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16-turbine wind farm faces major legal challenge

A wind farm which is allegedly a threat to the habitat of the hen harrier on the slopes of Keeper Hill in Co Tipperary, is facing a major legal challenge in the High Court.

Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon yesterday granted craft artist Edel Grace and environmentalist Peter Sweetman leave to apply for an order quashing An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant ESB Wind Development Ltd planning permission for the 16-turbine farm.

Barrister David Browne, counsel for Grace and Sweetman, told the judge the wind farm, among other things, may result in the permanent loss of the bird of prey’s natural habitat in the Slieve Felim to Silvermine Mountains Special Protection Area between Limerick and Tipperary.

Grace, of Grousehall, Milestone, Thurles, and Sweetman, of Bunahowen, Cashel, Co Galway, claimed the farm would include 16 wind turbines, access tracks, an electrical transformer station , control buildings and a substation.

They told the court that almost 400 acres of hen harrier foraging across the mountain range would be lost if the proposed development went ahead.

Grace alleged the existing habitat of the hen harrier would be permanently and irrevocably destroyed. She described a proposal to replace the habitat as inappropriate.

Notice parties to the proceedings are ESB Wind Development Ltd, Coillte, the State’s commercial forestry and renewable energy arm, and the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht.

Grace and Sweetman claimed that the planning permission was in breach of the European Union’s Habitats Directive, the EU Environment Impact Assessment Directive and legal authorities of European Court of Justice.

They told the court that An Bord Pleanála had granted the planning permission despite an inspector’s report recommending not to do so. They said the proposed development would significantly detract from the “protected view” of Keeper Hill in Co Tipperary.

Grace and Sweetman told the court that a proper environmental impact assessment had not been carried out and said the inspector’s report had also warned of a substantial risk of peat slippage as a result of the wind farm development.

They said the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht had recommended that permission should not be granted.