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Inspector says minister should have Westmeath County Council remove turbine setback rule

A report by an independent inspector looks set to spell the removal from Westmeath’s County Development plan of the provision requiring that industrial wind turbines have a minimum setback distance of ten times turbine height.

Released on Monday, inspector Padraic Thornton’s report recommends that Minister for Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan formally issue a direction instructing that provision P-WIN6 – which sets out the county’s setback requirement – be removed from the Westmeath County Development Plan.

He said that P-WIN6 would be in conflict with the Regional Planning Guidelines,
“It appears to me, from the plan and from the submissions, that the overall intent with P-WIN6 included, is to effectively exclude commercial sized wind farms from the county.

“I consider that if such policies were adopted nationally, there would be a serious danger of targets not being reached,” Mr Thornton wrote, adding that such policies would be inconsistent with Ireland’s 2020 electricity target, which is to have 40 per cent of this country’s electricity come from renewable sources.

Mr Thornton also said the council members had not complied with a departmental circular from last year advising planning authorities to defer amending development plan policies in relation to wind farms pending the completion of the review of the Wind Energy Guidelines 2006, and the finalisation of the Planning Policy Framework for Renewable Energy Export.

Referring to the 5,624 of submissions received on the issue, of which only four were in favour of a direction instructing the deletion of P-WIN6, he said that he considered that those who made submissions may have “overstated” the benefits that inclusion of a measure such as P-WIN6 into the development plan would have.

He also noted, however, that the four parties who supported the issue of a direction from the minister, were “essentially ones with vested interests in the industry”.

Mr Thornton was appointed by Minister O’Sullivan on April 28 of this year to carry out an independent review of her draft direction to the council seeking that P-WIN6 be removed.