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The Mayo News: Saga highlights need for Shell ‘to start from scratch’

Michael Duffy

THE saga which unfolded last week in relation to the An Bord Pleanála decision on An Taisce’s concerns relating to the Corrib Gas Project has afforded Shell an opportunity to take a fresh look at the whole project, according to Dr Mark Garavan, spokesman for the Shell to Sea Campaign.

An Bord Pleanála this week apologised to Shell for the ‘serious error’ it made in the case which led to what Shell said was ‘a storm of negative headlines and comment for the developers of the Corrib Gas Project’.

The saga began on Thursday when, after months of deliberation, the Board issued a ruling saying that a large manhole which will house a beach valve for the Corrib Gas pipeline would require planning permission.

However at 5pm on Friday afternoon, the Board sent a fax to Shell’s planning consultants saying that its ruling contained a major ‘typographical error’. The Board had mistakenly inserted the word ‘not’ before the phrase ‘exempted development’ and its ruling had meant to state that that the manhole was in fact exempted development and therefore did not require planning permission.

The manhole was one of 14 concerns which An Taisce raised regarding different aspects of the project as it stands and, although it did agree with Mayo County Council’s assertions on 12 of them, the Board ruled that a wider access gate does require planning because of the fact that it is leading off a road that is more than four metres wide and therefore the temporary construction road connected with this access also requires planning.

“Basically, part of the project is back at square one – looking for permission from the planning authorities. It all appears a bit piecemeal at this stage and I feel the situation had highlighted the need for Shell to sit down and re-configure the whole project,” stated Mr Garavan.

“It was not us who raised these concerns but An Taisce felt these matters needed to be addressed and now it seems there is a possibility that Shell will have to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this road as it is on a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). So much of the project has unravelled and still Shell persist.”

However, Mr John Egan, Shell’s External Affairs Manager, stated that An Bord Pleanála’s clarification and apology meant there was no need to re-configure the project.

“The Board’s admission that its original ruling contained a serious typographical error completely undermines claims by An Taisce and the Shell to Sea campaign that the valve station decision had effectively re-opened the issue of route selection for the pipeline. This project has suffered from mis-information before but I welcome the fact that the Board have admitted their mistake,” stated Mr Egan.

In relation to the decision taken by the Board with regard to permission being required for the temporary road, Mr Gavin Lawlor, of Tom Phillips and Associates, planning consultants to Shell, said this was not a key part of the overall project as claimed by An Taisce.

“The Board in their decision had actually stated that the temporary road in its own right would not have required permission and I believe there may be a very simple solution to Shell’s planning problem.

“Because the temporary access road only requires planning permission, because the access to which it is connected links to a road which is wider than four metres, if the gateway was narrowed to its original size, it is likely that the temporary access road would not then require planning permission,” said Mr Lawlor, who furthered disputed An Taisce’s claim that should Shell apply for retention of the temporary access road, it would have to include an EIS given that it was located in an SAC.

“In my opinion, an EIS would not be required as the land in question, although located in an SAC, is not ecologically sensitive as it consisted of improved agricultural grasslands.”

Mr Lawlor also noted that an expert ecologist had surveyed this area on numerous occasions prior to any construction and during the construction itself. At no time were any sensitive species of plants or animals recorded.

“The fact that the access road was located in an SAC had no bearing on the Board’s decision as claimed by An Taisce and it appears that they have misinterpreted the Board’s decision on this matter. The board simply stated as a matter of fact that the access road travels through an SAC. The Board did not base its decision on the fact that the access road was located in the SAC, but rather that the width of the public road at the entrance to the access road was greater than four metres. In fact the Board clearly stated in their consideration of this matter that ‘the designation of a site or habitat with respect to the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC does not effect the status of any development as exempted development’,” Mr Lawlor concluded.

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