An Bord Pleanála has ruled that planning permission is required for a forest walk being developed by the Comeragh Community Development Group near Mahon Falls, in the Comeragh Mountains.
The case arose after a local guide writer, Declan McGrath, sought direction from the planning appeals authority in January 2016 about whether the 2.7km road needed to obtain planning.
Mr McGrath said he understood the community group had carried out the works on the basis of a verbal approval from Waterford City and County Council that planning permission was not required.
Mr McGrath, who has written several books about the Comeraghs, challenged any suggestion the surfaced track was a “greenway”, claiming it was laid out as a full road.
The Comeragh Community Development Group described the development as “a wood walk”. It admitted the unsightly nature of the works was due to their partially completed state and they were not a reflection of what the final walk will look like when it is completed and landscaped.
The route is part of the Crough Wood Extension Walk which will run along the banks of the River Mahon from near Mahon Bridge to within 400m of the Falls.
It is understood the final section of the forest walk, near the waterfalls, has still to be constructed.
An inspector for An Bord Pleanála said it was difficult to judge the precise nature and motivation for the final intended structure as no detailed plans had been presented of the works, which have not yet been completed.
However, the inspector said he had no reason to question the goodwill of the Comeragh Community Development Group, nor the motivation of Mr McGrath.
He suggested the situation “on the ground” seemed to have arisen from “a complex series of misunderstandings between the council and other bodies”. While he called the development a “road” under planning legislation, he accepted its final form and use would be as a leisure walk.
The inspector said there was “no question but that the works have caused a significant direct effect on heathland” with an estimated 0.4 hectares having been destroyed.
An Bord Pleanála ruled the works could not be considered exempted development.
Waterford City and County Council had earlier ruled the works required planning permission as they were in a designated visually sensitive area and were likely to require an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Mountaineering Ireland has criticised the decision of the council to award €75,000 to the Comeragh Community Development Group for the project without attaching any conditions.