August 1, 2013

Planning rejected for €200m wind farm that divided village

By Gordon Deegan | Irish Examiner | August 01, 2013 |

An Bord Pleanála has refused planning permission for a €200m wind farm on Clare’s Atlantic coast that divided families in the village of Doonbeg.

At the end of a two-year planning battle, the appeals board threw out West Coastal Windpower Ltd’s 45-turbine plan on a number of grounds. Opponents found an unlikely ally in their opposition: The critically-endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

However, the board’s decision to refuse planning to the 400ft turbines – more than twice the height of Dublin’s Liberty Hall – also means 79 landowners in the area will miss out on a significant, but unspecified, dividend through proposed land-lease deals.

Jackie Whelan of the nearby West Coast Railway tourist attraction opposed the wind farm. Yesterday, he said the plan had “split the whole community in Doonbeg”.

He said: “It is the right decision. The wind farm would have been a blight on the landscape, but the real bad aspect of it is that sons and daughters have fallen out with their parents, and neighbours aren’t talking to each other over it.”

Doonbeg couple Patricia and Peter Dillon spent over €16,000 of their own money hiring experts to oppose the plan. Ms Dillon yesterday admitted that opinion was divided in Doonbeg.

She said: “I very much welcome the decision, as the reasons for refusal very much validate the concerns of a large number of local people. The decision is made now and I hope that now the community can move on and put the issue behind it.”

One of the grounds of refusal was the pollution threat to Doonbeg river, which contains 5,000 freshwater pearl mussels – the highest concentration in Clare.

At a six-day oral hearing into the wind farm in April, the country’s foremost authority on the mussel, Dr Evelyn Moorkens, said if nothing was done to secure the species’ future, it would disappear.

The mussel, which produces valuable pearls, can live up to 120 years. Up to 90% of all freshwater pearl mussels died out across Europe in the 20th century.

The developers are now left with a hefty bill, even before they pay the experts that drew up the environmental impact statement (EIS) and represented the firm at the six-day oral hearing. The firm has paid An Bord Pleanála €76,456 to process the application and it must now pay third parties an additional €9,978 as directed by the appeals board.

Fáilte Ireland, along with tourism interests in the area, including Doonbeg golf links, also expressed opposition to the wind farm.

The board stated that having regard to the scale of the wind farm relative to tourist amenities, the plan would seriously injure the amenities of the area, by reason of visual intrusion and overbearing visual impact.

A spokesman for West Coastal Windpower Ltd did not return a call for comment.

URL to article: