Autumn Newsletter '21

Courtown Community Council (Registered Charity No. 20043414) has been diligently working over the past 6 months with individuals, local groups and national organisations to enhance and improve the collective communities of Courtown, Riverchapel and the surrounding areas. The last six months have been witness to many successes with the completion of our New Coastal Pathway, Harbour Telescope, and Smart Village training. However, there have also been a myriad of challenges. It has been a real struggle for clear communication and transparency with our local authorities. Our concerns have been fed back through formal complaints which are available below. CCC has made huge strides by achieving compliance with The Charity Regulators Governance Code and is working tirelessly on a Community-driven Smart Village Strategic Plan which is supported by expert consultation from Wexford Local Development (WLD) and Prescience EU, in line with Local, National and EU Strategic Plans. We want to ensure that the views of residents and visitors of our community are heard and respected. In line with Governance Code, as a Registered Charity, all of CCC's Trustees serve as volunteers, and make no personal gain from any CCC activities. The members of CCC also represent and collaborate with a variety of other local stakeholder groups including: Seal Rescue Ireland, Irish Coast Guard, Riverchapel Community Complex, and local schools.

CCC are sincerely grateful to all those who are supporting, following or engaging in our diverse array of projects for the community benefit. Please take some time to read through a selection of topics that have arisen over the past 6 months, below. We hope you enjoy hearing about these community projects and we appreciate any support and feedback you may wish to provide.

Smart Village Strategic Plan

Representatives of CCC and Riverchapel Comunity Complex have jointly attended a 7-week Smart Village training course. The training was managed by Mary Dunphy of Wexford Local Development and delivered by Rural Development expert, Ian Dempsey of Prescience EU. The training provided invaluable resources, guidance and expert consultation to help CCC and other Community groups around Wexford to start developing a long-term Smart Village Strategic Plan. The Smart Village course focussed on enabling bottom up community development in line with Local, National and EU Strategic Plans, such as The Green New Deal. Our team, made up of Linda Sinnott, Craig Lang, and Jeshua Taucher are working with the expert consultant and WLD to draw together a Smart and sustainable Strategic Plan for Courtown, Riverchapel and surrounding areas. Our plan will be openly accessible with a heavy focus on community and stakeholder engagement and consultation, so that we can understand and deliver the real needs of our growing, yet disadvantaged community. We hope to strengthen connnections between these areas, protect and promote local heritage, provide services and amenity for residents, improve local tourism, and protect and restore our delicate local environment. The plan will be available on our website early in 2022 and we welcome input from all stakeholders.

New Coin Operated Telescope

A project that has been two years in the making has come into fruition at last, as CCC unveiled its new coin-operated telescope on the North Pier of Courtown Harbour. The new addition was sponsored by SSE Renewables under the Arklow Bank Wind Park Phase 2 Sponsorship Fund, and the telescope itself was manufactured by Tourist Telescopes UK which offered helpful advice shared by telescope experts Mark and Wendy Fairman. We are grateful to Wexford County Council (WCC) for supporting us with installation. One Euro provides 90 seconds of operation for viewing out to the Irish sea, local coastline, harbour area, Tara Hill, and the existing Arklow Bank Wind Park and the site for SSE Renewables Phase 2 project. All proceeds from the telescope, along with donations raised through, go directly towards future and ongoing CCC projects to benefit the local community. Covid restrictions, VAT increases and Brexit all added to the challenge but we finally managed to have the telescope delivered to Courtown in May 2021, just as the pier enhancement works were about to begin. The area along the seafront was being upgraded so the telescope had to stay in storage for safety reasons. It was frustrating as we missed out on significant funding over the busier summer months. Now, it proudly stands on the bow of the ship with views stretching from Kilmichael Point to Cahore Point and of course towards the existing Arklow Bank Wind Park and the site for SSE Renewables Phase 2 project.

The Telescope makes a great addition to the space while simultaneously creating a visual platform highlighting what we hope will be an ongoing partnership between SSE Renewables and Community Council.

New Coastal Trail

The new Courtown to Kiltennel coastal walking trail (2.34km) is nearing completion, as the final Waymaker signs will soon be installed. As an additional safety measure, an emergency location marker system will also be introduced along both The Ballymoney and Courtown/Kiltennel trails. This comes from a combined initiative between CCC, Wexford Walking Trails, National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS), and the Irish Coast Guard. It is envisaged that other coastal trails will soon see these emergancy location markers rolled out along the Wexford coastline. Thank you to Rory O'Mahony and his team for for all their efforts on this section of the Sli Charman rehabilitation project. The trail will enable more visitors and members of our community access to enjoy this beautiful forested, coastal walk.

Courtown Woods and Leisure Centre Report

Last May, Protect Courtown Woods spear-headed a campaign to keep Courtown Woods and Courtown Leisure Centre in public ownership resulting in a petition with over 10,000 written and online signatures. At the May Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District Meeting, a motion was passed to call on Wexford County Council “To take into public ownership Forest Park Leisure Complex and the adjoining protected Woodland for the use and enjoyment of our local community and visitors to the area for the future”. The motion was carried 6-4. Voting in favour Cllrs Bolger, Deveraux, Donohoe, Ó’Súilleabháin, O’Sullivan and Kenny. Voting against Cllrs Breen, Farrell, Kavanagh and Walsh.

On May 28th, a delegation of local representatives, including reps from CCC and Protect Courtown Woods, met with Wexford County Council CEO Tom Enright at the Amber Springs Hotel. A formal undertaking was requested from the CEO that once the liquidation process was complete, WCC would consider purchasing the lands in order to keep the woodlands in public ownership. The CEO agreed and gave this undertaking. See Approved minutes here. After some weeks, CCC along with local councillors, asked both WCC and the appointed liquidators, Baker Tilly, to disclose the figure offered to WCC as creditor. Baker Tilly responded that they were operating under a non-disclosure agreement, however this agreement did not extend to Wexford County Council in their role as creditors in the liquidation.

In early June, it was announced that Courtown Leisure Centre and the adjoining 53 acres of Courtown Woods was officially sold into private ownership, to Active Tribe Ltd. On meeting with the new owners it was disclosed that both the Courtown Woods and the Leisure Centre were sold as a package deal although Active Tribe are not creating any barriers in exploring avenues where Courtown Woods could be placed back into public ownership.

Gorey to Courtown Footpath

In July, Courtown Community Council were asked to be the named community group associated with completing the remaining sections of the Gorey to Courtown Footpath. Subsequently, an application for funding was submitted by Wexford County Council to the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS) to progress the footpath. Initially, CCC agreed to support the application and submitted the names of the relevant stakeholders who would need to be consulted. We also submitted a list of observations that would require further discussion and investigation prior to the application being submitted as an initial starting point for a public consultation process. See here. Unfortunately, the ORIS application was submitted within 24 hours of the initial phone conversation requesting support and without CCC seeing the full application or the 11 attachments including sample bridge styles. See full application here.

Once CCC had a chance to review the complete application and given the lack of any public consultation to discuss our concerns, the committee decided to withdraw from this particular application. We contacted ORIS and WCC to let them know that we were happy to stay involved in the project just not on this particular application given the lack of consultation with the relevant stakeholders. Also, we are concerned that the proposed route does not link into the existing infrastructure. We feel that it is imperative that the footpath should serve the needs of local residents whilst preserving and protecting our mature trees and our registered protected structures (Ballinatray Bridge & the Gate Lodge) and our National Monument (High Cross of Kilbride).

GKMD September Meeting

At the September GKMD meeting, CEO Tom Enright disclosed that a sum of €372,134.81 was offered to WCC as creditors of Courtown Woods and Leisure Centre by the liquidators, Baker Tilly. The choice now, said Mr. Enright, was to decide whether to take this offer and, if so, what to spend it on. Mr Enright went on to lobby the councillors to use the entire amount received from the liquidation to develop the Gorey to Courtown footpath. See report of GKMD meeting here: Funds received from liquidators will be used to develop long awaited Gorey to Courtown Footpath See our reaction and reaction from Wexford's Green Party.

As a result of this meeting and other issues which are affecting our community, CCC supplied all 10 councillors with a second Letter of Community Concerns in September. We have also submitted a number of formal complaints to Wexford County Council which have been forwarded on to the Ombudsman for review. Complaint 1, 2, 3 and 4. CCC have formally requested a meeting with all 10 Councillors. We are delighted to report we have been formally invited to address our councillors at the December GKMD meeting.

Courtown Woods Alliance

A new coalition has formed to protect Courtown’s precious woodlands and forested amenity areas. The Courtown Woodland Alliance is made up of a coalition of voluntary groups including Courtown Community Council, Seal Rescue Ireland, Protect the Woods, Gallivanting Tours, local trail runners and The Courtown Woods Preservation Group. The partners are working with local landowners and government bodies to protect and restore Courtown’s existing woodlands for the preservation of nature, and promotion of community health and well-being. Members of the new Courtown Woodland Alliance gathered at Courtown Woods in October to launch their woodland conservation initiative with a community 'Spooktacular Scary Hike' through the Courtown Woods. Led by a friendly local witch and legendary storyteller, Lorraine of, and armed with torches, young and old alike braved the dark and gnarly forest trails to uncover Courtown’s historical horrors and local legends. Dozens of families in full costume were guided through cobwebs under the thinning autumn canopy and were duly spooked by an eerie assortment of ghouls, vampires, banshees and even a zombie Pirate who lay in wait behind the trees. A representative from the Alliance, Deirdre Robinson, said “There’s no doubt woods can be spooky places sometimes - cracking twigs, swooping bats, creeping tendrils of mist and a bramble catching at your ankles. But despite much playful shrieking and screaming, scary fun was had by all. It was a lovely opportunity for the community to re-acquaint themselves with the rare beauty of our local woodlands at dusk and help our kids appreciate the healthy delight of a woodland walk in any season.” Linda Sinnott of Courtown Community Council welcomed the new Alliance and praised its particular focus on community engagement and education as part of its conservation mission: “Over the past year it’s become clear just how much we all need fresh air, open space and beauty - it’s therefore all the more vital that we look after our special places for everyone’s benefit now and in the future. The volunteers of the Alliance are committed to such action and ensuring the whole community benefits from our remaining natural resources.”

Communtiy Working to Ensure Best Practice

In July, a significant amount of work carried out in Courtown Woods was found to be at odds with National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) best practices for designated Natural Heritage Areas. Works that involved heavy machinery (which led to a potential water pollution event) took place in Courtown Woods without CCC’s knowledge. These works resulted in damage to mature trees and vegetation during bird nesting season. There was also significant disruption to the established riverbank (a protected species’ habitat) at an important time for freshwater species. Both Protect Courtown Woods group and CCC referred the case to the relevant local and national authorities.

In August, Wexford Walking Trails informed CCC that they were no longer the Wexford Walking Trail Representatives for this section of trails (Canal Walk, The Top Walk, the River Walk and The High Cross Walk) in Courtown Woods, where the above works took place. This role has now been taken on by the new private owners Active Tribe Ltd., effectively removing all local community involvement from Courtown Woods.

However, we would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that any member of the public are entitled to report breaches in environmental legislation to National Parks and Wildlife Service as Courtown Woods and the Burrow Road over to Duffcarrick Rocks are all designated National Heritage Areas. We ask our community and visitors to continue to be vigilant particularly during bird nesting season, which is 1st March to 31st August each year.

Pier Enhancement

CCC are delighted to see this phase of the Pier Enhancement works in Courtown completed in October. Both the Seafront and the Ship have been renovated, with ongoing consultation with CCC, and the results are a big improvement. Many thanks to Liz Stanley and the team at Wexford County Council for advancing the Town and Village project. With new railings and additional improvements still to come, we look forward to working together again on the next Town and Village project - The Linked Riverchapel to Courtown Walkway.

Habitat Restoration Project in collaboration with Seal Rescue Ireland

CCC are working closely with the only other Registered Charity in Courtown, Seal Rescue Ireland on a growing Habitat Restoration initative, throughout the Ounavarra River Catchment Area. Seal Rescue Ireland recently won the South-East: Waters and Communites Award for the National Tidy Towns Competition for their outstanding environmental work in our local area.

Clean water is fundamental to the health of our coastal community. By planting native trees along waterways and coastlines, we maximise the ecosystem benefits which trees provide, including water filtration, erosion control, soil protection, carbon sequestration to help fight climate change, promote biodiversity (on land, in waterways, and at sea), and protect coastal waters from sediment and pollution. The improved green spaces also provide a valuable public amenity which promotes community health and well-being

Seal Rescue Ireland have already successfully planted over 8,450 native trees in the local community over the last three years, with a pledge to plant a total of 25,000+ throughout the local catchment within the next two. Ireland is one of the most deforested countries in the world, despite having some of the most conducive conditions for tree growth. Therefore this project represents a great opportunity to inspire other tree planting projects nationwide for a brighter, greener future. If you would like to get involved in the planting efforts, or you have land that you'd like to see restored, you can make contact with them here.

Governance Code

Secretary Clair Swinburne, has lead CCC to full compliance under The Charity Regulators' Governance Code. Reporting on Governance Code Compliance is now mandatory for all Registered Charities in Ireland, as of 2021. Not only was this a massive undertaking, but CCC's foundation is now fully strengthened with all proper systems and processes in place to ensure that CCC achieves its charitable objectives with integrity, and is managed in an effective, efficient, accountable and transparent way.

Courtown/Arklow CGU Still Seeking New Coastguard Site

Courtown/Arklow Coast Guard Unit is made up of 23 volunteers, 2 of which also serve as trustees on CCC. The current base lacks the necessary resources to support the life saving operations of this vital unit. The unit are on call 24/7 to protect human lives along a large stretch of coast between Mizen Head and Cahore. The crew currently have no designated changing facilities or toilets, and lack space to store the necessary equipment to effectively carry out search and rescue missions as needed. For the past 2 years the Unit have been appealing to Wexford County Council to provide a designated site on which the Irish Coast Guard can build a local facility, and where the crew can adequately train and house emergency coast guard vehicles and equipment. We will continue to highlight this issue until a suitable site is secured.

Jet Ski Management

At the Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal district Meeting in June, there was a motion submitted to remove Courtown as the only official launch site for jet skis in County Wexford. This motion was defeated 5 votes to 4. Voting in favour Cllrs Sullivan, Ó’Súilleabháin, Deveraux and Bolger. Voting against Cllrs Breen, Farrell, Kavanagh, Donohoe and Kenny. See full report here. CCC have requested that either Jet-Skis are banned from Courtown indefinitely or that Wexford County Council allocates sufficient resources to police this activity effectively, especially at weekends during the summer months when safety and disturbance concerns are at their height.

Community Enhancement and Planting Grants

CCC graciously received €1500 and €300 from WCC's Community Enhancement Programme and Planting Grant respectively. This funding is providing new recycled plastic picnic benches for the new coastal trailhead, additional signage for the Burrow Road, and natural landscaping materials to further enhance this area in the new year. One of the new picnic benches features a wheelchair accessible design so that visitors from all backgrounds and abilities can enjoy. We look forward to seeing these new amenities go to great use for family picnics before or after embarking on our beautiful coastal forest trails.

Riverchapel Community Garden

CCC are leading a project in conjunction with WLD and various community groups in Riverchapel to develop a community garden in Riverchapel. The area highlighted is located near Jimmyz Bar and the Community Complex. Our joint proposal is to split the area in half to provide additional parking for the over-crowded streets, and surround it with a beautiful, functional community garden. The garden will draw on permaculture and organic, no-dig principles to create an abundant mix of seasonal fruits, vegetables, flowers and native trees. All members of the community will be encouraged to engage with the project and to use it as a meeting place, to benefit local wellbeing and community spirit, with a side of free food. Once our preliminary consultation phase has taken place we will be speaking to WCC's planning department to ask for permission to begin the works on the garden section.

CCC Welcomes New WCC District Manager

CCC are grateful to meet Wexford County Council's new District Manager, Philip Knight, and begin discussing the scope of work and longterm plans, that CCC are doing in the community. We look forward to working with Philip, WCC Exec, Staff and Elected Councillors to create an open, transparent space for communication to provide fair and valuable opportunities, and to optimise available resources to best benefit our community.

Courtown Welcomes Two New Tus Workers

Throughout the COVID lockdown measures, alongside many other community and voluntary groups nationwide, CCC were unable take advantage of support through the Tus Scheme as all activities were paused. At last, CCC was delighted to be able to take on two Tus workers in July and August this year. We greatly appreciate Ray and Cathy's efforts in helping us with ongoing maintenance within the village, in the designated Natural Heritage Areas, and with the Ounavarra Habitat Restoraton project.

A special word of thanks to the summer litter patrol crew Ray and Paudrig. To Philip and all the CE workers. Courtown Tidy Towns and to all concerned groups and individuals who helped keep Courtown clean throughout this most challenging of years

Re-establishment of the Courtown/Riverchapel Local Policing Fora

CCC are delighted to have received an invitation from the District Manager, Phillip Knight to attend a meeting to re-establish the Courtown/Riverchapel Policing Fora. The Fora will be an essential tool for working alongside An Garda Síochána and Wexford County Council to help keep our community protected and safe all year round.

Kate Kos Adds Colour to our Community

CCC were delighted to welcome back to Courtown professional artist Kate Kos to present her completed floral piece situated at Ocean Point in Courtown. The second of two pieces commissioned for the Courtown/Riverchapel area, this was very much a joint collaboration between Courtown Community Council, The Creative Ireland Programme, Kate Kos, Wexford County Council, Courtown Tidy Towns and property managers DPMPS. We are thrilled with both pieces and we hope Kate's work continues to inspire us all.

Local Heritage Project

CCC worked in collaboration with the County Wexford Arts Department, to commission Michael Fortune of, to record three interviews with senior locals, Peter Sinnott, Bernadette Kenny, and Molly Beckett. The aim of this project was to document stories and highlight local heritage that may have otherwise been lost to time. Many thanks to Michael Fourtune from and to all those who took part in this thoroughly enjoyable project.

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