BY GORDON DEEGAN
A NEW cable car and visitor centre to serve Dursey Island has been given the green light by An Bord Pleanála.
In granting permission for the Cork County Council project, the board has overruled the recommendation of its own inspector to refuse planning permission on the grounds it would bring excessive visitors to the area, and would be an unsustainable form of tourism.
The Council scheme also includes a mainland visitor centre that will include an interpretative centre, an 84 seater cafe and a 100 space car park at Ballaghboy on the Beara peninsula.
The new cable way is to be 375 metres in length and the existing cable car and accompanying infrastructure is to be decommissioned.
Fáilte Ireland told the appeals board that the delivery of the proposed development would provide visitors ‘with a world class experience of Dursey Island’.
Currently, the existing cable car system brings just over 20,400 visitors per annum to Dursey and Cork County Council proposed an annual cap of almost five times that at 100,000 visitors in the new cable car system.
However, An Bord Pleanála has put a cap of 5,000 visitors per month during the busy tourist months in addressing the concerns of its own inspector Patricia Calleary.
She found that ‘the scale of the development is excessive and as proposed, would enable a significant increase in visitor numbers, risking unsustainable impacts to the highly sensitive ecological environment.’
Ms Calleary concluded that ‘the development would not be compatible with the environmental sensitivities and nature conservation designations of the area, particularly of Dursey Island.’
She stated that the number of visitor numbers that would be enabled by the development ‘would be excessive’.
‘Overall, the development is not justified in planning terms and would result in a form of unsustainable tourism that is not appropriate to the unique circumstances of Dursey Island.’
However, the board stated that the 5,000-per-month visitor number cap, taken with the significant mitigation measures proposed to protect the biodiversity in the vicinity of the cable car and on the island, would address the inspector’s concerns.
The planning application was first lodged with An Bord Pleanala more than two years ago.
Each of the two cable cars in the new cable car system would have capacity for 15 persons and the trip outwards to the island would take between five and six minutes to allow visitors to enjoy the recreational experience and views across Dursey Sound.
In its submission on the scheme, An Taisce argued that no justification has been provided for the significant increase in passenger capacity at the site.
It also stated that the scheme would exacerbate unsustainable car-based tourism in West Cork.
Friends of the Environment described the go-ahead as ‘grim news’ and said the island is a stronghold of the protected choughs.
FF TD Christopher O’Sullivan said it was a ‘tourism game changer for the Beara Peninsula and the region.’