Tensions were expected to run high last night (Monday) at a council meeting surrounding a proposed wind farm in Hilltown.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council called a special meeting dedicated to the issue of a wind farm planning application for an area off the Mullaghgarriff Road.
Due to present their views to the local decision makers were planning officers, the firm behind the wind farm proposal and local representatives some in favour and some against the wind turbines.
However, prior to the meeting, there appeared to be divisions in one of the local organisations set to benefit from the wind farm, Clonduff GAA Club.
The Outlook revealed two weeks ago that Clonduff GAA Club was set to benefit financially from the wind turbines.
The applicant, ABO Wind Ltd had told of its intent to pump funds into community projects including sporting clubs saying it was “committed to supporting a number of local community and environmental groups/ initiatives throughout the life span of the wind farm” since they submitted their first application in 2015, and Clonduff GAC was one of the local organisations.
However, in a letter published last week, the writer described as a ‘concerned lifelong GAA member’ said they were “disgusted that Clonduff GAA Club will be speaking in favour of the Gruggandoo wind farm application” at the meeting last night (Monday).
In 2015, the applicant ABO Wind Ltd applied for permission to install 12 wind turbines off the Mullaghgarriff Road.
However, this was turned down at the end of last year. The private company has now resubmitted the application reduced to 10 turbines and ABO Wind Ltd was set to make its own presentation to council members last night on why the proposed wind farm should go ahead.
The community objection by Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Against Wind Farms action group was also given a chance to present their side of the argument while Clonduff GAC, there to present support for the application, was also allocated time to speak.
Each of these representatives were given 10 minutes to make their presentations. Then a question and answer session with the three presenting parties was expected to take place, with planning officers on hand to clarify any points raised.
Council was then expected to give its “corporate response” to the planning application, which would have to be brought before the Planning Committee on 19 July for approval.
All councillors were asked to attend the meeting however on the last occasion when this application was discussed, a number of councillors were not present or abstained from airing their views.
Meanwhile, within the letter from the GAA supporter, they claimed that “ordinary club members have not been made aware of this representation”.
“Several of the top executive committee members in the club were not even aware of his representation until a few days ago when arrangement for the meeting were made public.
“The GAA club is a sporting and cultural organisation with a volunteer ethos. Bringing a community together is part of the idea of the GAA through good community spirit. In an issue such as the development of a nearby wind farm which is a divisive issue in our community at present, the GAA club would be better advised to stay clear of siding either in favour or against the proposed application given the different sides of the argument that many of its members stand on, including high ranking committee members.
“For Clonduff GAA to associate with the applicant in favour of the wind farm would associate the club with encouraging community division.
This is not what the GAA is about,” said the GAA supporter.
At last night’s meeting, the council’s planning department said “having had regard to the development plan, the relevant planning policy context and all other material considerations, the proposal for a 10 turbine wind farm at Gruggandoo is considered to be unacceptable in planning terms”.
Since the new application was submitted, 16 letters of objection have been received by the planning service. It brings the number of objection letters to 70 while 587 letters of support have been received to date.
A decision on whether planning permission for the wind farm will be granted has been left in the hands of the Department of Infrastructure as it is “a regionally significant proposal”. The council is only engaged in the process as a statutory consultee.