Doolin Pier: Oral Hearing Held by An Bord Pleanala

On Wednesday 31 October 2012 An Bord Pleanála held an Oral Hearing in County Clare for the Doolin Pier planning application. The hearing was called by the Planning Inspector to hear evidence on the likely effects of the proposed development on the environment and the likely consequences for proper planning and sustainable development in the area. For a background on this topic click here.

In addition to the effects on the natural environment the proposal may have, the Inspector invited comments in respect of the “hydrodynamic modelling including bathymetric data, modelling assumptions and scenarios chosen and modelling outputs“. This was most relevant to our (surfers) concerns.


The West Coast Surf Club (WCSC) and Irish Surf Association (ISA) were represented on the day by a number of members including Tom Doidge Harrison and Cliodnha Fawl. I would have loved to be there myself and represent the club but it wasn’t to be (I’m writing this from Australia). However, those that did step up on the day did a great job speaking for the club and outlying the concerns of surfers in respect of this development.

 

 Photos Copyright: Paudie Scanlon.

Tom DH spoke of the potential impacts the pier may have on the wave at Crab Island, reiterating the fact that the information and research that has been requested by the WCSC has not been provided. It has not been proven that the proposed pier will not have a substantial impact on the surfing environment at the Island.


It must be noted that the WCSC and ISA are not against a new pier or upgraded pier at Doolin, however the development must not be at the expense of the surfing waves at Crab Island.


Prior to the Oral Hearing we (WCSC) made a detailed submission to An Bord Pleanala in respect of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and pier application prepared on behalf of the Council. This submission expressed our concerns relating to the proposal and outlined the data and information required to make an informed decision on the possible impact it may have on the waves.


The West Coast Surf Club submission concluded with the following:

 

The West Coast Surf Cub and Irish Surf Association have on numerous occasions requested accurate, peer reviewed and evidence based wave modelling. The EIS has not addressed this request.  We have provided accurate information in respect of the conditions under which the waves are surfed.”


From the very beginning the input and effort to this case has been voluntary. In addition to all the background work carried out by many committed people, we attained expert opinions from different members of the surf community including engineers, town planners, lawyers and indeed some of the most important input came from a select of Ireland’s top surfers who frequent the waves at Crab Island.


As expert evidence was a must for this campaign we went further afield for our latest submission. Dr. Shaw Mead was kind enough to offer his expert opinion on the proposal. I can’t think of anyone more qualified in this area and we are grateful for his assistance. Dr. Mead’s CV can be viewed here… it is astounding. Dr. Mead has unrivaled experience, knowledge and expertise in the field of coastal oceanography, beach processes, coastal hazards, marine and freshwater ecology, coastal structure design and impact assessment, multi-purpose reefs, hydrodynamic and sediment transport numerical modelling, aquaculture, and environmental impact assessment.


Dr. Mead’s assessment of the proposal has many fascinating conclusions however the following extracts provided us with confidence that we are right to question the data and research put forward by Clare County Council and their Consultants.

 
Dr. Mead opens his assessment with the following statement:

 On the whole, while the correct tools have been used for the assessment, there are some fundamental issues that undermine confidence with respect to the influence of the development on Crab Island, Ballaghaline Point and the surfer’s access area, and definitely do not indicate that impacts will be insignificant.” 


While it appears that there will be significant impacts on the surfing waves as a consequence of the proposed development this does not mean that a new pier cannot be constructed to serve the needs of the ferry operators without compromising the surfing environment. Dr. Mead concludes:

There is no doubt that wave and current patterns will be modified by the construction of the proposed pier – what needs to be addressed is whether or not these impacts will cause negative impacts to the existing natural surfing amenity, and if so, how can they be avoided, mitigated or remedied while still providing suitable new boat access. Similarly, I expect that a new pier can be designed that does not have any negative impacts on existing amenities”.
  
There are a few options open to An Bord Pleanála following the Oral Hearing:

  1. Refuse permission for the proposed development.
  2. Request further information and data before making a decision. 
  3. Grant permission with conditions.
We do not want to see option 1 occur. The best scenario would be further information provided, possibly with an alteration to the proposed design to ensure minimal impacts on the waves. I want to see the pier built, but not at the expense of the waves. I will one day use the new ferry services to the Aran Islands. The Islands are amazing and one day I would love to show my Australian girlfriend a new pier and the breathless waves at Crab Island side by side as we ride a ferry out to the Islands!

Time will tell as to what the outcome will be. It has been a long and frustrating road for both the surfers and the ferry operators and I just hope a satisfactory outcome for all parties is achieved.

Neil Cooney
Professional: Urban, Regional, Coastal Planner

Personal: Environment, surfing, travel, outdoor.

Co-owner SAI

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