Malahide Estuary- Important decision by An Bord Pleanala- June 2020

An Bord Pleanala recently approved an application by Fingal County Council to build a walkway and cycleway alongside the railway across the Malahide Estuary.  The decision to approve the proposal in an area that is designated as an SAC and an SPA is significant and comes as a welcome surprise to many who believed that such a proposal could not or would not be approved.  The decision is important in illustrating how such applications can be successful.

Railway viaduct across Broadmeadow Estuary, Malahide

As part of its decision, the Bord concluded – “The development would result in significant positive impacts/benefits on Population and Human Health arising out of the delivery of a recreational amenity, which would bring health benefits by encouraging an active lifestyle in the form of cycling and walking. The proposal would also attract visitors into the area which would result in a positive benefit to tourism and the economy of the area. It would also improve connectivity between Malahide and Donabate. The linking of the proposed greenway into the wider walking and cycle network would be greatly positive in that it would encourage users to arrive by bicycle or foot, reducing car dependency and minimising impacts on existing traffic. As complementary infrastructure is delivered, the proposed development would have a positive cumulative impact.”……..

“Impacts on biodiversity including key ecological receptors of wintering water bird species, mammals including bats, natural and seminatural habitats, watercourses, could arise from human disturbance, habitat modification, accidental spillages of construction related contaminants or release of sediment laden water runoff during construction.  Mitigation measures to be applied follow a mitigation hierarchy of avoidance where possible and mitigation by design and remedy with monitoring measures also to be implemented.  Possible significant disturbance to birds would be prevented due to the timing of construction works, the proposed continuous solid wall providing screening along the viaduct, proposed lighting design and measures including fencing to prevent egress of people and in particular, loose dogs onto the shoreline.  Pollution control measures would prevent deterioration of riparian, estuarine and coastal habitats.  With the application of mitigation measures, there would be no adverse effects on sites designated for nature conservation including Malahide Estuary SAC and SPA.”

The following further points from the reports and decision are relevant to the S2S:

  • The application was very carefully prepared, dealing with all aspects of the issue.
  • The decision of the Bord was to accept the Inspectors report and recommendations in full which in turn accepted the report of the Bord’s Ecologist. 
  • Despite expressions of concern in some submissions about the possible negative impact on the SAC and SPA, the decision is clear and unambiguous in accepting that the project will have no such negative impact.
  • It was accepted that the birds are disturbed by dogs running loose and not by people walking or cycling along a pathway that is separated from the habitat by a wall that is 1.2 m high.
  • It was accepted the benefits to the environment and the health and welfare of the community of a traffic free cycleway and walkway were significant and were a factor in the decision to approve
  • It was also acknowledged that the proposed facility would be significant in promoting the modal shift from car transport to cycling and walking.
  • The benefits for tourism and the local community was also noted as important.
  • The fact that Fingal County Council had included the development of a cycleway and walkway across the estuary as an objective in their current Development Plan was also a significant supporting factor. 

So, will this decision affect the prospects for the S2S in South Dublin Bay?  While it must be noted that An Bord Pleanala decides each case on its merits, there are a great number of similarities between the two projects. 

  • Both the Malahide Estuary project and the S2S involve the construction of a cycleway and walkway alongside an existing railway line. 
  • The Malahide Estuary and South Dublin Bay are both designated as an SPA and SAC.
  • Possible disturbance of the birds during construction and in use are the main issues for consideration. 
  • All of the issues that have been raised as concerns in relation to the S2S have also been raised and resolved in the case of the Malahide Estuary. 
  • Most of the mitigation measures adopted for the Malahide Estuary project have already been proposed for the S2S in South Dublin Bay.

It will take some time to study the decision in detail but what is clear is that, despite the view that is widely held in some quarters,  it is possible to obtain an approval from An Bord Pleanala for such projects provided the application is clear and comprehensive and demonstrates that there is no significant negative impact on the habitats.  This application shows how that can be achieved.

The following is a link to the decision documents

Michael Collins

for S2S