Opponents of a controversial new visitor centre proposed for the Dublin Mountains have challenged claims by its promoters that it will have no adverse impact on protected habitats and wildlife in the area.
A total of 20 parties have made submissions to An Bord Pleanála for a third time to raise objections to the plans by South Dublin County Council, Coillte and the Dublin Mountains Partnership for the development of a €19m visitor centre on Montpellier Hill near the iconic Hellfire Club in Rathfarnham.
It follows the third request by An Bord Pleanála for further information from the promoters of the project on aspects of the visitor centre following an oral hearing in November 2018.
Most objectors dispute claims by the council that a three-fold increase in visitor numbers to the Hellfire Club would not result in significantly more numbers accessing other nearby protected habitats.
A submission made on behalf of eight residents associations from the Rathfarnham area as well as the Dodder Action group, which form part of the Save the Hellfire umbrella group, said the council had failed to address the concerns raised by An Bord Pleanála in any substantial or material manner.
The group claimed additional information provided by the council failed to remove all scientific doubt about the effects of the project and that surveys undertaken by the council were “minimal” .
Most importantly, the group said the council had no real plans for mitigation measures apart from a reference to monitoring the construction of the visitor centre.
“Monitoring is not mitigation – watching something degrade is not a mitigation,” it added.
The plans for the visitor centre which is designed to act as a “gateway” to the Dublin Mountains include a 75-seater café, shop, toilets, changing facilities, a walkers’ lounge, exhibition space and education centre including a 50-seater auditorium.
Another main feature is a treetop canopy walk over the Kilakee Road connecting the centre with Massy’s Wood – another popular walking area. The plans also provide for a shuttle bus operating at 15-30 minute intervals from a proposed park and ride facility with 400 car spaces at Tallaght Stadium.
Another group opposed to the visitor centre, The Friends of Massy’s Wood, said it was “absolutely foreseeable” that the Hellfire Club would be used by hikers as a convenient jumping off spot for access to the Wicklow Mountains because it would have dedicated car parking, a restaurant and toilets.
It said the developer’s response to An Bord Pleanála’s request for further information on the impact of its plans on merlin, a bird of prey, was “entirely inadequate” and they also criticised the lack of data about other species including bats, otters, red squirrels and pine martens.
Although Coillte’s plans to replace coniferous trees in the Hellfire Club with native species has generally been welcomed, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht expressed concern that the change would potentially lead to the loss of the local red squirrel population.