Residents in Northern Ireland’s idyllic Mourne country are fighting a determined campaign to change the Government’s policy “of allowing wind turbines to spring up in this area of outstanding natural beauty like giant, unsightly mushrooms”.
Speaking in the coastal village of Ardglass, environmentalist John Peacocke – along with campaigners Brigid McBride and Mike Mann – spoke of the iconic landscape being spoiled by the giant turbines.
That landscape includes the Tyrella dunes, Tyrella beach, Minerstown, Coney Island, Killough Bay, St John’s Point, all to the backdrop of the Mournes.
Killough Bay is an internationally-recognised area where migrating Brent geese settle after their long flight from Canada.
With a sweep of her hand from the lounge of her home in Ardglass, Ms McBride showed all those mini-wonders, and there on the top of a hill, towering above the scenic village of Killough, is one the first of the “offending” turbines. A total of 62 applications have been received in the Down area, 16 of which have been approved, seven refused and the rest pending.
Their average height is thought to be around the 60m mark, although giants of the future could measure 124m.
In Northern Ireland as a whole, 1,500 ‘single’ turbines – as distinct from planned wind farms – are in the planning system, prompted by the fact that landowners are paid between £12,000 and £14,000 a year, over 25 years, to permit them on their land.
“The small number of turbines in this area has a horrible effect on the landscape,” said Ms McBride.
“But they will be here in dozens if the government presses ahead – and it looks as if Environment Minister Alex Attwood is determined to go ahead.”
Mr Peacocke said: “The turbines are popping up with no apparent overall plan – just like wild mushrooms.
“We realise that turbines are part of the European ‘green’ policy, but this government is riding a horse and cart through that policy. It is totally alien to this environment.”
Mr Mann said the group was entirely realistic about the need for turbines. He said: “In the case of properly planned and constructed wind farms, they are designed by experienced architects and sited – where possible – well away from towns and villages.
“For example, a major wind farm is being planned about 9km off the coast of this very village (Ardglass). We have no problems with that.”
Mr Peacocke said the off-coast farm would provide significant power for Northern Ireland, “while these metal mushrooms in this area will be totally insignificant, but Attwood and company seem hell-bent of destroying this wonderful landscape.”
He added that the “ad hoc” method of single turbines was totally unacceptable: “What it does is provide unplanned wind farm by utter stealth.
“If we don’t succeed in stopping this, these monstrosities – at various heights – will be dotted at irregular intervals all over this beautiful landscape. It will be spoiled for ever, both for locals and for tourism.”
Dr Dan Kane, chairman of the Province’s Wind Watch organisation, said that the Mournes’ “disgrace” was typical of what was happening in various parts of Northern Ireland.
He added: “This area of Co Down had largely escaped the scourge of wind turbines. But now they have arrived like the plague. The Mournes are an area of outstanding natural beauty and must be left that way – as they should leave the Glens of Antrim and the North Coast.
“There are properly-designed wind farms in various parts of Northern Ireland – in Antrim, east Tyrone, Fermanagh and Londonderry. The people of those areas were consulted all along the line.
“But as these ‘mushrooms’ suddenly appear, there is often no consultation – invariably they are being excavated before the community is aware of what’s happening.
“In Scotland, for example, any turbine must be 2km from a dwelling, but it’s 500m in Northern Ireland.
“There are many other issues – like property values, noise, safety, as well as environmental. This is a very serious issue, and in our view, it’s being pushed by civil servants rather than politicians.”
Jim Wells, MLA for South Down, said he had lobbied almost non-stop for the natural outstanding beauty of south Down to be respected by the planners, “and I will continue to do so”.
He added: “The government has laid out the criteria of these areas and the area stretching from Ardglass, across the Mournes and down the coast to Kilkeel must not be defaced any more with these turbines.
“One or two have slipped through, and that has opened the floodgates, but this must be stopped.”