Damien Rice is in a race against time to get a giant wind turbine – which has no planning permission – demolished.
As a bricklayer, the Castlewellan man is usually happier seeing things built but when his neighbour erected a huge turbine close to his home all he has dreamed of is seeing it torn down.
Headaches, glare from the sun and noise that disturbs their lives on a daily basis are the main complaints about the 40m structure from Damien and his family who live just outside the Co. Down town.
But Damien fears despite the support of local planners and politicians he may be stuck with the giant eyesore because the battle has dragged out for almost five years.
The case is being viewed closely by environmentalists who are concerned that if Damien loses his battle it will give a green light to developers to build whatever they like wherever they like.
“The planning law is that if a structure has been standing for five years it gets to stay even if it never had planning permission,” says Damien.
“At this stage I just want it pulled down – it has no right to be there.
“The owner got planning permission for a completely different structure in a completely different part of his farm.
“It went up in 2013 and because it was supposed to be 100 metres further away from our house we were not consulted about it. When we saw it being built we were in disbelief that someone would be so selfish and show such little regard for their neighbours.”
Neighbour Bernard Maginn built the turbine off the Dundrinne Road. In 2010 the farmer and publican was given permission for a turbine.
This was never built. Instead, Mr Maginn built a turbine in a spot 328 feet closer to Damien Rice’s house, and 65 feet taller with blades that are much longer also.
Damien is also concerned as to how the turbine has been connected to the electricity network. “The developer is gaining from an unauthorised development with little or no regard for his neighbours,” he said.
Wind turbines are a lucrative business and are heavily subsidised, with some likening the system to the RHI boiler scheme. Some turbines can generate thousands of pounds every month.
Earlier this month, planners at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council recommended the council refuses retention permission.
They found the level of noise would have an “unacceptable” impact on the local community.
Damien Rice says: “So it was built without planning permission, has recently failed retrospective planning permission and yet it is still standing.
“He is appealing that decision again and I worry all this is just a ploy to stall things until October when it will be too late.
“I am putting all my faith in the planners that they will make sure the right thing is done here. The rules are the rules.”
Mr Rice said the turbine wakes him in the middle of the night and that he and his wife have suffered health issues.
“It’s made my life hell,” Damien said. “When I wake in the morning I have a desperate sore head. I had to go through a couple of tests in the hospital.
“They found there was nothing else wrong with me – it was the noise. It’s hard to concentrate, watch TV, to do anything normal.
“Sometimes it’s like the noise of a helicopter far away, only going on for hours and hours.”
He feels permanently uncomfortable in his own home. When the turbine was shut down for a couple of weeks, the headaches ceased.
“When I’m away from the house it feels like something is lifted for you.”
Newry, Down and Mourne Council’s Environmental Health Department has borne out Rice’s complaint.
In a report, it said: “The operation of this wind turbine is highly likely to have an adverse impact on the amenity of nearby noise-sensitive receptors due to noise.”
The refusal was delayed. Sinn Féin councillor Willie Clarke successfully applied to have the recommendation removed from the agenda of the council’s Planning Committee in December last, so the developer could carry out a noise test.
Former MLA John McCallister objected strongly to the turbine, calling it “an eyesore”.
When the application was submitted, he wrote to planners: “The turbine currently in situ was erected in violation of the approval granted… it dominates the landscape in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is affecting the amenity of the occupants of the house as well as having a serious detrimental effect on their health.”
As well as noise, planners say they are refusing retention permission because of unacceptable adverse impact on the landscape character and visual amenity of the area.
Bernard Maginn told the Sunday World: “We are just waiting for the planners to make a decision.”
And he added: “Mr Rice is not even the nearest neighbour and the one who is, has no problem with it.”
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