Wind farm developments which could power every house in Belfast are being delayed by planning application decisions which take up to three years, it emerged today.
The logjam has been blamed by wind power business Airtricity on limited resources at the Environment and Heritage Service and the company believes it may be 2009 before many facilities receive the green light.
The firm has been waiting three years for its Slieve Beagh application in south Tyrone and Development Manager Kevin Hegarty said bureaucracy was hampering the industry.
“The bottom line is that we have six planning applications pending and they have the potential to produce 200 megawatts of power each year which is enough for 125,000 homes,” he said.
“People like our company are struggling to convince our board to give us money for further development when they can get permission in two and a half weeks somewhere like Texas, it is a no-brainer.
“Although we took all of the risks years ago our application which has been waiting for between 18 months and two years will be dealt with at the same time as applications put in last week.”
Mr Hegarty said under-resourcing at the EHS, which checks the impact of developments on communities, contributed to the delay.
In the three-year period up to March 2005, the total number of planning applications received by Planning Service increased by 30%.
In 2004/05, a record 35,000 valid planning applications were submitted, representing an 8.7% increase over the previous 12 months.
Businesses and trade unions are calling on the British government to introduce special guidance for planning applications as well as a revised energy framework prioritising the development of renewable energy.
Concordia, a consortium of business and trade union representatives, said Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK without specific planning guidance on location of renewable energy development.
CBI Northern Ireland Director Nigel Smyth said: “This region has been blessed with one of the best wind energy resources in Europe.
“Yet, if these delays continue, we may well fail to capitalise on the invaluable chance we have to exploit wind energy for the benefit of Northern Ireland’s economy and the world’s environment.”
The British Wind Energy Association said the average wait for wind farm permission in England was one year while the delay in Northern Ireland was 20 months.
There have been five planning decisions made between January 2005 and the present and there are 42 in the pipeline. A total of 18 applications have been approved.
Mr Smyth added: “There are serious conservation and landscape issues which must be given due weight in deciding on wind farm and other renewable energy development proposals.
“Those issues can be addressed by clear, balanced planning guidance and we’d like the Government to commit to an early date for the completion of its current work on producing such guidance for Northern Ireland.”
A Planning Service spokesman said: “The Planning Service acknowledges a concern about the time taken to process applications.
“However, there are many players in the planning system such as applicants, agents, councils and consultees and each has an important role to play in the process.
“The quality of the submission is also crucial to a prompt decision.”
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