A wind farm plan near Davagh Forest has been rejected by councillors, who in the same week, took a major step closer to realising a major new ‘dark sky observatory’ in the forest.
Permission was refused for the five 126.5 metre structures at Beltonanean at last week’s Planning Committee of Mid Ulster District Council.
A joint venture between Dublin based Island Renewable Energy and Canadian firm Brookfield, which has its Irish base in Cork, the plan would have involved the construction of considerable infrastructure, including access tracks through Davagh Forest itself.
In April, this paper first revealed the council’s ambitious plans to harness the internationally recognised dark sky status granted on the 1,500 hectares of forest at Davagh to create a spectacular new ‘night sky museum’.
The £900,000 project involves the erection of a new timber-clad observatory and visitor hub in the forest, which is also home to the hugely successful mountain bike trails.
A café and bike store would also be complimented by a series of state-of-the-art glamping pods.
Last Tuesday, the council approved the observatory, visitor hub and glamping pods at the site.
It’s a major step forward in the council’s ‘dark sky’ plan for Davagh, which is described as one of the few places in Ireland where the night sky can be viewed unaffected by light pollution.
Commenting on the wind farm bid for the area, the council issued a statement describing its refusal as “sustainable development in action in the Sperrins and surrounding area”.
It said the wind project was refused “on the grounds of its significant visual impact in the Sperrins’ Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, its potential to detract from the development of tourism and important archaeological sites, as well as direct impact on neighbouring dwellings”.
“Significant local objections had also been received,” added the statement.
The decision at last week’s Planning Committee came alongside the green light given to a new sporting and cultural facility at Kildress.
Speaking after the meeting, chair of the Planning Committee, Cllr Cáthal Mallaghan, said, “Our role is to enhance areas like the Sperrins for the benefit of local people and visitors, while protecting what is also a significant natural heritage site.
“These decisions show sustainable development in action, using our natural assets to draw visitors and contribute to Mid Ulster’s tourism goals, and also ensuring that we support local sporting organisations in their efforts to create and increase sporting opportunities and that sense of belonging in rural communities which is so important.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the applicants said an original proposal of six turbines had already been reduced to five following engagement with the council. A full Environmental Impact Statement and additional environmental information was also provided.
“We are disappointed in the decision… to refuse our application, which represented a significant investment for the local economy and would have produced 39,190 MWh of renewable electricity annually, enough to meet the needs of approximately 10,000 homes.
“We have liaised with local residents and other consultees on this project and have worked with the council to review our plans since our original submission in 2014,” concluded the statement.
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