Thursday, 8 March 2018
Topical Issue Debate
I have grave concerns about the proposal for a waste transfer station at the Poolboy area of Ballinasloe in respect of health and safety. Such a facility could see up to 100 heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, weighing up to 30 tonnes travelling through the town. This will bring increased dangers for cyclists, pedestrians and road users. I will go through some of the main points in the four minutes allotted to me.
I will begin with the question of safety. Safety of the community of Ballinasloe is of the utmost concern. Why is the executive on Galway County Council considering a facility that will involve hundreds of ten, 15 and 30-tonne multi-axle vehicles driving past an acute hospital with a catchment area of 100,000, a secondary school, health centres, built-up urban residential areas and playgrounds? The only available access is through the town. There is also a debate on diesel fumes, which could be another major issue.
The second concern is proximity, which is a major factor in health and environmental concerns.Why is this facility located less than 2 km from Ballinasloe town centre, which has a population of exactly 6,654 people as per the census of 2016? Why would this particular area be considered an appropriate location? It is the largest urban area outside of Galway city centre. Then there is the question which is puzzling most people. Why were another 73 acres purchased for the development of a refuse transfer station? That certainly puzzles a lot of the public in that region.
I will speak briefly about the planning permission. Planning permission for the facility has been approved within an area of Poolboy within the urban district council boundary to which a 1998 High Court order applies.Why did the executive of Galway County Council contravene the 1998 High Court order? The campaigners proposed a policy of a waste industry-free zone within 10 km of highly populated urban area at a meeting with the Minister on 17 January. What progress has been made on this policy, which would bring health benefits to the Irish population? There are several issues in respect of this matter. At present, the people of Ballinasloe are pushing for more industry in the town and I acknowledge things are happening there. The people in the hospital and in the community certainly do not want this facility at Poolboy.
In many respects, Ballinasloe could be thought of as a forgotten town. It has lost a huge amount of jobs but there is still a great sense of community. With more jobs, development and employment coming into the country, they are battling hard in that town and region to get more jobs. The town is on the motorway, 40 minutes from Galway city. Ballinasloe can certainly expand again after losing a couple of thousand jobs over several years.
I know that Deputy Doyle is not the Minister who has full responsibility for this matter and I thank him for appearing in the House to give me some answers. Where do matters stand concerning this transfer station? What is going to be done about the huge public opposition in that region? Several months ago I was at a public meeting that was attended by more than 600 people. It is a live issue. I will give the Minister of State an opportunity to reply, to see what good news he might have for me.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, unfortunately is out of the country and is unavailable to respond in person. I have been given his speaking notes and will try to respond to any other issues the Deputy may raise in my later reply.
I understand that Galway County Council has granted planning permission for a waste transfer station that will receive waste and recyclables. Within a building at the facility, these materials will be unloaded and reloaded to larger vehicles for onward transfer to their waste facilities. Issues pertaining to the planning policy and the legislation do not fall within the Minister's remit and are matters for my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.
My understanding of the current situation is that the company involved has made an application to Galway County Council for a waste authorisation to infill the site in question. Galway County Council is considering the submissions it has received on that application. I also understand that a further waste authorisation to regulate the waste activity at the transfer station itself would be required in advance of this facility beginning to operate. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is precluded under section 63 of the Waste Management Act 1996 from exercising any power or control over specific cases of a local authority's performance of its statutory functions under the Act. Furthermore, waste management planning, including with regard to infrastructure planning, is the responsibility of the local authorities under Part II of the Waste Management Act 1996.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I understand that the Minister met members of the Poolboy community in January 2018 to discuss and tease out a number of issues around this matter. I fully appreciate that the community has concerns. However, the Minister's role in waste management is to provide a comprehensive legislative and policy framework through which the relevant regulatory bodies, such as local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, operate.
In this regard, should the company involved apply for a waste facility permit to operate a waste transfer station, it will be open to the public to make written submissions on that application. Galway County Council would then be required, under the Waste Management (Facility Permit and Registration) Regulations 2007, as amended, to have regard to such submissions in making a decision on any proposed application.
More generally, where a waste facility permit has been issued by a local authority, the person carrying on the waste activity must comply with the conditions of the permit, including that the activity is carried out in a manner which does not cause, and is not likely to cause, environmental pollution. In essence, I understand the local community has concerns about the proposed development but I would urge the community to continue to engage with the statutory processes in place which regulate such developments.
I acknowledge that my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is unavoidably absent today. I also acknowledge the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle's reply and thank him for coming to the House to deal with this issue.
In many respects Ballinasloe is the forgotten town of County Galway. It has suffered major economic setbacks in recent years but there is a great community spirt in the town. Huge efforts are being made at local level to attract investment and enterprise. Ballinasloe has, I am told, some €26 million worth of sports facilities, a strong school base, a fabulous new library and prime office space, and it could be an ideal commuter town based, as it is, between Athlone and Galway city. However, it needs a lot more funding, although that is a debate for another day.
From talking to people in the community and in industry there, I can tell the Minister of State that the fear of this transfer station being put on their doorstep, just 2 km from the town, is causing extraordinary upset and annoyance. I accept that, under the 1996 Act, the Minister is precluded from getting involved in certain aspects of this. However, we, as politicians, have to take responsibility. The people of Ballinasloe and other places elect us and they expect me and others, such as the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to find a solution to these issues. In my view, putting this transfer station on a 73 acre site on the edge of Ballinasloe town is wrong. The community is determined to fight back and to bring jobs back into the town but while there is huge community spirit, it can be knocked back by something like this happening out of the blue.
I refer back to the High Court judgment in regard to the old dump, which had to be closed under order of the court. Now, we have this transfer station going across the road from where the dump was, which is another very serious legal issue. I want to know what monitoring is currently being done by the EPA on the gas emissions from the landfill which, as I said, is directly adjacent to the site that is now proposed for another dump. By the way, this is located very close to the River Suck. The Minister of State knows a fair bit about our rivers and lakes, and he will know there is serious flooding along the River Suck. Raising the land levels there will cause major flooding into the town of Ballinasloe.
I rest my case - I have made it as strong as I can. I am making it on behalf of the people of Ballinasloe. I hope I am not being over-dramatic about it because it is a very serious issue. I again thank the Minister of State for coming to the Chamber to answer questions on the issue.
The Deputy has certainly made the case very strongly on behalf of the people who have expressed concerns. I know Ballinasloe very well and I appreciate it has suffered from many issues, including bypasses, downturns in the economy and changes in employment structures. However, it is a town that is ideally placed to fight back, given its location.
To reiterate, the planning permission granted contains a condition that the development be limited to handling 23,400 tonnes per year or a new planning permission will be required. An environmental impact assessment is required for facilities which take in more than 25,000 tonnes. The current limiting factor under the planning permission is that level but there are also the other planning permissions that have to be considered. In addition, given an environment impact assessment will be required, the EPA will also have a role in this.
I do not have any information on the issue of the EPA monitoring of the closed landfill. I suggest the Deputy writes to the EPA and the line Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to check whether the closed facility is subject to ongoing monitoring or at least to check what is its status.
There are statutory processes in place through both the local authority and the EPA. It is very important that, through the submissions process, local concerns are articulated and heard, and that clarity is given. I take the point that the size of the site is a cause of concern not just for what is already there, but in regard to what may be there in the future. That is something typical when we see an application like this come in.