Local eco-tourism resort for Hodson Bay area
Roscommon County Council is due to make a decision early in 2024 on a planning application for the development of a sustainable eco-tourism project at Hodson Bay in Athlone which is designed to have minimal environmental impact and to include 36 timber cabins built on stilts.
Planning documents for the project were lodged on November 3 by New Island Resorts Ltd, whose shareholders comprise the O'Sullivan family and Padraig Sugrue who are all associated with the Hodson Bay Hotel Group.
An Economic Impact Statement which accompanies the planning documents concludes that the proposed tourism offering could generate “between €35.1 million and €38.8 million in tourism spend over the next decade” based on an estimated expenditure of €150 per visitor per night.
The 28-page document, which was prepared by Dublin-based Chartered Town Planning and Development Consultants, KPMG Analytics, added that, should the scheme attract “more affluent visitors, as planned, the ultimate economic impact would be higher.” It also pointed out that tourism expenditure at the planned development could “directly support up to 95 direct tourism jobs, in addition to indirect benefits and additional construction and manufacturing jobs created during the development process” and could contribute “between €8.1 million and €8.9 million in tax revenues over the next ten years.”
KPMG Analytics also states that the Yew Point development could be “the key that unlocks a transition to low and zero-carbon ecotourism development” and can help “influence locals’ behaviour and visitors’ behaviour after their return home which will, in turn “ help Ireland meet its commitments and ambitions to reduce carbon emissions and transition to a circular economy.”
They also note that the planting of over 500 native Irish trees on the site during the first phase of development, and more through the site's operation, along with preserving and maintaining existing woodland will help to “sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere” and added that the scheme “should act as a benchmark for future ecotourism developments. “
The ambitious tourist offering was first flagged in mid-2021 when the Hodson Bay Group acquired the 145-acre Yew Point peninsula adjacent to the hotel, encompassing a number of specially protected conservation areas including two small islands, Robins Island and Horse Island.
The developers have stated that the conservation and protection of all existing woodlands areas and the natural environment is “a fundamental objective” of the proposed development.
To this end, there will be no concrete used and the foundations of the cabins will consist of screw piles with a platform on top, leaving the ground below “virtually untouched” and creating a new habitat.
The developers are also proposing an 'Environmental Induction Area' to facilitate the immersion of guests in environmental topics and the principles of fully sustainable living, and inform them, specifically, on the ecology and biodiversity of the Yew Point/Lough Ree area”.
Works to regenerate the former woodland areas towards the centre of the Yew Point peninsula which are “largely depleted following generations of agricultural activity” are also planned, and would include the “extensive planting of native tree species” according to the planning documents lodged with Roscommon County Council.
The planning documents also state that all cabins and other structures are designed to minimise environmental impact “through the off-site fabrication of the main components, careful siting and reversible forms of constructions.”
It is proposed to use materials of “low embedded carbon” in the construction of the cabins, and to use renewable sources of energy, and surface water run-off is to be dealt with “by strategically located Rain Gardens to filer and slowly release rainwater into the ground.”
Renewable solar photovoltaic panels are to be used as “the primary source of energy production for the entire development, and a reinforced 'Grass-crete; surfaced car park at the existing site entrance will provide for 48 no. car parking spaces in total, one per cabin and 12 no. staff car parking spaces. The car parking will include 10 no. EV charging spaces (with provision for future expansion of EV facilities) and 3 no. car parking spaces for the Accessible cabins.
Among the other sustainable measures on the site will be provision of low-level public lighting and appropriate way-finding signage “specifically designed to minimise visual intrusion and impact on wildlife.”
As well as the construction of 36 timber eco-cabins on the Yew Point peninsula, which will be arranged in five clusters confined to the southern portion of the lands, the developers are proposing to build four timber guest shelters distributed across the site, along with a covered shelter to facilitate the “charging and storage of electric golf buggies.”
The timber eco-cabins will comprise of 12 family cabins and 24 two-person cabins, all of which are to be constructed on stilts raised above ground level “to conserve existing ground conditions and preserve through routes for movement of wildlife.” The developers have stated that the cabins "will not be visible as they are built on the meadowlands which was previously agriculture and are set up to 60 metres away from the woodlands around the shores."
The plans also make provision for the extension and refurbishment of the existing reception building/shop and the upgrading of the exterior with slatted timber screens, new doors and windows and a covered deck area.
The developers of the Yew Point project have said they entered into early consultation with Roscommon County Council, Failte Ireland and National Parks and Wildlife Service in order to ensure that their project "aligns with national and international policies designed to allow tourism to continue to be a contributor to the economy while becoming a regenerative contributor to the environment" and they plan to partner with third level institutions such as TUS & University College Maynooth to achieve this.
"It is our mission that taking a holiday with us will leave a smaller carbon footprint than staying at home," they stated, adding that tourism in its current state is "not sustainable" and that a move towards embracing "sustainable development and low carbon operation" is required.
"Ourselves and Failte Ireland see this development as an opportunity to act as an exemplar project for how development should be carried out in the Hidden Heartlands, which will inform and hopefully inspire guests and the industry," the developers have said.
"The hidden heartlands is different to the wild Atlantic way in that it doesn’t have mountains and coastlines but it does have a unique ecology and biodiversity, and therefore all development in the Hidden Heartlands more than anywhere has to, in its own interests, be done in a sustainable manner which is sensitive to this environment. Because this environment is its greatest asset to attract visitors."