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Six windfarms investigated for alleged planning irregularity

Six windfarms are under investigation by Cork County Council for alleged planning irregularities, amid calls from councillors for the Government to tighten up the industry.

In a report presented to councillors, Paul Murphy, the local authority’s senior planner, said that of the 20 windfarms built so far in the county, six are being investigated on foot of complaints “relating to non-compliance of a specific (planning) condition”.

Mr Murphy did not specify the issues, but it is understood they relate to placement and height of turbines, noise, etc.

Mr Murphy said that while 20 windfarms are operational in the county, a further 50 planning applications have been approved. Since 2012, eight have been investigated by the council’s environment directorate.

The information was released following queries from Cllr Bob Ryan, who said he was concerned about follow-up enforcement by the council, or by any other authorities, especially as regards the health of people living adjacent to windfarms.

In response to Cllr Ryan, Mr Murphy said that it is not the responsibility of the council to carry out regular inspections, except when a complaint has been received and an enforcement file is opened relating to non-compliance of a specific planning condition.

The council official added that there is no national agency for overseeing the industry, but the Irish Wind Energy Association plays a major role, which Cllr Ryan described as unacceptable self-policing.

Mr Murphy also told the councillor that the health and safety of residents living close to windfarms is not a matter for the council.

Mr Murphy said a draft review of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines is being carried out by the Government.

It proposes a more stringent noise limit. This has to be consistent with World Health Organization standards, in tandem with a new noise-monitoring regime and visual amenity setback of four times the turbine height between a wind turbine and the nearest residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum distance of 500m.

The proposals also include the elimination of shadow flicker and the provision of “community benefit measures”.

Cllr Ryan said this does not go far enough and he said provision should be made for continued monitoring of the health and general wellbeing of communities close to windfarms: “I find it unbelievable that we can allow these windfarms to be built in our communities with no recourse.

“There is no responsibility on the council to inspect to ensure they comply with conditions. In several places, they are encroaching on people’s lives and their wellbeing.”

“I’m concerned they’re being built, not exactly in the places they’re supposed to be,” he added.

Cllr John Paul O’Shea said the majority of complaints he has received are about the lack of noise-monitoring.

Cllr Rachel McCarthy said that solar farms are also springing up all over the place “and people don’t know what impact they’ll have, like the wind turbines”.

Mayor of County Cork, Cllr Declan Hurley, said there are many issues with communities in West Cork “and, in some areas, we’re reaching saturation point”.