The chief executive of Offaly County Council has rejected calls for a ban on wind turbines at Lemanaghan Bog.
The bog is part of a large area of west Offaly currently designated as ‘open for consideration’ for wind energy and its owner, Bord na Mona, hopes to install 17 turbines there.
The County Council was flooded with hundreds of objections to zoning the bog as suitable for a wind farm with most of the opponents citing its proximity to the early Christian monastic site of St Manchan.
At a stormy meeting of the council earlier this year, councillors voted by nine votes to eight to include the bog in the draft wind farm zone, with the exception of a small portion nearest the monatic site and 500m north of the disused Banagher railway line.
With final approval of the draft county development plan 2021-2027 still to take place, councillors, TD’s and community groups opposed to a wind farm on the bog continued their campaign by making submissions to the council.
Former justice minister Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly, lined up with Independent Deputy Carol Nolan in opposition to Bord na Mona’s plan for a wind farm, along with another Independent TD, South Tipperary based representative Mattie McGrath
Two parish priests who were formerly curates in the area, Fr PJ Hughes and Fr James McKiernan, asked for a wind farm ban at Lemanaghan too, as did Fine Gael councillors John Clendennen and Noel Cribbin.
An Independent councillor from the Tullamore Municipal District, Cllr Ken Smollen, was at the forefront of the move to take Lemanaghan out of the wind energy zone, while the other Tullamore Independent, Cllr Sean O’Brien, went even further, calling for the entire area of west Offaly to be declared turbine-free.
In their submissions opposing wind energy in the area, Leamonaghan Graveyard & Heritage Site Group and Leamonaghan Wind Farm Action Group both referred to the Lemanaghan Conservation Plan, published by the Heritage Council and sponsored by Offaly County Council, and The archaeology of Lemanghan – the story of an Irish bog, by Ellen O’Carroll.
Declaring that Lemanaghan bog will remain in the area of west Offaly deemed suitable for wind energy, council chief executive Anna Marie Delaney says the designation ‘Open for consideration for Wind Energy Development’ does not imply automatic approval.
Planning applications for wind farm developments in these areas will still be evaluated on a case by case basis having regard to wind energy development guidelines, environmental impact, traffic, transport, landscape and visual impact assessments.
There will also be detailed site visits and advice received from prescribed authorities will be considered before any grant of permission.
In her report which is currently being considered by councillors, Ms Delaney also says Lemanaghan Bog is designated as a medium landscape sensitivity’ and it is only high landscape sensitivity areas which are excluded from wind energy development.
She also noted that the Wind Energy Guidelines drawn up in 2006 state that the designation of an area for protection of natural or built heritage or as an amenity area “does not automatically preclude wind energy development”.
The council chief said it is council policy in the draft development plan “to support and promote the protection and appropriate management of all monastic sites in the county” and as such, the council “will have regard to” the Lemanaghan Heritage Conservation Plan when assessing applications that are within this area or in close proximity to this area.
Her report noted that the Lemanaghan Heritage Conservation Plan establishes that Lemanaghan is a sacred place of great antiquity, a place containing buildings of architectural significance, a place rich in documentary history and archaeological potential, a place where there is a long tradition of devotional practice and place ‘apart’, possessing a strong sense of being untouched by the modern world.
“The impacts of any windfarm development in the vicinity on these areas would need be addressed in a detailed project level (planning application or Strategic Infrastructure Development application) Environmental Impact Assessment with input from experts in the fields of archaeology, cultural heritage and landscape character assessment to determine the appropriateness of the development proposed with regard to [monastic sites protection policy] in the Draft Plan,” said the council chief.
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