The Department for Infrastructure has put a holding order on a windfarm Mid and East Antrim councillors passed in a protected area near historic Slemish after being advised against it.
Planners, the Department for Agriculture, Environmental and Rural Affairs and RSPB NI all opposed the application for seven 125m high turbines in the ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’.
Among the reasons listed were fears the turbines could result in the permanent displacement of already declining curlew and hen harriers on the “nationally important site” as well as negative impacts to tourism.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson highlighted how the application was already rejected by the Planning Appeals Commission, when 10 turbines were on the cards. But with council Mayor William McCaughey leading support for the £25m project because he “cares deeply about our environment” and spoke of a need to “shift to renewables” – the proposal to refuse the application was voted down six to five.
Now the Department for Infrastructure has intervened in the decision made at the council’s November Planning Committee.
A spokesperson told Belfast Live: “Mid and East Antrim Borough Council notified the Department on 19 November 2021, under the provisions of the Planning Direction 2017, it resolved to approve the application against the advice of a statutory consultee who had raised a significant objection to the proposal.
“Subsequently the Department has issued a holding direction to the council, under Article 17 of The Planning (General Development Procedure) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015, which prohibits the council from issuing a decision notice until it has heard further from the Department.
“This will allow the Department time to consider if the application should be ‘called in’ to it for determination,” they added.
“The notification from the council will now be assessed by officials to ascertain whether or not the proposal would have potential regional or sub regional impacts that would warrant referral to the Department for determination.”
Local democracy journalist Michelle Weir outlined in her report on the November 4 committee meeting when the decision was made how Chris Perry and Dr Neil McCullouch from DAERA’s Natural Environment Division raised serious concerns for birds near the site, saying if passed the windfarm could lead to further species decline.
It also included concerns from RSPB’s Michelle Hill who told how 19.3% of NI’s curlews are found in the area and Sammy Wilson’s caution that the decision taken would “set a precedent for further applications”.
He also warned “the visual impact will be enormous”.
Those speaking out in support of the project spoke of the need for more renewable energy and the money that stood to be made.
Tamzin Fraser from applicant, Abo Wind, said: “I am absolutely astonished there has been no reference to the impact on climate change.”
She also said there was “no direct evidence” the turbines would displace hen harriers.
A spokesperson from RSPB NI told Belfast Live while the charity “recognises that decarbonising energy is a vital part of efforts to reach net zero” renewables “must be delivered in harmony with nature”.
“Important populations of birds and wildlife, and the habitats that support them, must not be harmed in the process,” they added.
“The Antrim Hills supports one of the most important breeding curlew sites in Northern Ireland and breeding populations of curlew are of high conservation concern and have been considered as the UK’s highest conservation priority bird species.
“RSPB NI objected to the construction of a wind farm in this area due to the scientifically reviewed impacts of wind farms on breeding curlew, when sited in the wrong place.“
A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Council admitted its “Planning Committee recommended planning permission be granted for the Wind Farm at Carnalbanagh, contrary to the Planning Officer’s recommendation”.
They added: “Given this was a major development application and the recommendation was contrary to a Statutory Consultees advice to refuse planning permission (DAERA), the Council was required to notify the Department for Infrastructure.
“The Department for Infrastructure has subsequently served a Holding Direction preventing the Council from issuing the decision granting planning permission until they have had time to consider whether the application should be referred to them for further consideration and determination.”
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