A controversial plan to build a wind farm in the scenic Mourne Mountains with eight turbines taller than the London Eye will be heard tonight.
A special meeting of Newry Mourne and Down District Council will discuss the proposal after a presentation by ABO Wind NI Limited – the third time in five years such an application has come before them.
The initial proposal in 2015 for a wind farm at Gruggandoo was for 12 turbines with a maximum height of 125m and councillors backed a planning officer report recommendation to oppose it.
Three years ago a revised application of 10 turbines at the same height was made.
On that occasion councillors in attendance were tied on their decision, with 15 for and 15 against the plan.
Tonight another amended proposal will be heard, this time for eight wind turbines, but with an increase in height “not to exceed 142.5 metres”.
The London Eye is 135m tall. The application is also for “associated infrastructure including electrical substation and control building, access tracks, passing bays and junction improvements”.
Councillors debating the new bid will be presented with another planning officer’s report that will again recommend that it is “considered to be unacceptable in planning terms”.
In the key issues raised, detailed in the council agenda, the officer stated that the “application site is located within the Mournes Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and within the Mournes Special Countryside Area (SCA)”.
They added that while the benefits of renewable energy are acknowledged, they “should not be given determining weight when set against the unacceptable adverse impacts arising from a proposal to develop a wind farm of this scale in such a sensitive landscape”.
But ABO Wind have argued that they also have community support and that building the wind farm will include a number of benefits, including financial contributions to Hilltown Mart, Clonduff GAC and Clonduff Playgroup.
They claim it would power 37% of all homes in the district with renewable energy and there would also be an electricity discount scheme for those living within 1.5km of the site.
Sinn Fein’s Chris Hazzard, the MP for the area, has called for the contentious application to be the subject of an independent public inquiry as soon as possible.
He said: “This planning application for a wind farm at Gruggandoo in the Mourne AONB is both environmentally complex and highly controversial.
“It not only involves a wide range of views, but will undoubtedly require in-depth scrutiny of all the available information in order to properly assess the far reaching socio-economic and environmental impacts of the proposal.
“We believe that before any decision is taken by the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, that it is imperative that an independent public inquiry considers the views of all stakeholders, including the local community, and scrutinises the huge amount of complex information provided.”
The South Down MP said that while the revised application has “possibly lessened the environmental impact of spoiled upland peat bog and other sensitive habitat … there is no doubt that increasing the size of the remaining eight turbines to 142m greatly exacerbates the impact of this proposed development in many regards”.
Mr Hazzard continued: “This proposal would not only consist of some of the tallest turbines in Ireland – but would in fact contain some of the highest structures across the whole of Ireland.
“The tallest building in Ireland currently is the Obel building in Belfast and it is 88m tall.
“It is clear then that the proposed wind farm would feature prominently from the western slopes of the Mournes and from each summit, impacting significantly therefore on the Mourne and Slieve Roosley natural landscape – an area of high scenic quality and protected status.
“Significantly, the proposed wind farm would also be visible from beyond Carlingford Lough, on the Tain Way in Co Louth, which would impact upon the famed panoramic view of Carlingford Lough.”
Local businessman Connaire Mcgreevy, spokesperson for Mourne AONB Against Wind Farms, warned politicians that they will be forever guilty of destroying a global heritage site if they back the scheme.
“This is a thin edge agenda that if implemented will open the door to the widespread implementation of similar schemes right across the Mournes,” he said.
“A landscape that has been used as a critical factor in the promotion of the entire island as a key element in attracting tourism has to have its unique environmental elements protected for generations to come.”
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