Planning permission for a wind farm on the outskirts of Hilltown has been refused.
The application for 12 wind turbines off the Mullaghgarriff Road proved controversial during its 21 months in the planning process.
The Department for Infrastructure has decided to refuse the windfarm plan taking into account planning policies, the development plan for the area in the heart of the Mournes and representations from interested parties.
The applicant, ABO Wind Ltd, has now requested a hearing before the planning appeals committee.
The department refused the proposal for nine reasons, one being that “the proposal would not outweigh the potential detrimental impact on the unique qualities of the Mourne Mountains special countryside area”.
Soon after the application was lodged with council, it was decided that the verdict should be left up to the Minister as, if approved, it “would affect the whole neighbourhood”.
Earlier this year the planning powers were transferred to the Department of Infrastructure and the Minister, South Down MLA Chris Hazzard issued a notice of opinion to refuse planning permission last month.
However it is understood that an appeal by the applicant, ABO Wind Ltd, may already have been launched.
The application will come before Newry, Mourne and Down planning committee tomorrow (Wednesday) as part of their monthly applications.
The application for the wind farm comprised 12 wind turbines of maximum tip height 125m and all the associated ancillary works. It was first lodged by ABO Wind NI Ltd in March 2015 for the townlands of Gruggandoo, Grugganskeagh and Mullaghgarve.
The group Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Against Windfarms has been against the windfarm from the beginning.
They believe windfarms are “not as efficient as claimed to be”. At the time, a spokesman said the crux of their opposition lies with the “adverse impact on this area of outstanding natural beauty” as the turbines “would be visible from all around the area”.
ABO Wind NI Ltd says the proposed scheme would have an installed capacity of 39.6MW, comprising 12 turbines and that access to the site would be from Mullaghgarriff Road for all turbines.
They said that the Gruggandoo Wind Farm proposal “could generate 124.88 million kwh of clean, green electricity per year, enough to supply approximately 29,948 homes and reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 53,700 tonnes”.
The applicant argues that “this saving is equivalent to taking approximately 40,514 cars off the road”.
ABO Wind NI Ltd says it is “dedicated to ensuring its wind farms contribute directly to local communities therefore a Community Fund will be established for the lifetime of the wind farm development”.
However the Department for Infrastructure concluded that the proposal would, if permitted, “have an unacceptable adverse impact on the visual amenity and landscape character of the area, by reason of the number, scale, size and siting of turbines and sensitivity of the landscape”.
They also said that the proposal would be “unsympathetic to the special character of the Mournes ANOB” and would be “likely to harm a nationally protected species [red kite]” and that there was “insufficient information submitted to enable full determination of the planning application in relation to noise”.
A Department for Infrastructure spokesman confirmed that an appeal request has been made.
“It will be a matter for the Planning Appeals Commission to make arrangements to convene the Hearing. Following the hearing, the Commission will make an independent report and recommendation to the department which will be fully considered before the Minister makes his final decision,” said a Department for Infrastructure spokesperson.
A spokesman for the Mournes AONB Against Windfarms said they would be making no comment at this stage.
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