The decision of Westmeath County Council last month that the new draft County Development Plan should “strictly direct” all industrial windfarm developments to cutaway bog areas could yet ultimately be over-ruled at national level.
An Bord Pleanála could opt to override the amendment to the plan made by Westmeath’s councillors following a vote – and the new wind energy guidelines currently under preparation by the government will take precedence over the detail in the Westmeath County Development Plan, an Bord Pleanála confirmed to the Westmeath Examiner yesterday (Monday).
Westmeath County Council chairman, Cllr Peter Burke, has said, however, that if the restrictions put into the new plan by councillors last Wednesday are overruled, it would represent an attack on local democracy.
“In the event that An Bord Pleanála were to totally ignore the plan, then it would be a totally unprecedented move and a huge step backwards for the local authority system,” he said.
He added that while there are new national guidelines under preparation, if the 16-4 vote by the members of Westmeath County Council were to be over-ruled, it would represent a lack of respect for the local authority system in the county “and it wouldn’t be respecting local democracy”.
An Bord Pleanála has confirmed this week that it does, occasionally, go against the provisions of a county development plan, but only in a minority of cases.
“But the board is going to take very strong account of a development plan, as it must, under the legislation,” a board spokesman said, adding that a county development plan holds considerable weight.
As strategic infrastructural developments, the applications by Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power for planning permission will almost certainly be made directly to An Bord Pleanála. It is understood there have been tentative approaches from Element Power to the planning board, a first step towards a declaration from An Bord Pleanála that the application is for a strategic infrastructural development.
However, the An Bord Pleanála spokesperson said that ranking higher on the planning ‘tier’ would be the new guidelines on wind energy.
“The ministerial guidelines tend to take precedence over a local development plan, particularly where it’s out of step with most other development plans,” he said.
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