as a drive-in movie venue during the Cork Film Festival, as a venue for the international Spirit of the Horse touring event, and Macra na Feirme’s Regional Farm Task event.

It hosted last year’s Live at the Marquee concerts and it will be used from this weekend as a training ground for Sunday’s Well rugby club.

However, extensive flooding in the Ballintemple area, which has been affecting the Showgrounds for almost 20 years, has hampered the society’s ability to pursue development of its activities during winter months, Mr Murphy said.

Docklands directorate Pat Ledwidge admitted yesterday that he was not aware that the CAB motor company had been storing cars on a portion of the site.

Solicitor Kieran Hughes, representing the company who are also objecting to the CPO, told the hearing that his clients have been storing up to 200 cars on the Showgrounds site for up to 25 years.

Journalist Mary Leland, a resident of Castle Road for almost 50 years, also contradicted council evidence which said the near-by Atlantic Pond was over-utilised.

“It is not, and in my experience, never has been at capacity. The word crowded just doesn’t apply,” she said.

But she said she supported the development of Marina Park.

The hearing is expected to conclude this morning.

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