Findings of report into planned Hellfire Club visitor centre blasted

by Padraig Conlon

A member of a group opposing a controversial development at the Hellfire Club has blasted the findings of a new report.

Elizabeth Davidson, a member of Save The Hellfire Group, has rubbished claims by South Dublin County Council (SDCC) that new surveys show increased numbers of visitors to a proposed €22m visitor centre on Montpellier Hill will not have an adverse impact on protected wildlife and habitats.

 “Of course the council would say that,” Davidson told Dublin Gazette.

“It’s not exactly what the report said – it didn’t say the development is not going to be harmful to animals.

“They can’t say the visitor centre is not going to be harmful; all evidence suggests it is going to be harmful.

“In compiling this latest report, the surveyors didn’t spend one whole year surveying the area; they only surveyed it in April and September. It is a very garbled report, with lots of padding and quite a bit of cut and paste,” said Davidson.

Artists impression of proposed visitors centre

The project is sponsored jointly by SDCC, Coillte and the Dublin Mountain Partnership, which wants to develop a visitor centre at the iconic site to include a panoramic cafe, exhibition space, a ramblers lounge, toilets, changing facilities, a shop and education centre.

However, SDCC’s application to An Bord Pleanala (ABP) has been met with furious opposition by many local residents, conservationists, politicians and the Save The Hellfire group.    

Now, SDCC says that a new Natural Impact Statement has found “beyond all reasonable doubt” that the construction and operation of the visitor centre will not adversely affect the integrity of the Wicklow Mountains Special Protection Area.

Davidson said: “They  [the council] can’t say they’re protecting biodiversity and then do this – animal habitats will be destroyed, and animals will be killed.

“The Wicklow mountains SPA [Special Protection Area], Wicklow mountains SAC [Special Area of Conservation] and Glenasmole Valley SAC are all within the likely zone of impact of the visitor centre development, and an increase in visitors may cause disturbance and lead to habitat degradation and permanent displacement of certain species.

“I would encourage anyone who is against the vanity project to please put in an objection and also sign the petition.

“This plan hasn’t been put in front of the new council, have a lot of different opinions to the previous one,” said Davidson.

Local Independent councillor Alan Edge also gave his opinion on the latest report.

“My reading of the new information is that there is going to be an adverse impact on bird-life, requiring mitigation, and that there will also be an impact as regards rare – and unseen before in Dublin – mosses or bryophytes,” Cllr Edge told Dublin Gazette.

“While I’m not in a position to challenge what appears to be a full and detailed expert report, I’d be skeptical about any claim that vastly-increased footfall would not have a negative impact on biodiversity.

“The report doesn’t go that far, in my view.

“I’m also far from convinced that a development of such a large scale as the proposed centre is justified, balancing the desire to promote tourism against the need to protect an area of unique natural beauty and ecological significance.

“The desired ends could easily be achieved by providing improved facilities on a smaller scale, chiefly parking.

“To say that a €22 million development is needed in order to let people enjoy the beauty of nature is just nuts,” said Cllr Edge.

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

When contacted by Dublin Gazette about the issues above, a SDCC spokesperson declined to comment, saying “No comment”.

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