Wind farm development in Donegal could change forever following a decision by members of Donegal County Council to remove large areas of the county from potential development.
Councillors voted to impose new variations on their County Development Plan that will see the inclusion of Fresh Water Pearl Mussel areas at Clady, Eske, Glaskeelin, Leannan, Owencarrow and Owenea as areas not favoured for wind energy developments. This vote went 16-13.
They voted by 18-11 with one abstention to create a set-back distance of ten times the tip height of proposed turbines from residential properties and other centres of human habitation.
After several false starts and claims and counter claims of mishandling and presentation of the information for the third vote, councillors decided by 21-9 that ensured wind turbines were to be located so that their Zone of Visual Influence did not include Glenveagh Castle, Gardens, Lough Beagh, Visitors Centre including the main entrance, walking trails and visitors centre car park.
The meeting which lasted all day saw robust exchanges between the pro and anti groups within the council as well as a warning from the council’s chief executive officer, Seamus Neely, that he was opposing variations to their current plan on the grounds that the proposals were contrary to advice they had received from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government which had advised them to defer their wind energy development plan policies pending the completion of a national policy review.
“It is considered that the proposed variation does not accord with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area and accordingly members should not adopt the proposed variation,” he said.
But councillors defied the advice from their CEO, the Department of the Environment, the Border Regional Authority and several other bodies to vary their County Development Plan in favour of limiting the extent and influence of wind farms in the future.
Cathaoirleach Cllr John Campbell told the specially convened meeting that a claim there now was a ban on wind energy proposals was disingenuous.
As the average turbine was around 100 metres high, this left over 10 percent of the county or 50,000 hectares available which he thought was more than enough.
“Our development plan is to direct development to the most appropriate place. It’s not a ban on development in other places,” he said.
The decision was warmly welcomed by members and supporters of the Glenties Wind farm Information Group (GWIG). Speaking after the meeting spokesperson Joe Brennan said this was a triumph for democracy and a vindication of the 3,326 people from Malin Head to Glen Head who supported the variations.
“It was inconceivable that the CEO, the council executive and a small number of councillors would attempt to thwart the wishes of the people. The idea of an all inclusive council appears to be working as party positions were not taken and people were allowed to vote according to their consciences to the extent that a number of councillors switched positions on the different issues.”
He added there now appeared to be no valid reason that any ministerial order would be issued.