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West Clare windfarm faces High Court challenge

NEW windfarm developments in Clare may be blown off course by High Court challenges, after a group of West Clare residents became the first local opposition group to secure leave for a Judicial Review to overturn planning approval for a local windfarm.

High Court Judge Marie Bake has granted members of the Coore/Shanaway Residents Group, represented by Kathleen Connelly, leave to seek a judicial teview of An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant planning permission for four 85m wind turbines in the Miltown Malbay area, on 10 grounds.

The successful application for a Judicial Review was taken by resident Kathleen Connelly, the respondent was An Bord Pleanála, while the notice parties were Clare County Council and McMahon Finn Wind Acquisitions Limited.

A spokesman for An Bord Pleanála said the board received the legal papers on Tuesday and has begun work on its response but it is only at the initial stages as yet.

Efforts by The Clare Champion to obtain a comment from one of the developers proved unsuccessful at the time of going to press (Wednesday evening).

Following the High Court ruling, the group will attempt to prove that the board failed to carry out a “proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA), as required under national and European law”.

It claimed the board failed to “properly record its determination and failed to give any proper reasons for its determination, contrary to national and European law”.

“The board failed to give any or any proper reasons for not allowing the recommendation of the inspector who recommended refusal of permission. The board sought and obtained significant further information but never directed the inspector for report on same.

“The board failed to properly notify the public concerned of the significant further information and revised EIS in accordance with the law. The board failed to have regard for the decision to refuse permission for the development by Clare County Council. The council found the development would contravene a large number of development objectives.”

The development by McMahon Finn Wind Acquisitions Limited, in the town lands of Shanavogh East, Shanavogh West and Coore, was refused permission by Clare County Council in August 2011.

According to the group, the council based their decision on advice from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, as well as Clare County Council’s senior executive chemist, architectural conservation officer, senior executive planner and senior executive engineer.

“BirdWatch Ireland had voiced concerns in respect of the impact on protected bird species. Michael McNamara, TD, called for an appropriate balance between renewable energy provision and its effects on residential amenity,” the group stated.

This decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by McMahon Finn Wind Acquisitions Limited. The board’s inspector recommended refusal of permission.

However, following a prolonged period of nearly three years, An Bord Pleanála granted permission, with conditions, last June for a scaled down version of the first plan, involving a reduction in turbines from six to four, as well as changes to the proposed layout of the windfarm for a 25-year period.

The group recently stated it was “appalled” by the board’s decision to overturn Clare County Council’s refusal.
It expressed concern this “industrial development” in close proximity to their homes will affect their health, especially that of their children and older community members.

“Eight houses are under 500m from a turbine, 22 houses are 600m or under from one or more turbines and two more with planning permission are not yet built.

“Only one of the farmers hosting a turbine will be living near them – the rest are non-resident landowners. All four turbines will be in front of our own home, the closest to us will be directly in front of us at 540m,” stated group spokeswoman, Kathleen Connolly.

Notwithstanding the inspector’s assessment of impacts on European sites, which is noted, the board stated, in its grant of permission, that it completed an Appropriate Assessment in relation to the potential impacts of the proposed development on the Carrowmore Point to Spanish Point and Islands Special Area of Conservation and on the Mid-Clare Coast Special Protection Area.

Subject to the implementation of the identified mitigation measures, the board concluded that the proposed development, by itself, or in combination with other plans or projects, would not adversely affect the integrity of these European sites, in view of the conservation objectives for the sites.

Subject to compliance with 22 attached planning conditions, the board decided the proposed development would accord with the national and county policies, would not seriously injure the amenities of the area or property in the vicinity, would not result in detrimental visual or landscape impact, would not give rise to pollution, would not be injurious to the cultural heritage of the area, would be acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience, and would not be prejudicial to public health.

In deciding not to accept the inspector’s recommendation to refuse permission, for reasons relating to residential amenity, the board took into account national wind energy guidelines, the distance to residential properties generally, and the further information submitted by the applicant last August, including cumulative noise and shadow flicker modelling.

The board was satisfied the potential impact on residential properties arising from noise and shadow flicker, including the potential cumulative impact arising in combination with effects from the permitted windfarm to the north, would not seriously injure residential amenity.

In deciding not to accept the inspector’s recommendation for reasons relating to visual impact, including impact on a scenic route to the north, the board had regard to the landscape characteristics of the area, to the scale of the revised four-turbine development, and the Slieve Callan Wind Farm.

The board considered that the proposed development of four turbines would read as an extension of the permitted 29-turbine windfarm, and would not have an unacceptable visual impact.

By Dan Danaher

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