PLANS for the €40 million Shannon Bridge Crossing have officially been put on hold after a well-known environmentalist was granted leave in the High Court to lodge a Judicial Review.
The Clare Champion recently revealed that Peter Sweetman had instructed his solicitors to obtain leave from the High Court to initiate a Judicial Review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision on March 27 to grant planning permission for the project.
This includes the €12m Shannon Bridge Crossing, €11.9m Killaloe bypass and upgrading works costing €16.6m on the existing regional road linking Ballina and Birdhill subject to 11 conditions.
Clare County Council has to postpone the appointment of consultants to deal with further detailed design requirements, the tendering of the scheme and all subsequent stages through to the final construction, until the High Court makes its final decision on the Judicial Review.
Mr Sweetman and an environmental protection company, The Swans and the Snails Ltd, claim the project, involving construction of a 170m bridge over the River Shannon, will result in irreversible destruction of a woodland habitat. The habitat of alluvial wet willow-alder-ash woodland is located on the western side of the proposed bridge.
In proceedings against An Bord Pleanála and the State, with Clare and North Tipperary county councils as notice parties, the applicants claim the planning board failed to adequately assess if the site was a priority natural habitat as defined by the European habitats directive.
The objectors want to quash the board’s permission for a 2km bypass, a new bridge over the Shannon, an upgrade of 3.3km existing regional road to include cycling and pedestrian facilities and the construction of two new bridges along the regional road.
They also want orders compelling the board to commission an independent assessment and evaluation of the ecological characteristics of the site to determine if it is a priority natural habitat as defined by the habitats directive.
In his affidavit, Mr Sweetman claims the board failed to satisfy itself beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the proposed development would not adversely affect the integrity of the Lower River Shannon Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which is a European site.
He alleges the board erred by considering an “inadequate and deficient Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)”, which did not contain all relevant primary data as is required under article 5(3)(c) of an EU Directive and noted the council erred by considering additional significant information on traffic data and flows, which were first introduced at the oral hearing last October, contrary to statutory public notification procedures.
The decision was greeted with expressions of disappointment from Clare and North Tipperary County Councillors.
Clare Councillor Pascal Fitzgerald said the new Killaloe bridge would have provided a major tourism boost for the twin communities by improving access into East Clare and North Tipperary from the Dublin to Limerick motorway.
He hopes ways can be found to deal with any environmental concerns to facilitate the new crossing.
Councillor Michael Begley also felt this decision was disappointing considering the new crossing has been sought for decades.
While acknowledging the introduction of traffic lights on Killaloe bridge had brought some form of traffic control, Councillor Begley noted this is not a long-term solution, as a new crossing is needed to facilitate the future development of the area.
North Tipperary County Councillor John Carroll said the new crossing is a major piece of infrastructure that would bring tourism and economic benefits to the twin communities in the future.