Fears have been raised by one MLA that the Mourne Mountains could be “handed over” to wind farm developers – although the department responsible responded that it has no such plans.
According to David McNarry, a new public consultation document indicates that Northern Ireland Water is considering leasing land in the area to turbine operators.
However, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) said flatly it has no plans to do this, and added that the document has not been formally adopted.
With the title of ‘Draft Social and Environmental Guidance for Water and Sewerage Services’, the DRD document is a kind of blueprint for the services, covering 2015 to 2021.
Page 41 states that one of the priorities of NI Water should be to “explore opportunities to generate renewable electricity”, including “leasing land for wind farms”.
It is set to go out to consultation next month.
David McNarry, UKIP MLA for Strangford, interpreted it to mean it would be “open season” for building turbines on NI Water land – including at the likes of Silent Valley.
He released a statement which said despite it being a consultation, “the intention of the department is clear”.
“It will lease lands for wind farms. In other words handing over the Mournes to wind farm operators,” he said. “I will advocate a stop these monstrosities campaign – action now to prevent the Mournes being sold off for wind farms.”
In a statement, the DRD said: “NI Water recognises the importance of protecting Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty such as the Mournes.
“NI Water is also working with the Mourne Heritage Trust to protect the local environment and the draft guidance recommends extending this approach across NI.
“NI Water currently has no plans to lease land for wind turbines in the Mournes.”
The Department of the Environment said the relevant guidance on wind farms, PPS18, does not forbid them in areas of outstanding natural beauty, but it does ensure “appropriate protection”.
Mr McNarry said his office will be organising guidance for those responding to the consultation, which is set to close on January 17, 2014.
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