Efforts to have Kilkenny city’s rural hinterland declared off-limits to wind turbines have failed, despite the unanimous backing of local councillors.
The councillors ran into legal and procedural blockages after a last-minute attempt to change the zoning of Castlewarren, Johnswell and surrounding areas to designate them unsuited to wind energy development.
Their move came after they received almost 600 letters pleading for a change to the wind energy strategy section of the draft city and county development plan.
The Save Our Hills campaigners say their countryside community will be spoiled for ever if turbines are installed – as is already the tentative plan of one major energy company – and that the character of medieval Kilkenny city will be affected.
Most new turbines are 160 to 180 metres high, and the campaigners say they will be visible in the city’s background and dwarf their homes.
Officials informed the councillors, however, that it was too late to make a change as the only items left to be dealt with before last night’s vote on the adoption of the plan were a number of assorted amendments sought by the planning regulator.
By law, the plan had to be adopted by September 8, and any change to the strategy at this stage would require going to public consultation for a period that would extend weeks beyond that date.
The strategy, along with the rest of the plan, had already been made available for public consultation earlier this year and neither the councillors nor the objectors had sought a change at that time.
Even if they had sought a change in time, all councils were legally obliged to demonstrate how they would contribute to the country’s ambitious renewable energy targets, and failure to designate sufficient areas would not be acceptable to the planning regulator.
The members were informed that they could vote against the plan, but it would then become adopted by default on September 8.
Councillors expressed deep dissatisfaction with the situation.
“We have got a huge amount of representation on this. The people out there feel absolutely frustrated that they cannot voice their opinion,” said independent councillor Eugene McGuinness.
“The frustration is building that we are being told by Government and by the planning regulator that this has to be zoned in the way it has to be zoned.
“I would like to tell him to stuff it up his jumper.”
Mr McGuinness was one of many councillors from all parties who pledged to oppose any planning application for wind turbines that may come in for the area.
“I will stand shoulder to shoulder with those protestors, and I would like to know what we can do to prevent this happening. Because it’s becoming a major issue, not only in Kilkenny but right across this country,” he said.
Eric Duignan, spokesman for Save Our Hills, said after the meeting that the sentiments expressed were of little practical value.
“It’s a case of ‘thoughts and prayers with you’, but that’s no good when we’re going to an Bord Pleanála or for judicial review down the line ,” he said.
“We needed a firm statement in the county development plan that this area is off limits. Without that tool, we’ve very little in our armoury.”
The campaign group formed too late to make submissions during the public consultation. “It was during lockdown and we didn’t spot this designation for our area but the councillors took their eye off the ball too,” Mr Duignan said.
Among the amendments sought by the planning regulator were that two areas to the south of the county, Castlebanny and Templeorum, be added to the areas zoned as “acceptable in principle” for wind turbines. The councillors voted unanimously to reject those amendments.
The final vote on the plan was 17 to five in favour, with three Fianna Fáil, one Labour and one independent councillor voting against.
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