The new mast in Belturbet.

21M mast erected in Belturbet

Locals have reacted with shock after a 21m high mast was erected near the centre of Belturbet over the weekend.

Planning for the controversial structure was originally refused by Cavan County Council but ultimately granted by An Bord Pleanála despite a recommendation to refuse by the board’s own planning inspector.

A crane and truck moved on site at the weekend (Saturday, January 13), and barring affixed antenna, the telecommunications structure is in place.

On the opposite side of the road is St Bricin’s College and, next door, a three-storey residential building with one apartment front just six metres from the mast location.

Traffic and locals going about their business early on Monday morning stopped to stare at the mast’s unexpected appearance.

Complete with antennas, dishes and associated telecommunications equipment, planning for the development at the Eir Exchange, Fairgreen, Corporation Lands, was refused by the council in 2021 but successfully appealed the following year by Eircom Ltd.

Reacting this week, Independent Councillor Brendan Fay described the mast as an “eyesore” and says he intends to raise the matter with planning chiefs at Cavan County Council.

What he finds most disappointing is the pole’s proximity to the centre of Belturbet, where significant funding has been obtained to rejuvenate the town core.

“I don’t know how anyone could have looked at what was being proposed and thought that was good planning.”

The development involved the removal of an old 10.5m high wooden pole with antennae from the site and its replacement with a new 21m high monopole to support Eircom and Vodafone services.

But the council refused permission on the basis that the mast would have an ‘adverse impact on the visual and residential amenities’ of the area, and set an ‘undesirable precedent’ for future development of this nature. Planners also felt the proposal ran contrary of the Cavan County Development Plan 2014 – 2020.

Three submissions were made by locals during the original planning phase.

In its application Eircom detailed how the existing wooden pole had become incapable of meeting the infrastructure needs of modern networks and that the pandemic underlined the need for good connectivity across the country.

An alternative site, the town’s water tower, was deemed ‘sub-optimal’ from technical and managerial perspectives.

‘Belturbet is one of a number of towns wherein such connectivity is not available in their centres, thereby blighting their socio-economic development prospects,’ stated Bord inspector Hugh Morrison in his report from January 2022, based on the case put forward by Eircom.

Despite being ‘persuaded’ by Eircom’s assertion that its monopole would appear lower than the bell tower of the nearby Church of the Immaculate Conception (66.2m), Mr Morrison concluded that the proposal would still be ‘harmful’ to the historic townscape of Belturbet, and be ‘seriously injurious to its visual amenities’.

He concluded that Eircom had ‘not convincingly demonstrated’ the selected site was the ‘only site’ suitable and that, due to its height and proximity to apartments, the monopole would be ‘unduly overbearing and so seriously injurious to the residential amenities of the area’.

The inspector concluded: ‘It would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.’

Despite Mr Morrison’s recommendation, An Bord Pleanála overturned the council’s decision and granted permission in March 2022.

They based this decision on ‘national policy’ regarding the provision of mobile and telecommunications services.

In deciding ‘not to accept’ the inspector’s recommendation, executive member Paul Hyde, wrote that the location and co-location with existing services was ‘highly suitable’. He also expressed the belief that the mast would ‘not interfere’ with the setting of local churches, both listed buildings, and ‘not be unduly overbearing or seriously injure’ the residential amenities of the area.

‘The proposed development would, therefore, be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area,’ he said.

Mr Hyde resigned from his position at national independent planning authority in July 2022 amid allegations of potential conflicts of interest in decision-making not declared.

He later pleaded guilty to two counts of making false or misleading declarations of interest in 2015 and 2018.