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Locals facing eviction after losing windfarm appeal

A farmer faces the possibility this week of losing his 100-acre dairy holding after challenging the grant of planning for the construction, against his wishes, of a road across his land by a wind power company.

And a neighbouring craft worker also risks being forced into selling her home, or face bankruptcy, after a High Court challenge over a claim An Bord Pleanála had acted outside its powers failed.

Edward ‘Ned’ Buckley, who farms at Gortnara, Upperchurch in south Tipperary, had agreed to a single turbine being erected on adjacent land as part of an overall €30m development of 22 wind turbines by Kilkenny–based Ecopower Developments Ltd.

However, he was shocked to discover a subsequent planning application sought provision for a 75m road across his land.

The 51-year-old father of three advised the planning authority South Tipperary County Council, and later An Bord Pleanála, he had withdrawn his consent. But planning was approved.

Following High Court proceedings and a judicial review of the planning appeal board’s decision, both An Bord Pleanála and Ecopower Developments Ltd sought to have costs awarded against Mr Buckley and a near neighbour Edel Grace.

Ms Grace operates a cottage industry at Grousehall, Milestone, Thurles.

Both, however, now run the risk of losing their homes or farm.

Mr Justice Brian Cregan is to deliver his ruling at the Four Courts this Friday in relation to High Court costs.

Mr Buckley conceded that he had signed a document facilitating access but said he later withdrew consent before any decision had been made.

Bord Pleanála had also rejected an appeal by the Upperchurch Kilcommon Wind Awareness Group against the entire project.

The wind farm will feature turbines that will be up to 126m high.

Ms Grace, who makes teddy bears from home and who raises prize Dexter cattle on a small holding, had objected on environmental grounds to Ecopower’s plans to build 22 turbines on her doorstep. The nearest turbine is just 398m from her home and well inside a setback distance of 500m laid down by government regulations.

The High Court had upheld the 10-year planning permission.

During subsequent proceedings last October, David Browne, counsel for the applicants, said the challenge had been brought on grounds including that permission was granted after Mr Buckley withdrew his written consent for his lands to be used as part of the proposed development.

Mr Browne said the proposed development required Mr Buckley’s lands for a required access road at Knocknameena, Upperchurch.

It was also claimed that the decision breached EU directives on the conservation of natural habitats of wild fauna and flora. The board, he said, had also failed to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment before consent to the development was granted.

Ms Grace said yesterday that An Bord Pleanála and Ecopower had advised herself and Mr Buckley they would seek costs if the pair lodged a judicial review.

“It could cost Ned hundreds of thousands of euro and, indeed ourselves, because although the environmental impact aspect was cost-protected, we are in this together,” she said.

Mr Buckley, meanwhile, said he could have to sell his farm or take out a huge loan to meet costs.

Even if costs’ liability was avoided, he said he was angry a planning authority could impose an application on his land for 10 years, with all its implications.

“I always thought when you owned something it belonged to you,” he said.

He conceded he had signed an understanding over a turbine on a neighbour’s land.

Ms Grace said: “When Ned looked at the plans subsequently, misunderstanding or not, the planning authorities ignored him.

“Of course, for me, I’m a craft worker and if the court presents us with a substantial bill of hundreds of thousands, I would be looking at filing for bankruptcy or selling a house which nobody would want due to a windfarm development being granted permission.

“It’s the catch I am in – they have made my house unlivable and unsaleable, the minute this started, I lost anyway. It has become a series of losses. I’m fighting all the way but the initial grief is turning to a fighting anger and sorrow.”