Planners deliberating on whether a giant wind turbine can be built near an ancient pilgrimage site in Co Derry will fully consider the potential impact on Christian heritage, Stormont’s Environment minister has vowed.
Alex Attwood said the reason a final decision had not yet been issued on the long standing proposal to erect a single 60 metre turbine close to Lough Patrick indicated that concerns about the land’s religious significance were being factored in.
Last year the Planning Service issued Magherafelt council with a recommendation to approve the application. However councillors asked planners to take another look at the issue on the back of further information from objectors.
Named after Saint Patrick, the small lake at Owenreagh, near Draperstown attracts people on religious pilgrimage every year.
The area is also believed to have held religious significance in the pre-Christian period, with evidence of an ancient burial site close by.
A community group’s application to erect the wind turbine close to the lough has been met with vocal opposition.
Mr Attwood told the Assembly he was a “strong supporter” of renewable energy planning applications.
But he insisted projects could not be at the expense of heritage or landscape.
With specific regard to the Lough Patrick application, he told MLAs:
“I think the fact that, unlike in many, many cases in the last 18 months, decisions haven’t come out in respect of wind turbines, the fact there isn’t one out yet in respect of the application at Lough Patrick demonstrates that the ecclesiastical and heritage impacts are being fully interrogated.”
Mr Attwood was responding to a question from SDLP colleague and Mid Ulster representative Patsy McGlone.
“I give the member the reassurance that given the scale of our Christian heritage, that issue, in terms of the ecclesiastical heritage up at Lough Patrick, will be a factor that will influence the outcome of the decision.”
Mr Attwood was also asked about a wind turbine application near another site with associations to St Patrick – Slemish Mountain in Co Antrim.
But the minister revealed that environmental, not heritage issues, were the main concern of planners assessing that proposal.
He said there was evidence breeding pairs of the protected curlew bird inhabited the area.
Mr Attwood told Mr McGlone: “I can assure the member I have been interrogating the NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) to ensure that whilst appropriate protection of curlew in terms of the European requirements is honoured we do not have, when it comes to these decisions, an over-precious approach.”
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