CLARE County Council has been asked to conduct a thorough planning review concerning the start of civil engineering works for a €20 million windfarm amid claims it constituted unauthorised development.
Councillor PJ Kelly has called on chief executive officer, Tom Coughlan, to conduct a review into how a windfarm company, Tullabrack Energy Limited, was allowed to start work on its site in Tullabrack in West Clare despite a series of written warnings about its alleged non-compliance with planning conditions.
The Lissycasey councillor wants a review to establish whether or not planning laws were administered in accordance with proper procedure and to put the necessary structures in place to ensure there is no repetition of “administrative confusion”.
“It seems that one section of the council doesn’t know what the other section is doing. There is a management deficit and I am calling on Mr Coughlan to intervene,” he said.
A seven-day commencement notice for an ESB substation on the site came into force last March, despite the fact that it was August 10 last before Clare County Council confirmed that Tullabrack Energy Limited had fully complied with all of its planning conditions.
The council stated its building control section, which is operated by the fire department separately from its planning department, does not issue commencement notices.
Instead, the authority explained the developer lodges a commencement notice to indicate a development is about to commence.
In a statement to The Clare Champion, the council confirmed a commencement notice for the construction of a substation to service the windfarm was submitted to the building control authority on March 27 and was subsequently recorded by the building control section of the council on April 1, 2015.
The authority pointed out a commencement notice is not required for the turbines, as they are not “buildings” that are subject to building regulations.
“It is outside of the remit of the building control authority to invalidate a commencement notice for planning issues concerning the Planning and Development Act, as there is no legislative link between the planning acts and the Building Control Act that would suggest that this is possible.
“If there are conditions of planning not complied with, then redress should be sought under the Planning Act through planning enforcement and not the Building Control Act, which addresses the implementation of proper building standards,” the council explained.
Planning permission was granted to CP Energy Ltd for the construction of six wind turbines with a hub height of 85m and a rotor diameter of 71m at Tullabrack and Moanmore South on July 17, 2010. Tullabrack Energy Limited is the company in which the windfarm assets are vested in since November 2014, as successor in title to CP Energy, Ltd.
The five-year planning permission, which expired on July 17 2015, was subject to 18 conditions, 12 of which had to be agreed with the council prior to the commencement of any works on the site.
On July 17, there were still seven conditions not agreed with the council and these conditions were the subject of ongoing communication with Tullabrack Energy Limited’s agents, Malachy Walsh and Partners.
On August 10, the planning authority wrote to Malachy Walsh and Partners and told them four of the outstanding planning conditions were considered acceptable and also requested that full details of the pre-programming regime be submitted to the planning authority in due course.
The planning department stated, “The commencement of development prior to the discharge of all pre-development conditions to the satisfaction of the planning authority constitutes unauthorised development and, as such, may result in enforcement proceedings being commenced without further notice”.
Local couple, Eileen and Paul O’Dea, said they went to the council planning office on March 12 last to look for a commencement notice for the site at Tullabrack.
The couple said they went through the planning file and could not see a commencement notice, before requesting the name of the enforcement officer in order to complain about the road in front of their property, which was being used by construction traffic.
Despite sending in a complaint outlining a number of planning concerns to the council, the couple said they got no response and returned to the planning office again on April 16, only to be told it looked like all the planning conditions had been adhered to at that stage.
They said a staff member apologised for the lack of a response on behalf of the council and noted they did get an acknowledgement from a planner, dated April 16 last and another more recent letter, stating all the planning conditions were complied with.
Malachy Walsh and Partners had not responded to a number of Clare Champion queries at the time of going to press.
A spokesman for Tullabrack Energy Limited said the company would be making no comment.
Tullabrack Energy Limited lodged a planning application requesting a five-year extension of time on July 14 last.
In the application, the developers states that 92% of the work on site is completed, including all roads, drainage by road sides, electrical control building and fencing and all hard standings but that no turbine bases are built.
The hard standings are re-enforced areas adjacent to the turbine bases and are needed for the machinery used in the erection of the turbines.
The developers also stated that the turbine purchase contract of €17 million is signed with Enercon and €800,000 is committed to Eirgrid for connection to the grid. They intend to have the project fully completed by 2016 but need the five-year extension to cater for any unforeseen events.
According to planning documents, the delay centres around the connection of the windfarm to the national grid through ESB Networks.
“The delay to the remaining 8% is due to circumstances outside of the control of Tullabrack Energy Limited,” the documents states.
The documents outline the costs incurred to date in the project and include over €17m in wind turbine procurement, €1m in civil engineering works, €1m in connection works and €0.5m in environmental studies and planning costs.
The company has accrued significant costs in respect of land and asset procurement and has agreements with various landowners, including leases for the location of six wind turbines and leases of easement for the access roads, cable routes and other services for the project.
The remaining construction works are expected to be completed by July 17, 2016.