By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Incredible news from the World Heritage Site at Brú na Bóinne. The National Roads Authority has released plans for its new bypass around Slane, County Meath, to be constructed on the eastern side of the town, a mere 500m – 30 seconds drive – from the buffer-zone around the world-famous monuments.

While it is difficult to argue with the given scenario, regarding the deficiency of existing roads for traffic volume carried, as set out in the Environmental Impact Statement summary, or with the history of accidents at points along the route, one must certainly question this selection of by-pass corridor.

How could a route that roughly shaves the outskirts off Newgrange and Knowth, the national symbols, have been chosen above other alternatives – on the far side of the town, for example?

According to the EIS summary, section 4.0;

“The assessment of several alternative Routes considered the following factors:

� Engineering suitability
� Traffic Safety
� Traffic Impact
� Archaeology and Cultural Heritage
� Ecology
� Landscape and Visual impact
� Agricultural Land-Use
� Geology and Hydrology
� Economics

Following detailed investigations an eastern bypass was considered the favourable Option.”

The order may be misleading. How were these factors weighted? I wonder. A quick look at the following map;

http://www.meath.ie/LocalAuthorities/Roads/MajorRoadsProjects/N2SlaneBypass/SlaneBypassPublications/File,39837,en.pdf

shows that the route chosen is the shortest, straightest option possible. To go west of the town would have meant taking a much longer, more circuitous trail, over, around and then back to meet the N2 again. Is it Economics that weighs heaviest, then? Followed perhaps by Engineering Suitability? Less ground to cover and less compulsory purchase orders. Was there really so much money used to prop up our banks, that a few quid couldn’t have been kept back to protect our Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, not to mention our national dignity, by financing the trouble of a road on the western side? Even if it was and I use this word reluctantly, ‘just’ something less uncommon, but the landscape around Brú na Bóinne. Come on.

How could they possibly dress that up for public view?

According, again, to the EIS summary, Section 8.0; “The proposed route alignment seeks to hide the road within cuttings and topographic adjustments in the landscape, coupled with extensive roadside planting to screen and green the corridor. However the design also seeks to minimise the scale of these cuttings and regrading – this is both efficient design and also lessens the potential intervention and “footprint” of the road corridor. In general screen planting and woodland planting will mitigate much of the landscape and visual impact of the road corridor itself. Where there is potential for exposed rock to present a long term scar in the otherwise pastoral landscape natural colonisation of these areas will in due course cover these potentially obtrusive features.”

That’s just great so, lads. Let nature sort out the scars after you’ve finished. The footprint, the awkward “44 archaeological and cultural heritage constraints within 500m of the route” (Section 10.0) and the un-sortable, the three sites where “the potential impact is considered potentially significant”. Slap a road in there.

Who gives a damn anyway?

Submissions, as set out in Section 13.0, can be made to an Bórd Pleanála. The relevant bypass publications are here;

http://www.meath.ie/LocalAuthorities/Roads/MajorRoadsProjects/N2SlaneBypass/SlaneBypassPublications/

Watch this space.