The spokesperson for a group of families which won a High Court battle against a windfarm in the Lee Valley last week has said it’s deeply unfair that citizens should be burdened with the cost of ensuring public bodies carry out their responsibilities.
‘In the current financial climate, this prevents most people accessing appropriate decisions through the Irish justice system,’ said Paul Green, spokesperson for the twelve families living near the proposed Derragh Wind Farm at Réidh na nDoirí which won a judicial review on Friday.
‘The residents are delighted with the decision. It turned out better than we could have imagined,’ Mr Green said.
The High Court, in quashing the permission, found that An Bord Pleanala (ABP) had failed to carry out a legally required assessment of the full range of impacts which the entire project would have on the locality. Overturning the Board’s decision, Mr Justice Michael Peart agreed with local residents that ABP had acted unlawfully in giving approval for the 100m high turbines at Réidh na nDoirí, Ballingeary.
Solicitor for the residents, Joe Noonan, said the judge ruled that the grid connection was clearly an integral part of the overall development, and that the turbines and the grid connection could not be assessed separately.
Assessing the elements separately is known as ‘project splitting’.
‘Project splitting in itself demonstrates a flaw in the planning process or the Environmental Impact Assessment process which clearly wasn’t conducted at all,’ Mr Green said.
The issue of project splitting hadn’t really been challenged in the High Court before, Mr Green added, paying tribute to the Mr Noonan and his team.
Mr Noonanm of Noonan Linehan Carroll Coffey solicitors said there had been a rush to permit wind power generation plants in quiet rural areas across the country. ‘Rushed planning is bad planning and that can cause serious harm to people. New planning guidelines for industrial wind turbines are long overdue. Meanwhile, communities and private individuals have the worry and expense of taking court action to protect their homes and their way of life. Planning policy is unbalanced. Policy makers need to think again.’
The group has yet to be de-briefed by the legal team on the judgment and the significance of the decision, both locally or nationally. ‘I guess project splitting is an issue that affects most energy planning applications so how that falls down in individual cases differs from one to the next,’ Mr Green said. Speaking of the residents’ three-year campaign, Mr Green added that it was simply a matter of putting heads together and in fact wasn’t that difficult.
A lot of people in the Upper Lee Valley are deeply concerned about the policies that have been brought to bear on the area, he added.
‘A significant amount of planning applications that have been put in for windfarms around Lough Allua and the Upper Lee Valley in general, so there’s a great fear that the whole area is going to be overrun,’ Mr Green said.
Refering to the cost of taking on the State in such a matter, he said: ‘When you break it down between a lot of people it’s not that expensive.’ About €60,000 was raised between family and friends, he estimated.
A further sitting of the High Court on January 14 will go through both the judgment and costs.
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