An Bord Pleanála has given the green light to a controversial €30m windfarm project that had been refused planning permission by Cork County Council because of the negative impact on scenic landscapes in West Cork.
The ruling also runs contrary to the recommendation of the board’s own planning inspector.
An Bord Pleanála overturned the council’s ruling to reject plans for the development of seven wind turbines on a large site in the townlands of Curraglass and Derreendonee – just over 3km south of Gougane Barra – following a successful appeal by renewable energy firm Wingleaf.
The company, part of the Craydel engineering group based in Lissarda, Co Cork, has proposed a set of turbines with a wing tip of 178.5 metres on the 622-hectare site, which was previously the location for a smaller windfarm.
The proposed development also involves the permanent removal of almost 12 hectares of forestry.
The board said it believed the windfarm would have “an acceptable impact on the landscape having regard to its overall benefits”.
It said the development would make a positive contribution to the implementation of Ireland’s national strategic policy on renewable energy in the move towards a low-energy carbon future.
The board expressed satisfaction that the project would not seriously injure local residential and visual amenities of the area or adversely affect its archaeological and natural heritage.
It also said the windfarm was acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience.
Rejected its own inspector’s findings
The board said it did not accept the recommendation of its own inspector to refuse planning permission for Wingleaf’s application because it did not agree that the windfarm would detract from the existing character of the area or undermine the setting of Gougane Barra and the framing of the town of Bantry and other scenic landscapes in the area to such a degree to warrant refusal of permission.
It also rejected its inspector’s view that the windfarm would result in a significant risk of collision between the turbines and protected bird species such as white-tailed eagles.
The board said it was accepted that the birds were not dependent on the site of the wind farm for breeding or wintering.
Cork County Council had refused planning permission for the project on the basis of the excessive height of the turbines and the “incongruous siting” of one of the turbines.
The council said it believed the windfarm would be “excessively domineering from very many vantage points over a wide area”, including views from several scenic routes such as the Wild Atlantic Way.
Council planners said the development would debase the integrity and landscape of the landscape and “seriously and unnecessarily injure” high value scenic areas.
They pointed out that the Cork County Development Plan had an objective to protect the landscape and visual and scenic amenities of the area.
The project was also refused planning permission by the council because of its proximity to Gougane Barra, which it said was recognised as one of the country’s 17 “key tourist attractions of national importance”.
Impact on tourism
The council said it was not satisfied that Wingleaf had provided either sufficient or compelling evidence that the proposed windfarm would not have an adverse impact on local tourism.
A total of 53 objections from local people were submitted to the council, as well as a petition to stop the development from Coiste Forbartha, Beal Atha’n Ghaorthaidh containing 372 signatures.
There are 22 households living within 1.5km of the proposed windfarm, including four within 1km.
Wingleaf has estimated that up to 70 jobs would be created during the construction phase of the project, which is expected to take up to 18 months to complete.
The windfarm will have capacity to supply 30 megawatts of electricity generation.
The company has also estimated that €1.8m will be available for a “community gain fund” for local schools and environmental projects over the 30-year lifespan of the windfarm.
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