The entrance to the new Covid testing facility at Castle Saunderson.

Council objected to closed site plan for new Covid test centre

Coillte and Cavan County Council officials expressed concern at requests by the HSE to potentially limit public access to the Castle Saunderson estate, while the International Scout Centre is being operated as a Covid test centre.

In particular, their worries centred on the adverse “knock-on effect” to the community of closing the amenity to recreational use, as well as the need to maintain internal routes coping with increased traffic.

The new test centre has capacity to test in excess of 300 persons per day, and already significant investment has taken place on site since the HSE signed a deal with Scouting Ireland last month, and also agreed right-of-way access with the national forestry agency and local authority.

In response to queries tabled by Independent Councillor Brendan Fay, published by him on social media, Coillte outline how, in the first instance, they “did not have right” to object to the testing facility being placed at Castle Saunderson.

“The Scouts have the right to provide access to the scouts cabin to a servant or agent, in this case the HSE, and under the terms of this Right of Way, Coillte did not have the right to stop the testing facility being located in the Scouting Centre.”

They add however, for clarity, that the 'Right of Way' does entail certain conditions, including that the HSE must maintain the road, manage safety on site through regular inspections, provide traffic management and indemnify Coillte.

It was through these conditions that Coillte say it focused on ensuring the “best possible outcome for the locality".

The statement also notes how Coillte and Cavan County Council stood together against any proposed closure of the site for recreational use.

“Coilte and Cavan County Council took a combined stance and had numerous discussions with the HSE both virtually and on site via socially distanced meetings, with concerns over the knock-on effect to the local community if recreation use was stopped, as well as maintenance of the road for public access.”

They add that it was ultimately agreed to stick with Coillte's 'Open Forest Policy' for Castle Saunderson.

Covid testing will take place at the International Scout Centre for an initial 12 months, but the HSE has stated its intention to use the facility for the remainder or COVID-19 national testing programme, or as advised by government directive.

The current staff testing complement at the Ballinagh Health Centre will re-locate to Castle Saunderson ahead of the test centre’s expected opening there on Tuesday.

The HSE states that testing is demand led, and by appointment only. A one-way system for test traffic is in place, with a short section of roadway, approximately 500 metres from the entrance, open to two way traffic.

Already extensive ground works have taken place, including the widening of internal roads, tarmacking, and the mapping of a new specified walkway throughout for pedestrians.

The front gate to Castle Saunderson will be monitored by security who will only allow vehicular traffic on site once appointment details are confirmed.

In their response to Cllr Fay, Coillte welcomed the “large increase” in usage of Castle Saunderson during the pandemic.

“Overall, Coillte are happy to facilitate this delivery of a testing centre in the Scouting Centre, but are very conscious of the positive provision of walking routes to the people around the Castle Saunderson area. We have worked with the HSE and Cavan County Council to ensure the national Covid response is enhanced, while attempting at all times to ensure the forest is fully accessible for people to enjoy and most importantly maintain people's mental and physical health.”