Balancing the economy and the environment is never easy, writes news editor Siobhán Cronin
WITH the world currently in the grip of a crisis regarding excess plastic, it is little wonder that the announcement of a factory being built in West Cork, which would manufacture plastic pellets, would create a lot of concern.
West Cork has a reputation for its artisan food, clean air and stunning scenery.
It actively encourages clean industry and digital technology firms to locate here.
Just this week, funding of €2m was given to the already successful Ludgate hub in Skibbereen town centre – a perfect example of the type of industry the area has been striving to attract.
This money came from government funds and will help local residents to create and sustain digital start-ups in the locality – away from major cities, reducing the need for commuting, thus cutting down on our carbon footprint.
It was ironic, then, that on the very same day, the plans for Daly Products’ Poundlick facility were given the go-ahead.
An Bord Pleanala’s own inspector said he could not categorise the plastics factory as ‘light industry’, having surveyed it from every conceivable angle.
Plastic has never been a ‘sexy’ industry, but high-profile campaigns, even by our own government, to limit its use, have drawn comparisons with the campaigns mounted against the tobacco industry in the 80s and 90s.
Nevertheless, the world’s consumption of plastic is still rising.
While the world’s population, horrifically, dumps over 8m tonnes of plastic into our oceans every year, we are still producing nearly 300 million tonnes worldwide, half of which is for single use.
In fact, Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in Europe. We Irish generate an average of 61kgs per person every year – almost double what the UK produces. So there is no doubt there is a market for the product.
The question then arises, how can the rising demand for this controversial product co-exist with the need for sustainable and eco-friendly industry and policies?
Cork County Council attempted to balance the economic needs of rural Cork with the concerns of the environmentalists when it imposed 28 conditions on the original planning permission.
But local residents and other concerned interests still queried the permission on a number of fronts, including lack of detailed information regarding noise, air pollution, traffic disruption, location of site, proximity to valued amenities and conservation areas, and water discharge.
In fairness to the inspector, Hugh Morrison, his report for the planning board is incredibly comprehensive.
Following a visit to the site last May, his 34-page analysis looked at every aspect that the opponents were concerned with, and whether certain specific reports, like an Environmental Impact Assessement, were warranted.
He has not let emotive issues cloud his comments; all are fact-based and rely on established scientific standards.
And while he drew from several categories to reach his recommendation to refuse permission, his most damning comment comes in the final page of the carefully considered document.
Bear in mind that The Southern Star reported on the rezoning of this land as far back as January 2016, with this very factory in mind.
‘The first step in paving the way for the establishment of a new plastics factory in Skibbereen was taken at a Municipal District meeting on Monday,’ wrote our reporter Jackie Keogh on January 12th.
‘Senior executive planner with the Council’s Planning Policy Unit, Padraig Moran, briefed the West Cork councillors about the planning process involved in amending Skibbereen’s Local Area Plan,’ she wrote, adding: ‘The councillors unanimously supported a request by the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) – the owners of the site – to reduce the town’s green belt by about 2.5 hectares and increase the adjoining industrial site at Poundlick from 6.2 to 8.7 hectares.’
And it was this decision to rezone the land which was highlighted this week by ABP’s inspector.
He makes specific mention of the reclassifying of the site and notes the location in Poundlick would only be appropriate to the Local Area Plan if it was for ‘light industrial use’.
However, he says, Daly Products has ‘failed to demonstrate that the proposal would be compatible with … the wider public health of those residing in the area and so, in these circumstances, it would be premature for the Board to conclude that the proposed use constitutes a light industrial use.’
And while the board itself ruled against this report, Mr Morrision’s last line was most damning: ‘Accordingly, to grant permission would be to risk a contravention of the said Local Area Plan, serious injury to the amenities of residential property in the vicinity of the site, and the jeopardising of public health. The proposal would therefore be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.’
And so, it seems, the ugly issue of the zoning of land, raises its head in the context of Irish planning, yet again.
PANEL: A WARM WELCOME IN 2016
WHAT local representatives said when the plastics factory was first announced in 2016 at a Municipal District meeting:
Cllr Joe Carroll (FF): ‘This is very good news for Skibbereen. A lot of towns would like to get this kind of news at the start of the year.The location chosen by the IDA is most suitable because the first factory built on that site was Starball, followed by O’Donnell Designs, and others.’
He said a new factory would ‘enhance the site’ and that the 50 new jobs that the factory is likely to create would do a lot to improve the local economy. Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) said a factory of this size ‘would not only benefit Skibbereen, it would benefit all of West Cork. ‘It is great that people who have left Ireland and been successful are coming back to the area and investing in its future.’
Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) welcomed the fact that the Skibbereen initiative involves ‘people with local connections: people who have done well in other countries’. And he suggested: ‘We should send out the message that other West Cork communities can do the same.’
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF), current mayor, said: ‘Initiatives like this deserve our support. We should be making it easier for investors to do businesses in West Cork.’
Cllr Michael Collins (Ind), current TD: ‘It is a unique opportunity for Skibbereen.’ Cllr Paul Hayes (SF): ‘The addition of a new factory in this location is a natural expansion.’
Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) said: ‘Skibbereen has been crying out for …this piece of land is perfect for this kind of development and it is great that it has the support of all the Municipal District members,’ he said.