A decision to approve a €10m visitors centre and cable car for Dursey Island in West Cork may face a judicial review after an application was granted by the High Court.
An Bord Pleanála had given the green light to Cork County Council and Fáilte Ireland after they applied to replace the existing six-person cable car with a two-car desynchronised reversible cable car system capable of carrying 650 people an hour.
The permission includes an extensive glass-fronted visitor centre with a gift shop and 84-person cafe on the mainland, with parking for 80 cars and buses. The 6km access road, currently in place, is to be improved with 10 passing bays.
However, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has been given permission by High Court Justice Niamh Hyland to bring an application against the decision on January 31.
FIE, An Taisce, and Birdwatch Ireland had all appealed against the grant of permission by Cork County Council in 2019. The groups called the proposal “undesirable on multiple grounds", citing the “ecological sensitivity of Dursey” as well as the narrow stretch of road linking it to the national network making it “unsuitable for a proposal of this scale".
Objections against the development centred on the protection of the special area of conservation (SAC) and special protection area (SPA) for birds, in particular rare choughs. Birdwatch Ireland claimed there has been a 30% drop in the numbers of choughs on the island since 2003.
The organisation claimed that “the lack of conservation objectives for the site and the lack of an existing visitor management plan or SPA management plan means that there is no pathway for long-term chough conservation through which the proposed development could fit".
The FIE claimed that after a visit to the planning board’s Dublin offices, it found files that contained an alternative proposal which was prepared in April 2013 by consultants on behalf of Cork County Council.
It claimed the Dursey Island and Cable Car Strategic Review — which, it says, was described by the council as a ‘feasibility study’ — outlines an upgrade of the existing cable car at a then estimated cost of €600,000 instead of the approved proposal which it is now estimated would cost €10m.
According to FIE, this alternative, which would satisfy the urgent need for a replacement of the existing cable car, was never assessed in the 2019 environmental impact assessment as an alternative.
Neither Cork County Council nor Fáilte Ireland were available for comment.