LOCALS in south Dublin opposed to plans for a visitor centre at the historic Hell Fire Club say they are devastated at An Bord Pleanala’s decision to approve it.
The e20m scheme includes a treetop sky-bridge, visitor centre and café as part of contentious plans to develop forest lands into a tourist attraction which aims to triple visitor numbers.
Objectors say their voices have not been heard and the fact that 24,000 signed a petition opposing the project seems to have been overlooked.
A spokesperson for the Save the Hellfire group said: “We are deeply disappointed and shocked by this decision and will take time now to study the details of the decision and consider it carefully.
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“We thank everyone who made such important submissions on behalf of nature and the biodiversity of the area… apart from the 24,000 people who signed our petition.”
Campaigners fear the development will damage the landscape and spoil its natural beauty, and that the influx of visitors will disturb local wildlife habitats.
Their views are borne out by Cllr Alan Edge (Ind) who said: “I have been and I remain implacably opposed to this development. You don’t need a e22m-plus building in order to enjoy a wood.”
South Dublin County Council is pursuing the development under an agreement with Coillte, which owns the land.
Hellfire Forest and Massy Woods cover most of the 152 hectare area, which in is the foothills of the Dublin Mountains and commands spectacular views over the city.
Montpelier Hill, at the highest point, holds the remains of a hunting lodge built in the 1700s which became infamous for the antics of wealthy social group known as the Hellfire Club.
The wider area has other architectural features, as well as the remains of two passage tombs, and it is the home of red squirrel, merlin, pine marten and bats.
An Bord Pleanala has granted permission for all elements of the project, subject to conditions including the drawing up of a forest management plan with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the appointment of an ecologist to oversee the works.
The inspector said the option of “doing nothing” for the area was not acceptable because visitor numbers and traffic were increasing and existing facilities could not cope with them.