A Laois community is outraged at the actions of a state-owned company after it jumped the gun on planning regulations before getting the green light from Laois County Council.
After a long battle An Bord Pleanála granted planning consent for the multi-million Laois – Kilkenny Reinforcement Project to Eigrid in April 2014.
However, before work can begin a commencement notice is needed from county hall. Instead of getting the council's goahead, work began on pylons which will feed a massive substation at Coolnabaca, Ratheniska.
The council stepped in and called a halt to work after local people blew the whistle. The council wrote to the company warning that such a breach can result in fines of up to €12 million or possible imprisionment.
As a result the Eirgrid has been forced to apologise, but also reapply to An Bord Plenála, before it can start work again. This could mean more delays for the €110 million project.
Local families have battled the project through the Ratheniska, Timahoe, Spink Substation Action Group.
They claim the penalties reveal the seriousness of what the company has done. The residents are concerned that work done will damage an underground drinking water supply.
“Our worst fears have been realised. These heavy construction works, drilling, excavation, pouring of concrete and infringement onto vulnerable water table and domestic source is underway with scant regard to health and safety, and the basic planning conditions set down,” stated a spokesperson for the action group.
The group is convinced that the law has not been followed. The residents are adamant that they are exposing a 'flagrant' breech of planning permission.
“It is no surprise to us that Eirgrid are thumbing their nose at the community and planning code such has been their cavalier approach throughout this entire process,” said a statement.
They called on the Minister for Energy, Denis Naughten, to intervene.
The residents have demanded the Minister Naughten call for the sit to be restored to its state before the work began.
“This responsibility rests with the Minister for Energy to whom Eirgrid is ultimately accountable and the planning authority, whose statury obligation it is to ensure compliance and enforcement,” said a statement.
Eirgrid replied in two statements. In the first, issued on Monday, June 12, it said the ESB had started too soon.
"As part of the approval, ESB Networks, as project developer, is required to agree certain details with the planning authority prior to the start of the development.
"Unfortunately, ESB Networks commenced early site works in April 2017 on a site in Coolnabacky in Laois prior to the discharging of these conditions. These works are approved by An Bord Pleanála.
"When the situation came to the attention of EirGrid, instructions were issued for all works to cease. Furthermore, EirGrid has instructed that no works shall take place until the planning conditions have been discharged.
In its second statement issued on Friday, June 16, it started by saying that the Laois- Kilkenny electricity project is required to improve the security of electricity supply in the region.
"This €110 million investment in the area will ensure that the electricity network can meet the present and future needs of all users, from homes to farms, and small businesses to industrial customers.
"In April 2017, works started at the Coolnabacky electricity station site without the planning conditions being discharged with Laois County Council, including the erection of a temporary pylon.
"Once this issue came to light we immediately ceased all works. No further works shall take place until the necessary planning conditions have been agreed in writing with the planning authority, Laois County Council.
"The temporary pylon is required during the construction works to ensure the safety of workers on site and to maintain security of electricity supply as an existing overhead line runs close to the perimeter of the new station.
"Once the station is built this temporary pylon and line diversion will be removed. This pylon is on ESB land and is over 800 metres away from the nearest house.
"We have now applied to An Bord Pleanála for an alteration to the planning permission for this temporary pylon.
"EirGrid and ESB Networks regret this occurrence and we apologise to Laois County Council and the local communities. We understand the concerns this incident may have caused and we would like to reassure you that we are reviewing our processes internally to ensure this does not occur in the future.
"When the situation came to the attention of EirGrid, instructions were issued for all works to cease. Furthermore, EirGrid has instructed that no works shall take place until the planning conditions have been discharged,” said the company.
Sean Fleming TD said he would raise "the total contempt and arrogance" of Eirgrid to the people of Laois in Dáil Eireann at the first opportunity.
He said very stringent conditions attached to the planning condiditions. These conditions stated that :- a Construction Management Plan, shall be submitted to and agreed in writing with Laois County Council prior to the commencement of the development. Eirgrid totally ignored this and proceeded with the construction regardless.
"Eirgrid has also shown total contempt to An Bord Pleanála and Laois County Council by commencing this work in breach of the planning conditions. Laois County Council has commenced the precess of dealing with this unauthorised development and the full rigours of the law must apply to Eirgrid.
"Eirgrid may think they are above the law, but they are not," said the Fianna Fáil TD.