Local fishermen have secured their biggest catch in recent times as First Flight Wind has called a halt to plans for an offshore windfarm.
The fishing industry was bracing itself for another hammer blow as First Flight Wind was preparing to install a 400 megawatt site on top of some of the best fishing grounds in the Irish Sea.
The final area covered by the windfarm would have covered around 100 square kilometres and it was to run from Dundrum to Annalong.
Kilkeel boat owner, Leslie Girvan, was delighted with the recent announcement and was glad that the fishermen’s tactics in delaying the plans, paid off in the end.
“We’re very happy that our opposition to it, and the delays that we were able to cause, paid off,” he said.
“If we hadn’t opposed it in the first place it would have probably been passed, work would have started and that would have been it. But we were able to raise enough opposition to it to cause delays with the geophysical surveys and the technical surveys.
“Each delay pushed it back and now, the end result is they can’t get it done in the time-frame they would have had to have it done, in order to qualify for the grants.
“You could say our tactics were successful.”
Mr Girvan also made it clear that any future proposals to build on the proposed site would be met with the same opposition by the fishing fleet in Northern Ireland.
“Arlene Foster said that they would try to regroup and find a different company to look at it again, but any new company will look at the reasons why First Flight Wind had to back out of it.
“Nothing has changed as far as we’re concerned, we don’t want it there. They have the whole Irish Sea to put it in, just not that particular piece. They would need to put it somewhere that’s not annoying the fishing fleet.
“The industry is under enough pressure without clamping that on top of us.”
First Flight Wind will now disband, however, this does not stop any future consortiums proposing a wind farm in the Irish Sea, according to Michael Harper, Director of First Flight Wind.
He also stated that Northern Ireland and South Down will miss out on a number of job opportunities and future investment.
“We are now disbanding as a consortium but there’s nothing to stop another consortium, and there are a number who were involved in the original tender, and there are another number of companies that are keen to get into the sector itself,” explained Mr Harper.
“The windfarms could have generated up to 13 per cent of Northern Ireland’s electricity requirements, that’s more than a quarter of the contribution to Northern Ireland’s 2020 targets.
“That would have helped Northern Ireland with its security of supply objectives which really means that it would have avoided the need of importing oil and gas for electricity generation.
“It will obviously mean a loss in future potential economic opportunities for companies either supplying the sector and, therefore, making a contribution to the construction activities or the supply of services into the project.
“We would have needed a team of 80 or 100 engineers based in the South Down area, vessel teams and a range of service provisions so that will no longer be happening.
“On top of all that, I think there is a loss of infrastructure development for Northern Ireland that the project would have brought in terms of network in the South Down area.”
Meanwhile, South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has responded to the news that the plans have been pulled.
“Central to the development of a wind farm off the east coast was the need to ensure that it did not jeopardise the future of the fishing industry in South Down. Work on the issue had been progressing in partnership with the local fishing industry.
“It is therefore disappointing that any investment and job opportunities that could have come to the community of South Down with the development of a wind farm off the east coast have now been lost due to regulatory requirements that make the project unviable for First Flight Wind.”
SDLP MLA for South Down, Sean Rogers, expressed his “disappointment” with the decision.
“The offshore wind farm had great potential for creating employment and prosperity.
“I know that there were concerns among the fishing community about these proposals however, many fisherman were due to embrace the opportunities that this wind farm offered.
“Due to the innovatory nature of these fisherman many opportunities would have been realised both on and offshore.”
UKIP Councillor, Henry Reilly, the only politician against the windfarm since the plans were first introduced, said those behind the idea
should “hang their heads in shame and embarrassment”.
“The decision by those interested to cut their losses and exit County Down will be welcomed by all people, irrespective of their cultural or political background, who wanted the beauty of our shoreline and countryside to be a legacy for generations to come.
“It would have been an environmental disaster of monumental proportions. The fishing and tourism industries would never have recovered.
“The money generated through subsidy paid by the least well off in society would have been siphoned out of the province for practically no employment return. This basic fact was recognised from the outset by local people.
“The defeat of First Flight Wind over its madcap scheme off our coast will be welcomed by all who believe in common sense community-based politics.”
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