The chief executive of Cork County Council has said a High Court decision to reclassify an entire river as a special protection area for the freshwater pearl mussel could be “an extremely limiting factor on proposed growth.”
One county councillor has even predicted the ruling will have a bigger impact on economic development along the Blackwater Valley than Covid-19.
Council chief executive Tim Lucey said the local authority has written to the Department of Heritage, Culture, and the Gaeltacht outlining the implications that such a ruling has and he is still awaiting a reply on what it intends to do.
In 2018, after several years of work, the department, with the aid of the county council, managed to get the EU to declassify the entire River Blackwater as a special area of protection for the mussel.
However, that ruling was challenged in the High Court by an environmentalist and as the department did not offer a defence, the High Court said the entire river had to revert back to protection status.
Fine Gael councillor Gerard Murphy said the council did a lot of scientific work and decided the freshwater peal mussel was only likely to survive on one of the River Blackwater’s tributaries, the River Allow.
“IRD Duhallow even got a €1m grant from the EU to carry out work on the River Allow to protect it,” Mr Murphy said.
When the council examined the River Blackwater there were no mussels found in it.
It is expected that the council will now have no choice but to turn down scores of planning permissions in the region even if there is the slimmest chance they could lead to the River Blackwater being polluted.
Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Hayes said this will have major implications for Mallow, Fermoy, and Youghal and all the villages in between.
“It will hit industry, agriculture and affordable housing,” said Mr Hayes. “It also has implications for the targets we have set in the County Development Plan.
“We need to write to the Government immediately to get this overturned. It’s of great importance to us. The whole of the Blackwater catchment will be set back many years otherwise.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Frank O’Flynn said that the implications were so serious that the High Court ruling would have a bigger impact on the economy of the Blackwater Valley than the Covid-19 pandemic.
Green Party councillor Alan O’Connor said the mussel is a critically endangered species and he could not support the calls from fellow councillors to get the court decision overturned.
However, Mr Murphy said: “The pearl mussel requires very pure water. That can be achieved in the River Allow, but not the River Blackwater. There’s no other main river in the entire EU which is fully designated as a protected area for the mussel.”
Fine Gael councillor Kay Dawson said that if the decision meant no development along the valley from the Kerry border to Youghal, that is “too high a price to pay” for protecting the tiny creature.
Mr Lucey acknowledged it is “a very significant issue” for the future development of north Cork.
“We were disappointed to see the High Court decision,” Mr Lucey said. “On foot of hearing about that we wrote to the minister pointing out the implications. We have asked the department what it’s proposals are.”