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High Court quashes permission for Co Longford windfarm

The High Court has quashed An Bord Pleanala’s decision to grant planning permission to a subsidiary of Bord Na Mona to build a windfarm in the Midlands.

The proposed windfarm was located in bogland known as Mountdillon Peat Production Bog near Lanesborough, in Co Longford.

In his judgement Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said he was satisfied to uphold a challenge brought by Environmentalist Peter Sweetman against the proposed windfarm.

The judge agreed with Mr Sweetman’s argument that the decision should be quashed because the application to build the windfarm did not contain the level of detail required to allow the planning authority grant permission.

The court noted that If constructed to the maximum dimensions the height of the proposed windfarm’s 24 turbines would be the joint tallest structures in Ireland, with a tip height of 185m.

Permission to construct the windfarm was granted in June 2020. As the proposed windfarm was deemed to be strategic infrastructure the developer made the application directly to An Bord Pleanala.

Mr Sweetman’s judicial review action was against An Bord Pleanala, Ireland and the Attorney General.

Among his arguments Mr Sweetman claimed the board had erred in law in accepting an application without an appropriate level of detail in respect of design contrary to EU law and domestic Planning & Development Regulations 2001.

The plans and particulars lodged by the applicant in respect of the turbines which is one of if not the largest series of structures ever to be constructed in Ireland had no detail in terms of their design relative to their particular siting and were completely inadequate, it was also argued.

The documents lodged showed virtually no detail and no specific detail and given the scale and extent of the development, and the likely consequences and impacts, it was impossible to formulate any definitive findings in respect of the windfarm’s impact, it was further claimed.

The application was opposed. The developer of the proposed windfarm, Bord Na Mona Powergen Limited, was a notice party to the proceedings.

In his judgement Mr Justice Humphreys said that Mr Swetman had complained that core elements of the proposed windfarm’s design had been left to the post-consent stage.

In particular, the judge noted that in the application the proposed turbine’s heights and blade lengths are expressed in terms of maxima, not the actual proposed dimensions.

That is equivalent to applying for planning permission for a house on the basis that it could be anything from a one-storey bungalow to a ten-storey mansion, and contending that proper details have been furnished as long as a maximum dimension is provide, the judge said.

The board, he said had accepted that typical details of aspects of the development are given rather than precise details, and that everything was assessed on a worst-case basis and that this was sufficient.

“Unfortunately, I don’t consider the “worst-case scenario” defence as really being an answer. It amounts to saying that, to take one of the matters at issue, the blades are going to be of some length, totally unspecified apart from a maximum.”

“Does that amount to providing “plans and particulars” of the development? I think not. ” he said adding that specifying particulars of the works for which permission is sought is the statutory obligation.

It was not open for a party to seek permission for a project that is open-ended at one end of the scale and which could be anything up to a maximum specified, he added.

The court was also satisfied that the argument was adequately pleaded by Mr Sweetman’s lawyers.

In all the circumstances the judge said that the board’s decision should be quashed.

The judge did dismiss several other grounds of Mr Sweetman’s challenge against the decision including that the decision was contrary to common sense, that irrelevant considerations had been taken into account, and that the decision was unconstitutional.

These arguments, the judge said, had not been established by Mr Sweetman.