Land rezoned to allow application for biopark in Claremorris

The proposed biopark development in Claremorris received a major boost this week when Mayo County Council voted 22-3 to rezone the 20-acre site at Kilbeg, Claremorris, to ‘opportunity’ status as part of the new county development plan.

This change in zoning will allow Biopharmed West to make a planning application for its proposed project on the site.

The potential development has been a hot topic of discussion in the town and surrounding areas over the past number of years, with two different groups lobbying on behalf of and against the proposed development.

The proposed €30 million biopark project consists of a biomedical development and manufacturing facility and a Combined Heat and Power (CHP ) plant.

While the change in zoning of the site was passed by large majority, there were strict conditions attached, with only wood biomass to be used in the facility and no production of wood chip or pellets to be allowed on the site.

Fine Gael councillor Tom Connolly proposed the rezoning with the strict conditions attached to it. Independent councillor Richard Finn, a strong proponent of the plan, put forward the case for the rezoning, saying: “We are not deciding planning permission here, we’re deciding on the zoning of this land as an opportunity site. In the planning process, due process will be carried out and the planning authorities are well able to deal with planning issues.” He also said that it would create 150 jobs in the building of the plant and there would be another 150 jobs on site when it opens up for business.

However Sinn Fein councillor Gerry Murray objected to the change of zoning saying that the definition of biomass under EU law was wide-ranging and even if the council imposed the strict conditions, there could be no guarantee that they could not be overturned by An Bord Pleanála if a planning application was successful or rejected.

He told the meeting: “The bench mark for me is - would I agree to a similar plant in Charlestown and on the basis of my research I couldn’t. From my research, a lot of environmental groups have been taken in by biomass, because it’s seen as sustainable. I’m calling for a review of the county renewable energy strategy because it says that biomass is the use of plants for energy production, but that’s at total variance and in complete contradiction of the EU’s classification and definition of what constitutes biomass. Under EU law, the definition of biomass means the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues from biological organisms from agriculture including vegetable and animal substances, forestry and related industry including fisheries and acquaculture, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste, it also includes bioliquids and biofuels.”

He went on to say he believed that if this plan proceeds it could be the first steps toward to an incinerator on the site. “We were all working under the assumption that it was a very narrow definition, exclusively confined to the relatively benign burning of willow chip, but under EU law we find it’s an all embracing definition and, unfortunately I have to come to the conclusion what we have here is a Trojan horse for the incineration industry. This directive was passed by the EU and transposed into Irish law by the previous Government. It seems to have been done without any proper scrutiny of the Dáil. I’m amazed it flew under the radar of An Taisce and the environmental NGOs. They all thought that biomass was a benign sustainable form of renewable energy. In 2012, another definition from the EU Commission mentions manure, sewage sludge, and a whole litany of residue for industrial process.”

Cllr Murray also said that he was all for jobs, but not at any cost. “I’m all for jobs but not under these circumstances. I’m giving my honest and objective opinion on the basis of the research I’ve done and representations I’ve got.”

County manager Peter Hynes rejected Cllr Murray’s claims that it could lead to an incinerator, but did concede that the conditions the council attach to any plan could be appealed, saying: “There is no intention, nor will there be, to build an incinerator on that site. It is very possible for this council to impose conditions on the materials that will be used on that site and not be subject to any interpretation or latitudes under EU directives. We can specify those conditions and if others wish to appeal them, that’s a matter for them. As far as this authority is concerned, and at the end of the day, it’s all I can take responsibility for, and you as elected representatives can take responsibility for. There will be no incinerator using anything other than the specified materials on that site.”

Cllr Murray responded that no matter what the council imposed, EU law could be used to supersede those conditions, saying: “I concede you can attach conditions, but when these people appeal to the board, that the conditions that you’ve attached contravene the EU directive of 2009 and that legal classification of what is biomass and in essence you’re on a hiding to nothing, EU transcends national law the last time I checked the statute book.”

The manager responded by saying: “If you adopt the zoning for this site, you have copperfastened the use of this site in as far as you can, and you are being true to the objective of this council to foster enterprise and employment in this county in balance with reasonable environmental concerns, reasonable health and safety concerns, and reasonable community concerns. That’s all you can do.”

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