Councillors were quick to voice their support for the families living close to the Raheenleagh Wind Farm and asked that the matter be put back on the agenda for April’s meeting so that it doesn’t get forgotten about.
Speaking after the presentation at last Monday’s county council meeting, Cllr Shay Cullen said that the families were living a ‘horrendous nightmare’.
He said that there had been much discussion about wind farms in the past and that the council had tried to address some of these concerns by including a one kilometre exclusion zone around turbines in the new County Development Plan. However, that move was scuppered by Minister Simon Coveney, who ordered that the exclusion zone be scrapped.
Cllr Cullen said that the council needed to ensure that the EIS was ‘fit for purpose’ and asked if it was ‘renewed or reviewed’ to ensure effective measures were put in place. ‘Who is monitoring the noise from the wind farm?’ he asked. ‘Is it independently monitored?’
‘It’s our duty as representatives of the public to support members of the public in situations like this,’ said Cllr Cullen. ‘This should never have happened. It’s unacceptable that families have to live in a situation like this.’
Cllr Mary McDonald asked council officials if, in the event the wind farm was operating ‘illegally’, the council could suspend its operation entirely until the various issues are addressed.
Cllr Miriam Murphy told her fellow councillors that the Arklow members heard directly from the families at an earlier meeting.
‘We sat with them for two hours and we listened. I left that meeting feeling emotional and I still do here today,’ she said.
Cllr Murphy said having the situation laid bare to her left her with many questions, primarily why she didn’t know what they were going through and: ‘how did I not realise the effect this wind farm was having on people so close to me? I have two cousins sitting in the gallery affected by this, one with a serious illness.’
Cllr Tom Fortune described the families’ experience of shadow flicker as ‘just cruel’ and said that both it and the viewing points ‘shouldn’t be allowed’.
He was enraged at the question marks over the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), particularly having heard of problems over an EIS for the Dargle earlier in the meeting and recalling further problems in the Rocks Valley earlier this year.
‘You said in our meeting in Arklow that you hoped we believe you,’ said the chairman of the Arklow district, Cllr Pat Kennedy. ‘We do believe you.
‘Raheenleagh Wind Farm began operations on September 20, 2016, the same date your nightmare began.’
He said that families should be able to live in peace, relax in their homes and get a good night’s sleep and asked the council to carry out noise monitoring at the site.
Cllr Chris Fox said it can sometimes be difficult for members, like himself, from the northern end of the county to get a sense of the realities of people living in the rural south but that the presentation had left him ‘shocked’. ‘These people do not come in here lightly,’ he said, before urging all the various departments to work to resolve the various issues raised.
Describing the families as ‘victims’, Cllr Tommy Cullen reminded members that he raised exactly these issues in the chamber many years ago before wind farms were being built. Aside from believing that these facilities should be built off-shore ‘and not in the beautiful Wicklow hills’, he wondered how they were given permission to be built there when ‘anyone wanting planning permission to put a bungalow on those hills would be laughed out of the planning office.’
Cllr Cullen asked that a detailed report on the impact of wind farms be prepared so that councillors could make a submission to Minister Coveney regarding his decision on the 1km exclusion zone.
Cllr Joe Behan pointed out that while the exclusion zone was removed from the County Development Plan, a proposal that the health of local people should be considered as a factor when considering planning applications was still there. He suggested that if the wind farm is ‘not compliant with basic planning’ and a further planning application needed to be submitted, it should be dealt with under the new development plan.
Des O’Brien, Director of Services in the Planning Department, said that, after the residents’ meeting with the Arklow members, an engineer in planning spoke to the developer on the phone who promised to come back with noise readings but they didn’t.
A letter was sent on February 1 and replied to on February 14, again promising to get surveys done but, so far, these have yet to materialise.
Noting that the department wasn’t happy with the delays, Mr O’Brien assured members that they ‘certainly will be doing something on this.’
Cllr Pat Fitzgerald asked Mr O’Brien to keep himself and the other Arklow members briefed on the situation so that they could keep the families up to speed with any developments.