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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 18 November, 2018
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Council plans massive €19m visitors centre and tree top walkway at Hellfire Club

Critics say the plans will damage the natural environment of the mountainous region.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

PLANS TO CREATE a cable car linking Tallaght with the Wicklow Mountains may have raised eyebrows, but proposals to transform some of the most well-known areas of the mountainous regions have gained traction.

Plans are afoot to create a brand new visitors centre and tree top walkway at the Hellfire Club in a bid to create a tourist attraction to pull in visitors, but locals fear the project could have extremely damaging consequences for the area

South Dublin County Council had conducted investigations in how the “valuable resource” that is the Dublin Mountains could be made more of an attraction destination so that it could attract more visitors.

It singled out six sites as options for developing tourist services but, as per its plans, the preferred option is the combination of the Hellfire Club and Massy’s Estate areas into a flagship visitor facility.

sdcc 2 Source: South Dublin County Council

In its draft documents, this option “consolidates and defines the visitors’ potential appreciation of a unique place and experience in the Dublin Mountains”.

The ambitious plans would see a series of attractions put in place. They include:

  • A Hellfire Club Visitors Centre – to enable access to the wider trail network and activities of Dublin mountains
  • A tree top canopy walk to Massy’s Woodland – that will serve as both “an experience and a safe connection”.
  • A large extension to existing parking areas that will “address congestion and illegal parking issues” currently at the site.
  • Improve the trail network by establishing new trails and loops with signage, picnic benches, natural play area, views etc.

The proposed flagship Visitor’s Centre would feature its own viewing terraces offering fantastic views of Dublin, and of the Wicklow Mountains, and would be on the eastern side of Montpelier Hill.

sdcc 1 Source: South Dublin County Council

It would have its own events and exhibition space, a rambler’s lounge, café and shop, with the total area for the project over 922 square metres.

On the topic of the tree top walkway to link Hellfire and Massy’s, the example of Kew Gardens in Surrey is cited.

Britain Kew Walkway Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth AP/Press Association Images

An “extensive, diverse forest park interspersed with cultural heritage features” is also planned, with minimal impact on the landscape and visual amenity in the area.

The plans would incorporate a bus service to be reviewed with Dublin Bus, and a new footpath along Kilakee Road to Stocking Avenue.

Repair and protection measures have also been proposed to preserve the Hellfire building itself, and the tombs in their setting.

In terms of visitor projections, the project hopes to attract 300,000 visitors a year by its fifth year of operation.

An analysis performed by the council by Jim Power Economics said: “The proposed flagship tourism attraction has the potential to become an integral part of the overall Dublin tourism portfolio and make a significant economic and financial contribution to tourism in Dublin and at a national level”.

The overall cost of the plans are estimated at up to €19 million “depending on final design”.

South Dublin County Council has indicated that it has funding in place for the planning process, and have lodged an application with Fáilte Ireland under their Grants Scheme for Large Tourism Projects.

Subject to positive decisions on planning and funding, construction could commence next year.

“Catastrophic impact”

Not everyone is in favour of these plans to transform the site in the mountains, however.

Savethehellfire.ie is a collection of community groups opposed to South Dublin City Council’s plans.

They say that the scale of the development will have a negative impact on an-already fragile ecosystem.

They point to the excavations which took place in recent months that uncovered megalithic art at the site, as further reasons for not disturbing the area and destroying the heritage there.

Venetia Taylor, who grew up in Rathfarnham, says that she and many other locals are opposed to the plan.

“I really think it’s going to destroy the area,” she told TheJournal.ie. “These flora and fauna need to be protected from commercialisation at the level proposed by the South Dublin Council.”

HF4

Taylor said that, while locals weren’t opposed to improvements made to make the area safer, the scale of the measures proposed is a big worry.

They fear that trees will be felled en masse and that wildlife such as the red squirrel could be damaged by the extra parking and tree top walkway.

She said that the road infrastructure up to that area of the mountains would be unsuited to busloads of tourists travelling up it.

There’s such a sense of charm to this area. It’s always been a really magical place to go up and explore. What they’re proposing is going to put real pressure on the narrow, winding roads here.

Taylor added that she would be attending a meeting of south Dublin residents opposed to the plan at 8pm on Wednesday 22 March at the Mill Theatre in Dundrum Town Centre.

[The council] don’t realise the extent of the resistance they’re going to face on this. People aren’t against making the area safe and accessible, we just feel the scale of this will be catastrophic.

Conservation

South Dublin City Council was keen to guarantee that environmental aspects of the project had been thoroughly considered, and that the project would take into account the natural surroundings at all stages of planning and execution.

The council has said it has already commenced an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening, and is also recommending that An Bord Pleanála carry one out themselves.

Its EIA will be conducted “parallel with design” and the council has indicated that “key issues such as archaeology, fauna and flora, visual impact, traffic will be considered throughout the design”.

Taylor said that locals opposed to the plan were planning to commission their own EIA of the project.

90075990_90075990 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Not only does such a large project raise concerns about the environment in the area, the council said it had also considered access to the mountains in the face of the hoped-for growing visitor numbers.

It said: “A number of similar facilities in comparable sensitive landscapes were reviewed in developing the concept with learnings from them in relation to sensitively managing access and traffic considered.

The very nature of the landscape is an amenity and attraction and this needs to be protected in a sustainable way.

It said that the project required “long-term sustainable solutions” which “must balance protection and sensitive management of impacts on the landscape” alongside facilitating the growing visitor numbers to the mountains.

The council pledges that their proposals will include a “detailed conservation plan that identifies and protects the built heritage of the area to arrest the deterioration of structures and make them safe for continued public access”.

So, what do you think? Would it be a good idea to build a visitor’s centre and tree top walkway at the Hellfire Club?


Poll Results:





Read: ‘It’s complete madness’: Two Dublin councillors want a cable car from Tallaght to the Hellfire Club

Read: Major megalithic art find at Hellfire Club passage tomb

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Sean Murray

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