*Photograph: Gary Collins
PLANS HAVE been lodged by the State for a new interpretative centre for the Burren National Park in the village of Corofin.
The lodging of the planning application by State agency, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) with Clare County Council for the Burren National Park Visitor Centre comes more than two decades after the State was forced to demolish its ill-fated Mullaghmore interpretive centre in the nearby National Park.
The controversy over the original visitor centre and a scaled down proposal caused major divisions in the local community. The row also resulted in fundamental changes to Irish planning laws following a Supreme Court ruling that Government agencies could not be exempt from planning laws.
The demolition of the original centre in 2001 followed a successful battle by the Burren Action Group in opposing the €5.1m Government plan.
Now, NPWS is planning the new visitor centre for Corofin stating that it is to interpret the Burren and include a cafe, a nature classroom for visiting school-children and a car park.
A shuttle bus drop off service associated with the visitor centre for visitors to explore the Burren is to be part of a separate planning application by the Council.
In a submission, retired Fianna Fail Government Minister, Tony Killeen has raised concerns over the site selection and the chaos and undue hardship caused to locals and farmers at the Burren National Park due to the absence of visitor parking there.
Mr Killeen is a resident of nearby Kilnaboy in the Burren and was a prominent supporter of plans to provide visitor facilities at the Burren National Park.
In the submission, Mr Killeen, who served as a Clare TD from 1992 to 2011, has told the Council that it appears that the only site selection criterion was that the property was in the possession of the applicant, adding that it is not clear if the site is large enough to accommodate a Burren National Park visitor centre.
He states, “What a missed opportunity it would be if NPWS were to spend a huge amount of tax-payers’ money to provide a second rate centre in the wrong location of the village”.
Mr Killeen stated that the NPWS is proposing 70 parking spaces at the visitor centre.
He said, “It seems strange that NWPS which attracts a considerable number of cars to the National Park and cause chaos and undue hardship to local road users, residents and farmers would propose to provide parking where nobody currently goes.
“One can imagine the criticism that the Clare GAA County Board would be subjected to if they were to propose providing parking and toilet facilities for their Cusack Park in Ennis patrons at properties at Ballyline, Crusheen and Caherlohan near Tulla. To make matters worse, experience elsewhere suggests that the vast majority of those who do actually visit the centre will also drive to the park rather than use the shuttle bus”.
Mr Killeen stated that despite the reservations expressed, “this proposal can still be welcomed if the already intolerable and worsening impact of traffic and lack of parking on the host community is addressed and if basic toilets facilities are provided for visitors at the Burren National Park”.
Annemarie van Dongen has told the Council that over the last few years, there has been a very noticeable increase in the volume of traffic travelling to the Burren National Park as a result of local government and other state bodies advertising the Burren National Park as a place to visit.
In a submission, Ms van Dongen contends that Clare County Council and NPWS to date “have taken no action to address the traffic issues in The Burren National Park in which the negative adverse impact of the high volumes of traffic is felt directly in the daily lives of those lively in Kilnaboy Parish and surrounding parishes”.
Against the background of large numbers visiting the Burren, Ms Van Dongen claims that the provision of a centre which can only cater for 34,000 maximum visitors a year “is not fit for purpose”.
She said, “If this development is to be granted planning permission, then it must be granted based on the commitment by NPWS to provide for more parking and services to the large number of visitors to the Burren National Park”.
Debbie Pennill of Riverview, Church Rd, Corofin lives adjacent to the site and has lodged an objection against the plan due to the impact the centre will have on her privacy.
The NPWS declined to comment as the application is currently under consideration.