September 16, 2010

Council’s thumbs down to Gaybrook windfarm

Westmeath Examiner, 15 September 2010

After a lengthy campaign by local residents, Westmeath County Council has refused a Cavan-based energy firm permission to install nine wind turbines in the Gaybrook area of Mullingar.

Residents of the area celebrated on Monday night last, as the Council made public three reasons for its decision on Friday last, September 10, not to allow plans for the controversial wind farm to proceed.

Planners said that the proposed location of the wind farm is “not consistent with the criteria set out in the Wind Energy Development Guidelines for Planning Authorities”, as published by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2006.

“The proposal, by virtue of the overall height and scale of the proposed turbines, which range from 125m to 135m, is not considered to relate in scale to the landscape elements within this particular landscape character type, and would give rise to a visually dominant and obtrusive form in an open and attractive rural area and would be unduly prominent from public roads, residential properties in the vicinity,” the Council concluded.

In the second reason for refusal cited by planners, it was concluded that the proposed wind farm would “adversely inpact upon the setting and integrity” of the demesne landscapes of Gaybrook and Gaulstown.

Allowing the wind farm to go ahead, the Council said, would “materially contravene” Council policy which prohibits development on or near parks, gardens or demesnes of special historic interest. Finally, the Council cited a failure by Galetech to identify alternative sites for wind energy development.

“It is considered that sufficient research has not been undertaken by the applicant with regard to the selection and assessment of alternative options which have not been fully evaluated or comprehensively addressed within the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement],” planners said.

“It has not been demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Planning Authority that the site offers the optimum location for the development of wind energy development.”

The Council decision came after months of furious campaigning against the proposed wind farm, on the part of residents and public representatives.

After the Galetech lodged its initial planning application, over 500 submissions were made during the public consultation process – predominantly from residents objecting to the plans.

Emily Wallace, a member of the action group set up by residents to oppose the Galetech proposals, paid tribute to all those who helped the group in its campaign to this point.

“We would like to thank Westmeath County Council on their decision, and for requestiong the further 32 points of further information to try and relay our fears in relation to the proposed wind farm,” Ms. Wallace said.

“Also, we thank the committee and all of those persons who worked tirelessly on the ground to gather and relay information to the public.

“This proposed development may have gone ahead unknown to the general community.”

Among the public representatives who welcomed the Council’s decision was Mullingar West councillor, Ken Glynn (Fianna Fáil).

“I warmly welcome this decision, and I’m delighted that the County Manager has listened to the concerns of residents in the Gaybrook area,” Cllr. Glynn said.

“I would also like to congratulate the action group. I attended several of their meetings, and with the help of the media, the residents successfully managed to get the message out there, and people became aware of the threat to the skyline of rural Mullingar.

“This is a victory for democracy, and if this does go to An Bord Pleanála, the board will have to look at the strong local feeling on this matter.”

Fine Gael’s Cllr. Colm Arthur described the decision as “significant”.

“Notwithstanding Galetech’s right to appeal this decision to An Bord Pleanála, a collective sigh of relief will be evident among the residents of Gaybrook, Mahonstown and Gainstown,” Cllr. Arthur said.

“I am delighted to be associated with those who successfully, with such passion and professionalism, exercised their democratic right to campaign and lobby against this development.

“It was my opinion from the start that this densely populated hinterland of Mullingar is no place for 135m high wind turbines.”

One of Galetech’s next moves could be to appeal the Council’s decision to An Bord Pleanála. A spokesperson for the Cavan-based firm was sought before we went to press, but a response was still forthcoming.

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