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Council has ‘little control’ over Coillte

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CRITICISM Councillors Michael Loftus and Blackie Gavin were highly critical of Coillte.

Councillors accuse Coillte of ‘arrogance and disrespect’ for destroying roads across Mayo

Anton McNulty

The recent signing of legislation relating to the forestry industry means Mayo County Council has ‘little control’ over Coillte’s activities, councillors have been informed. Coillte was accused of arrogance and disrespect by a number of councillors, who turned on the State-owned forestry company for ‘destroying roads’ when they are felling trees in forests across Mayo.
The executive of Mayo County Council were urged to impose a bond on the company to ensure money is available for roads damaged by trucks, but councillors were informed that this may not be possible.  
Legislation signed into law by Minister Eoghan Murphy in February means that ‘the thinning, felling or replanting of trees, forests or woodlands’ is now excepted development as was the construction of a non-public road to serve the forest.
“We have very little control over Coillte’s activities under the planning regime,” explained Director of Service Catherine McConnell. “They don’t have to comply with planning permission for plantations, and in recent weeks they have been given exemptions for requiring planning permission for roads that access onto any public roads. Yes there is a road issue, but trying to use planning as leverage is a very limited option.”
Crossmolina-based councillor Michael Loftus was the first to raise the issue of Coillte causing damage to roads near to forests and not repairing them.
“Coillte are destroying our roads and not repairing them, and I have a serious issue with this. We should call Coillte into this chamber because they seem to have this attitude where they do what they want and they don’t care what we say. I don’t like that they have no respect for the council,” he said.

‘Running riot’
There were a number of contributions from other councillors who were critical of the company for damaging roads and not repairing them.
“We put in money to do roads, and when you see the forestry coming around and damaging roads it is nothing short of disgraceful. The arrogance of them is something else and has to be stopped,” said Cllr Blackie Gavin, while Cllr Ger Deere claimed the company was running riot when it came to damaging roads.
Fine Gael councillor Michael Burke said the situation was going to get worse with more incentives for farmers to plant trees, while Sinn Féin councillor Gerry Murray said that the future of forestry in Mayo will have to be addressed in the next County Development Plan.
“The situation is that forestry is an extractive industry and should be applicable to the same regulations as quarries. There should be a road levy imposed before any extraction takes place.
“It is an issue we will have to address next time around in the county development plan, and all of the parties [should] sit down and come to a consensus in terms of the objectives to put into the plan pertaining to forestry,” said Cllr Murray.
He also called for legislation that would give farmers the first option to buy land ahead of forestry companies, after he learned that two young farmers in Mayo were up against a ‘pension fund from Canada’ on a bid for some land.

Important to Mayo
Cllr Richard Finn said councillors should be careful when criticising Coillte as they were a big employer around the county.
Chief Executive Peter Hynes suggested inviting Coillte to the chamber to discuss matters with the councillors but also added that Coillte was important to the county.
“We work with them on the tourism side. They have facilitated walks in parts of the county and we have worked on them on other projects. I would not like it characterised all one way, that they destroy our roads and leave nothing behind them.”