AN BORD Pleanála this week upheld a 2021 decision by Clare County Council to grant planning permission for a bioenergy plant in Stonehall.
The development has seen significant opposition in the area going back to 2012, when Clare County Council first opted to rezone the site.
When a planning application was made to the Council there were numerous objections, and when the Council approved it further appeals were made to An Bord Pleanála, whose decision this week will be met with disappointment in the area.
The decision allows for the construction of a biomass processing and storage area, a gasification and methanation plant for the production of biofuels and a gasification and combined heat & power plant for production of electricity and heating. There would also be a battery storage facility and a thermal energy recovery and storage facility for district heating distribution, along with a new access road.
On Tuesday Councillor PJ Ryan said there is still strong opposition. “The situation hasn’t changed, there are people totally opposed to it. It is so close to the national school and it is going to bring an awful lot of heavy goods vehicles onto the surrounding roads. The fact that gas is going to be stored there is a problem, with the fear of explosion or anything like that.”
He said it is a strange choice for such a facility. “It’s amazing to say that a major industry is going to be sited in a residential area, quite close to a national school when we have two industrial estates within a stones throw of it, Smithstown and Shannon industrial estate. You’d have thought it’d be far better for it to be an industrial estate where there’d be no problem with it.”
The An Bord Pleanála inspector’s report said that the development would not be damaging. “The Board considered that the proposed development would be in accordance with national, regional and local policy relating to energy and climate action, notwithstanding that the proposal does not include a connection to district heating network.”
It claimed that subject to compliance with a number of conditions “the proposed development would be acceptable at this location adjoining the planned industrial expansion of Shannon industrial zone, would not unduly conflict with the preservation of archaeological heritage, would not give rise to environmental pollution, would not seriously injure the residential or visual amenities of the area, and would be acceptable in terms of public health and aviation and road traffic safety. The proposed development would, therefore, be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”
Planning permission was granted subject to 34 conditions.
The conditions include a requirement that a maximum of 133,000 tonnes per annum of materials be processed at the plant. This biomass supply is to consist of forestry byproducts, sourced within 75 kilometres of the site. Councillor Ryan said that in his view it would be very difficult for the company to comply with this condition. ” It’d be hard to believe that there will be timber available to sustain it for the long term.”
Another condition is that the permission will apply for 20 years, at which point the plant will be removed, unless a subsequent application is granted for its retention.
Other conditions impose requirements on applicants Carbon Sole to limit emissions to certain levels. There is also a requirement on the company to limit noise.
When the original application to Clare County Council was made there were many objections, including one from Stonehall National School, which is close to where the development is set to happen. In its objection it said the development would make it harder for children to walk or cycle to school. “The development as proposed envisages a significant increase in vehicular traffic to and from the proposed site and in particular significantly increased movements of heavy goods vehicles during both the construction and operation phase of the development and these vehicles thereby increase in a very significant way the traffic hazard for students walking and/or cycling to and from school.”
In the original application Carbon Sole said that around 30 jobs would be created at the site.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.