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Pic from Gort Biogas Concern Group.

Community gets ‘ball rolling’ on biogas plant legal challenge

Less than two weeks after a public meeting to discuss concerns about a grant of planning permission for a biogas plant in Gort, more than €60,000 has been raised to fund a legal challenge.

Gort Biogas Concern Group have confirmed to The Champion that legal representation has been secured to initiate a judicial review. The group said it is determined to overturn An Bord Pleanála’s decision to green light the controversial project, in the wake of its rejection by Galway County Council. 

“Six days after the meeting over €60,000 had been raised,” spokesperson Ciarán O’Donnell said.

“We had around 400 people attend the meeting last week and raised a lot of funds on the night so that we can take a court challenge to this decision. Local business people are genuinely worried, everyone is worried and even though everyone is struggling financially, they are putting in money they can’t afford, because they feel so strongly. We even had a school child from third class giving us €5 from their pocket money.

“This issue has really struck a chord. The decision to grant planning permission goes against common sense and it doesn’t add up. Biogas plants should be in the right place and of the right scale and we just don’t believe that it makes sense to put one so close to our town centre. People are in a state of shock, frustration and fear.

“We have so many positive developments on the horizon for Gort, including the red route cycleway and the incredible river walk. These are things that will make people want to visit and live in Gort. There are lots of really good things on the way for the town. Biogas will benefit only a few people financially and would cut the legs off the town and cripple it. We’re afraid that Gort could become known as ‘that smelly town’ and won’t get to achieve its potential.”

Mr O’Donnell also expressed anger at the timing of the appeals board’s decision on the biogas plant.

“An Bord Pleanála were sitting on this case for two years and then they issued their decision and we got the letters the day before Christmas Eve so say that permission had been granted,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“We only have a limited time to take further action and a lot of that was taken up in the run up to Christmas, so the timing of the decision was questionable.”

Concern was also raised about the lack of contact from the developer, Sustainable Bio Energy, despite repeated attempts to contact them.

“We have been trying to contact the company and we have reached out to them so that they would attend the meeting and have their say,” Mr O’Donnell said. “We heard nothing. It’s like shouting into the night and that has made people more worried.”

Mr O’Donnell also confirmed that progress is being made with a judicial review. “We have gotten the ball rolling and secured legal representation,” he said. “It’s full steam ahead.”

At the end of last month, An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the biogas plant which will be less than one kilometre from the town centre, covering a ten hectare site. While Galway County Council turned down proposals from Sustainable Bio Energy Ltd, the appeals board overturned that decision and gave the green light, subject to 22 conditions. 

In granting permission, the board upheld the recommendation of its inspector who visited the site and assessed a range of environmental policy documents, the development plan for Galway, waste management and recycling frameworks, spatial guidelines and bioenergy generation policies. The impact on seven different Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), including the East Burren SAC was also assessed.

The boards decision document stated that it considered that the proposed development would be in accordance with national, regional and local policy relating to energy and waste” and would be consistent with national climate ambitions and consistent with the provisions of the Climate Action Plan 2021 and Climate Action Plan 2023”.

The board noted that the site is not zoned for industrial use, but said that that did not preclude the granting of permission. It concluded that subject to compliance with 22 conditions, the proposed development would be an appropriate use at this location adjoining the planned industrial expansion of Gort” and would not seriously injure the residential or visual amenities of the area and would be acceptable in terms of pedestrian and traffic safety”. 

Stringent conditions have been applied including full compliance with the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) and Natura Impact Statement. Limits have been applied to the amount of raw material that can be treated annually and a reporting system must be put in place on the operation of the facility.

Controls will be placed on deliveries, in the interests of road safety and limits have been imposed on the amount of biogas and/or biomethane present on site at any one time. Construction will be monitored and controlled and an odour management and monitoring plan will be required. A development contribution must be paid to the County Council, though details of the amount have not been specified. 

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