Social Democrat Cllr. Jennifer Whitmore has expressed her thanks to An Bord Pleanala for the opportunity to take part in, and address, their Oral Hearing into the Vartry Reservoir planning decision this week.
Cllr. Whitmore, whose background is in fisheries management and environmental law, said “The hearing was a good opportunity for us all to hear the other side and gain a better understanding of the issues. It was held in a very open manner, which facilitated good discussion and was standing room only for the first two days, which I believe shows the importance of holding the hearing.
Whitmore continued “There are two main issues here, one is the building of a new treatment plant, the other is the operation of the new plant. I have no problems with the building of the new plant, and I understand that there are health, safety and supply reasons why it is necessary. My concerns about this project relate only to the operation of the new treatment plant, and the reduced volume of water that Irish Water propose to give to the Vartry River.
“In my opinion, the proposed reduction in flow to the Vartry by up to two-thirds the volume it has received over the past 10 years cannot be permitted without an environmental impact assessment. It is a very valuable river for Wicklow and we need to afford it a sufficient level of protection.
Speaking at the hearing, Cllr. Whitmore expressed her concerns that “Irish Water’s consultation on this proposal was inadequate and that the language used by Irish Water did not convey the full extent and potential impact of the proposal. This meant that the community did not have the full information required for them to fully partake in the planning process.
In particular, Irish Water referred to this project as an upgrade to the existing reservoir. Cllr. Whitmore pointed out at the hearing that if a proposal went to WCC to “add an extension onto a house, but the extension was located in an adjoining field, that the extension would be considered a new building. This is, in essence, what Irish Water are planning to do. A new plant will be built on the adjoining site, and the existing plant will be mainly decommissioned, and that this should have been considered a new development, and had to undergo a full environmental impact assessment as a result.”
However, Whitmore believes that there is a solution to this impasse.
Cllr. Whitmore told the hearing that she “would like to see permission to build the plant be given. But that in the 2-3 yrs it takes to build the plant, that significant monitoring and measurements be undertaken (including on fish stocks). The information gathered during this time be used to inform any decisions on reducing flows, and to address and environmental concerns. This should all be done in consultation with Inland Fisheries and other stakeholders.”
She also requested that a management plan for the river be put in place to ensure continued protection for the river into the future.