An Bord Pleanála has given the green light for a new cable car and visitor centre to serve Dursey Island off the Beara peninsula in west Cork.
In granting permission for the Cork County Council project, An Bord Pleanála has overruled the strong recommendation of its own inspector to refuse planning permission.
Currently, the existing cable car system serving Dursey island - built in 1969 and upgraded since - brings just over 20,400 visitors per annum to Dursey and Cork County Council proposed an annual cap of almost five times that at 100,000 visitors in the new cable car system.
However, the grant of permission by An Bord Pleanála has put a cap of 5,000 visitors per month during the busy tourist months in addressing the concerns of its own inspector.
The Council scheme also includes a mainland visitor centre that will include an interpretative centre, an 84 seater cafe and a 100 space car park at Ballaghboy on the Beara peninsula.
The new cable way is to be 375 metres in length and the existing cable car and accompanying infrastructure is to be decommissioned.
Failte Ireland told the appeals board that the delivery of the proposed development would provide visitors “with a world class experience of Dursey Island”.
An Bord Pleanala has given the scheme the go-ahead in spite of the recommendation of its inspector in the case, Patricia Calleary to refuse planning permission.
Senior Planning Inspector, Ms Calleary concluded that the principle of the proposed development to replace the existing cable car serving Dursey Island is acceptable.
However, Ms Calleary found that “the scale of the development is excessive and as proposed, would enable a significant increase in visitor numbers, risking unsustainable impacts to the highly sensitive ecological environment”.
Ms Calleary concluded that “the development would not be compatible with the environmental sensitivities and nature conservation designations of the area, particularly of Dursey Island.”
He stated that the number of visitor numbers that would be enabled by the development "would be excessive".
Ms Calleary said “overall, the development is not justified in planning terms and would result in a form of unsustainable tourism that is not appropriate to the unique circumstances of Dursey Island”.
However, the board stated that the 5,000 per month visitor number cap taken with the significant mitigation measures proposed to protect the biodiversity in the vicinity of the cable car and on the island would address the inspector’s concerns.
The board noted that the proposed Visitor Management plan to control and manage the volume of visitors to the site, will ensure that car-parking facilities can meet visitor demand.
The Board stated that this along with the reduced maximum visitor numbers allowed to the island during peak Summer season would provide “for sustainable tourism levels to be maintained at the site”.
The board concluded that the proposed development would facilitate safer and improved journey experiences for inhabitants and visitors to the island.
The board also found that the scheme would not have significant negative effects on the environment or the community in the vicinity and would not be detrimental to the visual or landscape amenities of the area.
The planning application was first lodged with An Bord Pleanála more than two years ago in September 2019.
Each of the two cable cars in the new cable car system would have capacity for 15 persons and the trip outwards to the island would take between five and six minutes to allow visitors to enjoy the recreational experience and views across Dursey Sound.
In its submission on the scheme, An Taisce argued that no justification has been provided for the significant increase in passenger capacity.
An Taisce also stated that the scheme would exacerbate unsustainable car based tourism in west Cork.