An Bord Pleanála has approved plans for building a number of new walking trails in Connemara National Park.
The Board has granted planning permission to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for just over 8km of new walking trails, separated into two areas, as well as a new car park.
Three new trails are to be established in an area south and southwest of Letterfrack, totaling approximately 2km in length.
The new Farm Trail will be 1,590m in length, and an additional 150m Sensory Trail will be built next to the visitor centre, along with roughly 250m of accessible trails connecting to the existing Elis Wood Trail.
The second main area of this project is located an Mweelin, sought of the N59 and approximately 3km north of Letterfrack.
Here the NPWS build a new car park with 144 spaces, and public toilets, to service approximately 8km of new walking trails.
Here they will build the new Old Galway Road (1,550m) and Bog (1,350m) Trails, as well as add an additional 660m to the existing Lime Kiln Trail.
A 150m link track will connect the Lime Kiln Trail to the Canal Trail, and another 1,350m link trail will lead from the new car park to these trails.
This venture is a joint effort between the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Failte Ireland to improve the amenities within Connemara National Park.
They also looked into whether it would be feasible to link the Park to Kylemore Abbey through walking trails, but this idea was ultimately abandoned as unfeasible.
The county council granted planning permission for the project in March 2021, despite the Case Planner for the council recommending that it be refused due to road safety and environmental concerns.
The Council’s Director of Services found that the project should be granted approval, as the roads department had met with the NPWS on site, and agreed that a non-compliant entrance/exit would be closed, and a new one developed.
The DOS also stated that mitigation measures for potential environmental impacts on European Sites of Twelve Bens & Garraun Complex SAC are included in the Natura Impact Statement submitted with the application.
Two third party appeals against the council’s decision were made to An Bord Pleanála in April of 2021.
Both of these raised concerns about the information provided in the NIS, and that there was a lack of other environmental reports.
In response the NPWS said that further information related to environmental impacts was submitted on the request of the county council.
An Taisce also submitted an observation to An Bord Pleanála which was critical of the planning application and the development for lacking an integrated plan for access and management of the park, as well as of how the application was handled by the county council.
An Bord Pleanála ultimately upheld the council’s decision to approve the new walking trails, with eight conditions attached.