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Council claims controversial visitor centre near Hell Fire Club will not harm protected wildlife and habitats

The visitor centre is strongly opposed by many local residents and environmental groups.

File photo of the Hell Fire Club.
File photo of the Hell Fire Club.
Image: Joe King

THE PROMOTERS OF a controversial new visitor centre proposed for near the iconic Hell Fire Club in the Dublin Mountains have claimed it will have no adverse impact on protected wildlife and habitats in the area.

South Dublin County Council claims new surveys show increased visitors numbers arising from the development of the €19 million centre, which is proposed to be located on Montpelier Hill, were unlikely to lead to a significant rise in numbers venturing further into the uplands and accessing protected sites through the existing trail network.

The visitor centre is strongly opposed by many local residents, environmental groups and elected representatives from the area, who want to safeguard the natural beauty of the area, while also expressing concern about hazards posed by additional traffic that the new facility would generate.

One of the main objectors, the Save the Hellfire group, has described the visitor centre as a “vanity project”, although it accepts the need for improved parking facilities.

The council has claimed a new Natura Impact Statement had concluded “beyond all reasonable doubt” that the construction and operation of the visitor centre would not adversely affect the integrity of the Wicklow Mountains Special Protection Area.

It acknowledged measures needed to be implemented to prevent the visitor centre having a negative impact on the population of merlin, a bird of prey, because it would result in a decrease in its available hunting habitat.

However, the council said the report showed such measures would reduce all negative impacts on merlin “to imperceptible levels”.

Environmental Impact Assessment Report

The report is contained in the council’s response to a third request by An Bord Pleanála for further information on aspects of the visitor centre.

The latest request was made following an oral hearing on the project held by the board in November 2018.

An Bord Pleanála subsequently stated it was not satisfied that an earlier survey on the impact of the visitor centre on merlin was adequate.

It also said it was not satisfied that the impact of increased visitor numbers would not have an adverse effect on protected habitats in the area of the Hell Fire Club.

However, the council claims an updated Environmental Impact Assessment Report did not change any of the original conclusions and that a three-fold increase in visitor numbers to the Hell Fire Club would not result in significantly more numbers accessing protected heaths.

The council’s report found it was unlikely that the proposed development would lead to an increase risk of major accidents or disasters which could affect the biodiversity of the area.

The project is sponsored jointly by South Dublin County Council, Coillte and the Dublin Mountain Partnership who want to develop a flagship project that will act as a “gateway” to the Dublin Mountains.

The plans include a 75-seater café, shop, toilets, changing facilities, a walkers’ lounge, exhibition space and education centre including a 50-seater auditorium.

Another main feature is a treetop canopy walk over the Kilakee Road connecting the centre with Massy’s Wood – another popular walking area.

The plans also provide for a shuttle bus operating at 15-30 minute intervals from a proposed park and ride facility with 400 car spaces at Tallaght Stadium.

The council said it will use electronic road signs to direct drivers to the Tallaght park and ride facility when the parking area at the Hell Fire Club is full.

It claimed a strategic oversight group would also be established to provide formal, high-level governance of the visitor centre and would meet at least every two months in the first year of its operation.

Parties who have already made submissions to An Bord Pleanála on the project have until 23 March to comment on the latest information provided by the council.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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