Residents of the Gaeltacht community of Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh [a.k.a Ballingeary, Co. Cork] have accused An Bórd Pleanála and developers of windfarms in their area of abjectly failing to protect the integrity of the environment and of not respecting the needs of people who live in the area.
Coiste Forbartha Bhéal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh (Development Committee) has taken this step to ensure the country’s highest planning authority is aware of the depth of the feeling in the Gaeltacht community, which is finding itself increasingly surrounded by windfarms.
The nine turbines at Cleanrath, overlooking Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh, have been still since a High Court order was issued during the summer. This implemented a Supreme Court ruling before last Christmas in favour of a couple who appealed the decision by An Bórd Pleanála to approve the development.
Klaus Balz and Hanna Heubach run a horticultural business not far from the Cleanrath windfarm, and they appealed the planning authority’s approval of the Cleanrath development to the Supreme Court because the impact of noise pollution from the farm hadn’t been considered.
The decision, which led to the turbines being stilled and the blades stopped mid-revolution, has led to the development being described as a ‘ghost windfarm’.
Underway at present is a process by which the developer, Cleanrath Windfarm Ltd, is applying for substitute consent for the windfarm as now, as it stands, it has no planning permission. It previously had planning permission, but the Supreme Court decision set that permission aside.
Now the Coiste Forbartha are appealing to An Bórd Pleanála because they, as the local development committee, feel there has been no meaningful consultation with the local community about the project.
In the letter, the Coiste Forbartha refer to the National Planning Framework (2018) and say that due attention has not been paid to local sensitivities:
That policy document states: “In meeting the challenge of transitioning to a low carbon economy, the location of future national renewable energy generation will, for the most part, need to be accommodated on large tracts of land that are located in a rural setting, while also continuing to protect the integrity of the environment and respecting the needs of people who live in rural areas.”
In its letter, the Coiste Forbartha says: “We feel that the scale of this and other similar wind farm developments in this area have abjectly failed to protect the integrity of the environment and do not respect the needs of the people who live in this area.”
The letter also refers to the 2014 County Development Plan, in which emphasis is put on the significance of the county’s landscape as a ‘key green infrastructure asset due to its intrinsic value as places of natural beauty in addition to its importance with regard to recreation, tourism and other uses’.
“We feel that, notwithstanding the need for renewable energy, this and similar installations in the area are extracting too high a price on this ‘key green infrastructure asset.”
The issue of substitute consent has given rise to controversy in the past, and the Supreme Court ruled it was inconsistent with EU environmental law in a case brought in 2008.
In that case, the Supreme Court said that it was inconsistent with EU law because there was no provision for the public to participate at the stage when leave to seek substitute consent was being sought and, secondly, there was no provision of an ‘exceptionality’ test to be met in order to determine if the circumstances leading the developer to have to seek substitute consent were sufficiently exceptional.
The Coiste Forbartha was recently involved in a campaign which included a petition with more than 380 signatures of local people objecting to a new windfarm on the slopes of Céim an Fhia, with turbines which would be 178.5m in height.
This development was refused planning permission last week, though The Corkman has seen and authenticated a letter from the Cork County Council planning office in which it is suggested that it was ‘open to the developer’, Wingleaf Ltd, to resubmit a planning application for a windfarm with turbines whose height would be ‘significantly much reduced’.
The letter from the planning office counsels the developer, Wingleaf Ltd, that consultation with locals is ‘actively advised’.
Wingleaf Ltd and Cleanrath Windfarm Ltd are both companies which are included in the portfolio of Michael Murnane, the Macroom entrepreneur based at Lissarda Industrial Estate.
Repeated attempts to get a comment from Mr Murnane about his windfarm developments throughout mid-Cork have been unsuccessful.