a COUNTY councillor has called into question a u-turn on a pylon ban caused after county councillors were warned the ban would lead to big costs on the council.
This week Cllr Padraig Fleming questioned the legal advice that led to councillors changing their minds and permitting the installation of high power overhead electrity pylons in the county.
“The people of Ratheniska, Timahoe and Spink feel a lack of support, and this all originates from the legal advice,” he said.
Last year councillors voted to add a clause to the draft County Development Plan, that high voltage powerlines must be underground rather than carried on pylons, against the advice of County Manager, Peter Carey.
It followed their private meeting with the RTS group. After Eirgrid threatened a legal challenge, the county manager took legal advice. A behind closed doors briefing by solicitors to councillors led to the politicians changing their minds and removing the ban.
“Three people came down from Dublin and the first thing they said was ‘you have a 90 per cent chance of losing the case’, they showed the white flag. We asked them on that day about putting cables underground, and they said they knew nothing about that,” he recalled.
He said the advice from the firm McCann Fitzgerald was more in line with Eirgrid’s view.
“They came to tell us we were wrong,” Cllr Fleming said.
County Manager, Peter Carey replied that he got the best legal advice he could.
“There was going to be a High Court challenge to our County Development Plan. It was going to lead to costs of over €200,000 and a surcharge on cllrs. The RTS group made their views known. We got the strongest legal advice possible and took the best course of action,” he said.
He agreed with Cllr Fleming that the Development Plan was one of the few powers held by a county council.
“My job is to point out if there are legal difficulties with any part of that. I have no doubt that we would have ended up in a dangerous situation and left Laois paying a lot of money,” he said.
A vote was afterwards carried by 14 to five to defer a meeting between the county manager, cllrs and the RTS group until Eirgrid lodged their planning application with An Bord Pleanála, or when more relevant information came to light.