An Bord Pleanala have overturned the decision of Offaly County Council to grant permission for 10 wind turbines south of the village of Cloghan in County Offaly. This decision is of significance given the large-scale wind farm proposals envisaged for the county and the wider midlands area. The decision is also significant as it highlights that the visual impact on open landscapes, such as bogland which is widespread in the midlands, is a material consideration in terms of wind farm development.
The applicant had applied for permission for 10 wind turbines on a site of 15.8 hectares owned by 7 different landowners. Each turbine would have a hub height of up to 110 metres and rotor diameter of up to 120 metres, with an overall maximum tip height of up to 170 metres. Associated site development works were also proposed. The predominant use in the area is for peat purposes, including cutover bogs for commercial purposes and agricultural lands.
The Planning Authority decided to grant planning permission for the proposed development subject to 18 no. conditions including the restriction of the height of the turbine to 110m hub and rotor of 120m.
The decision was appealed to the Board by both the National Roads Authority and Val Martin.
The Board’s inspector recommended a refusal based for 3 no. reasons which are summarised below:
1. Having regard to the nature of the receiving low lying landscape and the open nature of the immediately adjoining lands, it is considered that a wind farm development of the scale proposed would create a significant visual intrusion in this landscape by reason of the height and spatial extent of the proposed turbines which would be excessively dominant and visually obtrusive in the receiving landscape and when viewed from the surrounding countryside and villages.
2. Having regard to the number, scale and height of the proposed turbines, the proximity of the proposed turbines to a number of residential properties in the vicinity … it is considered that that the proposed wind energy development, if permitted, would significantly and adversely impact upon the existing residential amenities of a number of houses in the vicinity by reason of visual impact, noise and shadow flicker impacts.
3. The planning authority is not satisfied based on the information submitted that the proposed development would not threaten wildfowl in the vicinity of the site … the proposed development could result in collision of birds with the proposed wind farm.
The Board refused permission on the basis of the first reason for refusal as recommended by the Inspector:
Having regard to the nature of the receiving environment and the open nature of the immediately adjoining lands and the size and scale of the proposed turbines, it is considered that a wind farm development of the scale proposed would create a significant visual intrusion in this landscape by reason of the height and spatial extent of the proposed turbines which would be excessively dominant and visually obtrusive when viewed from the surrounding countryside and villages. The proposed wind energy development would, therefore, seriously injure the visual amenities of the area, would be contrary to the provisions of the Wind Energy Guidelines for Planning Authorities issued by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in June, 2006 and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
Given the fact that much of the bog land area in County Offaly and the wider midlands is quite similar to this i.e. open landscape, it would appear that visual impact on the landscape will be a material consideration in all future windfarm applications in the area.
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