Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has pledged that his Department will “fully consider” any objections to the proposed wind farm at Benevenagh.
He also provided a lengthy outline of measures to protect the ntaural heritage across Northern Ireland’s North Coast this week.
The Minister had been asked specifically for “his assessment of the concerns raised by the local community and gliding club over the construction of wind turbines in the Binevenagh area of County Londonderry” by North Down MLA Leslie Cree.
Mr Durkan responded: “My Department is currently dealing with an application for a wind farm within Binevenagh AONB. The Environmental Statement to accompany the application has just recently been received and therefore formal processing of the application has just begun. The application will be determined under Planning Policy 18 – Renewable Energy and associated supplementary planning guidance ‘Wind Energy Development in Northern Ireland’s Landscapes’. All representations made to the Department will be fully considered in the determination of the application, including those from any local organisations such as the gliding club.”
Mr Durkan also revealed that two windfarm applications have previously been awarded planning permission in the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, despite having been originally denied on the grounds of the negative impact on the “visual amenity and landscape character.”
He had been asked, again by North Down MLA Leslie Cree: “whether any planning applications for the erection of wind turbines in the Binevenagh area of Co. Londonderry have been approved?”
The Minister replied: “My Department refused two windfarm applications within the Binevenagh AONB primarily on the grounds of an unacceptable adverse impact on the visual amenity and landscape character of the AONB designation. The decision on these two windfarms totalling 21 turbines at 125m in height were overturned by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC). The PAC in approving these two windfarms considered the economic benefits to be derived to be sufficiently significant to override the landscape concerns.”
Mr Durkan added that “due to technical constraints” he could not provide information on the number of single wind turbines that have received planning permission within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, although he did tell Mr Cree he would “forward” this information “as soon as it has been extracted from the database.”
The SDLP Minister was also asked to provide information on the measures in place to “maintain and protect the natural environment of the North Coast” by East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.
Mr Durkan pointed to the various official designations, such as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation for both the Cuaseway Coast and Binevenagh, in addition to the World Heritage status for the Giant’s Causeway and the various ‘Areas of Special Scientific Interest.’