A proposed wind farm development in North Tipperary, which had been challenged in the High Court by local residents and environmentalists, was today given the go-ahead by a judge.
Mr Justice Raymond Fullam said Edel Grace and Peter Sweetman had failed to present the court with a convincing explanation as to why they had not been involved in the planning decision process.
Craft artist Grace and environmentalist Peter Sweetman had sought a judicial review of a decision of An Bord Pleanála in July last year to grant ESB Wind Development Ltd planning permission for the 16-turbine farm on the slopes of Keeper Hill in the Silver Mines Mountains.
They had claimed the wind farm would result in the permanent and irrevocable loss of the habitat of the hen harrier, a protected species in the Slieve Felim to Silvermine Mountains Special Protection Area (SPA) between Limerick and Tipperary.
In their legal challenge against the planning board, Grace, of Grousehall, Milestone, Thurles, and Sweetman, of Bunahowen, Cashel, Co Galway, claimed An Bord Plenála had granted planning permission despite an inspector’s report recommending it not to do so.
ESB Wind Development Ltd as well as Coillte, the State’s commercial forestry and renewable energy arm and the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, were notice parties to the proceedings.
Grace and Sweetman had claimed the farm would include 16 wind turbines, access tracks, an electrical transformer station, control buildings and a substation.
They had 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 the European Court of Justice.
Both had claimed the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht had recommended that permission should not be granted, alleging that no adequate assessment had been made before planning permission was granted.
They had claimed that almost 400 acres of hen harrier foraging across the mountain range would be lost if the proposed development went ahead.
Grace and Sweetman also claimed that a proper environmental impact assessment had not been carried out and the inspector’s report had also warned of a substantial risk of peat slippage as a result of the wind farm development.
They also claimed the proposed development would significantly detract from the “protected view” of Keeper Hill in Co Tipperary.
Judge Fullam said the inspector had considered that the legal requirements under the Habitats Directive were properly addressed by a proposed replacement habitat.
He said in a reserved judgment that the plan proposed by ESB Wind Development Ltd stated that the potential loss of habitat of 162 hectares at turbine location would be replaced by the provision of 164 hectares of habitat during the lifetime of the project.
Judge Fullam said the issues raised by Grace and Sweetman had been clearly considered by the Board at the decision making stage. He said an appropriate assessment had been carried out and adjourned the question of legal costs to October 13.
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