Legal representatives dealing with the compulsory purchase of land for the proposed development of a new River Shannon Crossing and associated infrastructure clashed during an oral hearing over the introduction of additional information about Killaloe traffic surveys conducted in November 2011.
There were a number of heated exchanges between objectors’ representatives and local authorities’ senior counsel during a contentious debate about whether the provision of additional detailed figures and background information contained in a 2011 Killaloe traffic module, which was referenced in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), was appropriate.
The ire of objectors was raise on Monday when Dermot Flangan, SC, who led the presentation outlining the need for the Compulsory Purchase Order for the Killaloe bypass, River Shannon Crossing and upgrading of the Ballina to Birdhill regional road admitted that figures relating to a Killaloe traffic survey in 2008 were incorrectly transcribed to the EIS instead of the 2011 statistics.
There was further discontent among CPO opponents at the Abbey Court Hotel, Nenagh on Tuesday when Mr Flanagan attempted to provide detailed new information about the 2011 Killaloe traffic survey in a bid to clarify the issue for senior planning inspector Stephen Fay.
Michael O’Donnell, JC, who appeared on behalf of some objectors, claimed this was the first time this new information was being provided, which had to have an impact on the assessment and traffic conclusions contained in the EIS.
Mr O’Donnell argued this should not be done to correct the inaccuracies contained in the EIS and expressed concern that interested parties may not have made submissions on the basis of what they mistakenly believed was correct information in the EIS.
However, Mr Flanagan insisted this was background information to support the conclusions contained in the EIS, which were based on the correct figures, despite the “typographical error”.
Mr O’Donnell stressed that the entire process had to be open and transparent and expressed concern that no one apart from the attendance were aware that new traffic figures would be provided or that statistics included in the EIS were incorrect.
Mr Fay said he felt the information now being provided would not alter the traffic conclusions in the EIS.
This was disputed by Mr O’Donnell while Mr Flanagan claimed his colleague’s “erroneous suggestions” and “ingenious” mixing of different parts with different concepts had no basis in law.
He argued he was entitled to produce additional information to supplement what was provided in the EIS like third parties and what was produced in the response to the further information request as part of this “information gathering exercise”.
Stating that new information could “supplement but not displace” what was contained in the EIS, Mr O’Donnell suggested there was precedence for adjourning an oral hearing to allow public consultation on the additional information.
“To suggest it can be slipped in would deal a fatal blow to public participation. The whole process must be transparent and not covert,” he said.
Mr Flanagan pointed out An Bord Pleanála was entitled to seek further information from any applicant and public consultation was only resumed if it was deemed to be significant.
He reiterated that the overall traffic assessments in the EIS were still valid, which ensured the public were not being misled by the contents of the EIS.
Peter Sweetman, who is advocating on behalf of objectors, some of whom are also being represented by Martin and Rea Agriculture Consultants cited case law, which confirmed an EIS is a study and not an assessment.
Mr O’Donnell disagreed with the assertion that the new information was not significant when the difference between the correct and incorrect traffic figures were two and three times bigger than they should be.
Mr Fay said he would deliberate over this discussion on Tuesday night and make a ruling the following day.
The following day, representatives of the objectors attempted to make a submission that any additional significant information should have been subject to a full public notice.
However, the inspector insisted on continuing with the evidence on traffic flows and refused any submissions or cross-examination at this juncture.
It is expected that objectors’ representatives will get an opportunity to question council experts later this week or next Monday.
Oliver Ryan-Purcell, who also represented some of the objectors, warned he could be sued for not representing his clients properly if all the facts and information about the scheme were not provided to him for his proper consideration.
The traffic figures in the EIS were queried by Roy Benson who told the hearing he crosses the existing bridge at least four times Monday to Friday, and over the last two years is never delayed more than five minutes any day. Mr Benson leaves for work at 8am, goes back home for lunch at 1pm, returns to work at 2pm, and goes home again between 6pm and 7pm. He also argued examining road traffic over a 24-hour basis isn’t a representative sample.
Congestion reduction of 66%
The proposed Shannon Bridge Crossing, Killaloe bypass and improvement of the Ballina to Birdhill regional road will reduce 2011 traffic levels by 66% at the existing historic bridge, the project manager has predicted.
Michael Conroy, who is the project manager for the overall scheme, stated the new development would significantly reduce the level of heavy goods vehicles, resulting in increased benefits for all road users including cyclists and pedestrians.
Speaking at the oral hearing on Monday, Mr Conroy estimated the average annual daily traffic volumes on Killaloe Bridge would increase by 10% to a level of 7,500 daily.
The chartered engineer and Technical Director with Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, which is progressing the overall scheme through its various stages on behalf of Clare and North Tipperary County Councils, has over 20 years experience in the planning, design and construction of major road projects in Ireland.
He was also responsible for leading the planning stages for Phase Two of the controversial Limerick Northern Distributor Road, which has confirmed the Emerging Preferred Route Corridor, despite objections from local residents.
Without the proposed development, he warned delays experienced on the existing network would continue to have significant environmental, economic and social cost, while the existing road network would become overloaded leading to significant congestion and an increase in accidents, resulting in stagnation of the area.
“The scheme removes a major bottleneck on the regional road network in East Clare and North Tipperary, thereby improving economic efficiency and journey time reliability.
“It improves safety for all road users and diverts through traffic away from the town centres of Killaloe and Ballina.
“Killaloe town is made up of narrow streets and difficult turns and doesn’t accommodate free movement of traffic, in particular heavy goods vehicles, thus compromising the historical character of the town.
“The narrow bridge has a one way traffic system in operation and provides minimal separation between pedestrians and vehicles, which further contributes to congestion.
“It is particularly difficult for large vehicles as they are unable to pass other large vehicles and experience difficulty negotiating the sharp turn at the end of the bridge on the Killaloe side.
“Regular damage occurs at this point to the parapets. Killaloe Bridge is a protected structure and can’t be widened or improved to accommodate present traffic requirements,” he said.
He pointed out the overall scheme improves the local town environment for residents, commercial businesses and tourists.
He stated the development facilitated the expansion of the tourist, retail and industrial sectors in Killaloe and Ballina.
It is economically robust and will provide appropriate linkage between the M7 motorway and East Clare.
“The schedule of proposed mitigation measures seek to safeguard local communities, the natural environment and users of the existing road from significant adverse impacts.
“The lands included in the Compulsory Purchase Order as necessary, sufficient and suitable for acquisition for the construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed road development,” he added.