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Everest mountaineer Dawson Stelfox warns against Mournes wind farm

An Everest mountaineer has urged councillors not to smash their tourism “golden egg” by supporting a wind farm in the Western Mournes.

Dawson Stelfox was addressing a special meeting of Newry Mourne and Down District Council.

Councillors were considering their response to a revised application for a wind farm in a protected area near Hilltown, County Down.

The infrastructure department rejected a previous planning application.

It has again sought the council’s position as a statutory consultee.

Addressing the meeting, the wind farm company accepted its proposal had a visual impact, but said it had reduced the original number of turbines from 12 down to eight in the current application.

It claimed the climate change benefits and potential rates revenue generation outweighed the impact.

Mr Stelfox, who holds position in Mountaineering Ireland and Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, said the Covid lockdown had shown people wanted to access the outdoors.

He said the wind farm proposal was “absolutely outrageous” and would lead to “industrial exploitation” of a landscape which is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“The Mournes is our most special area of uplands,” he said.

The Western Mournes is a range of smaller peaks inland of the higher summits like Donard, Commedagh, Bearnagh and Binnian, but Mr Stelfox said the landscape was interlinked.

The meeting heard that while the German owned company, ABO Wind, had reduced the number of turbines to eight, the height of them had been increased and they would now stand at a blade tip height of 142 metres.

It was described by one councillor as “eight London Eyes on a hilltop”.

The company said that contrary to public perception, there was a limited number of sites in the council area suitable for a wind farm.

And while it accepted there was opposition, it claimed there was also support.

It said the £25m investment could power 27,000 homes and generate £9.8m in rates over its lifetime.

A protest group, which addressed the meeting, told councillors the community had been “split” by the proposal and by offers of funding made by the developers to certain projects.

Councillors heard a report from its own planners recommending that it object to the application.

But the meeting voted overwhelmingly to write to Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon calling on her to refer the application to a public inquiry before the planning appeals commission.

Councillors who supported the motion said that would allow all the issues to be be fully examined ahead of a final decision by the minister.