Estuary project ‘at risk’ warns Limerick councillor

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

Warning: Tom Coughlan, Clare county manager, second from the left, with Padraig Cleary, Michael Collins and Pat Keating of SFPC
THE opportunity to develop a deep-water trans-shipment business west of Foynes harbour at Mt Trenchard could be lost unless immediate steps are taken to amend the county development plan. This warning has come from local Fianna Fail councillor Kevin Sheahan, just days before Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan launches the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan (SIFP) for the Shannon Estuary.

THE opportunity to develop a deep-water trans-shipment business west of Foynes harbour at Mt Trenchard could be lost unless immediate steps are taken to amend the county development plan. This warning has come from local Fianna Fail councillor Kevin Sheahan, just days before Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan launches the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan (SIFP) for the Shannon Estuary.

Cllr Sheahan said he had met with private investors who were keen to develop a project at Mt Trenchard and who had already spent money in advancing that project. But this project could fall at the first hurdle unless the site is designated as suitable in the county development plan.

He has also taken issue with the SIFP plan which is the blueprint for future development of the estuary. “It does not designate a prime site west of Foynes as suitable for the kind of development envisaged by these private investors,” declared Cllr Sheahan, a former chairman of Foynes Port Company.

The real difficulty, he told the Limerick Leader, would arise when these private investors would proceed to planning. In that instance, because it would be a strategic infrastructure project, the planning authority would not be Limerick County Council but An Bord Pleanála.

The project could be cut short at that stage, Cllr Sheahan warned, because the site was not designated in the SIFP and the Limerick County Develolpment plan. And his fear is that, without the designation, Limerick would lose the project altogether and it would go instead to Co Clare.

“My responsibility is to promote Limerick,” he declared. “We have been pushing for years for a better road from Foynes to Limerick and that has finally been agreed by this Government. I welcome that without reservation.”

But given the commitment to the proposed new Foynes road, he said he failed to understand why sites in Clare were now being promoted “when the road network is not there. I am very uncomfortable with that,” he said.

Cllr Sheahan raised the issues of suitable deep-water sites on the Limerick side of the estuary at a Strategic Policy Committee on planning meeting last month where he argued for the Mount Trenchard site to be designated. But he did not accept the response, he said, that sites, other than the nine included in the SIFP, could be considered and were not ruled out. Proposals would fall at the first hurdle, he warned.

“I haven’t been given any rational reason why Mount Trenchard cannot be included and unless there are reasons they can stand up, then I am not happy. It looks to me that somebody hasn’t been listening to the councillors in Limerick,” he said.

“By not inlcuding the Mount Trenchard site we run the risk of excluding customers who have been identified as being partial to locating in that area,” he said.

The SIFP identifies nine strategic sites: Limerick Docks, Foynes Island, Foynes Port and adjoining lands, Askeaton Industrial Estate, Aughinish Island (Limer, Moneypoint, Innismurry/Cahercon (Clare), and Tarbert Power Station and Ballylongford Landbank (Kerry).

Recently, Clare County Manager Tom Coughlan announced they were proceeding to vary their county development plan at two sites identified as suitable for marine development: Moneypoint and Cahercon.

Minister Jan O’Sullivan is expected to launch the SIFP for the Shannon Estuary this Friday at an event attended by the 19 stakeholders in the management of the estuary. The land and marine-based plan, the first of its type to be developed in the country, has been commissioned by a multi-agency steering group comprising Limerick City and County Councils, Clare County Council Kerry County Council and Shannon Foynes Port Company.