Nichola Mallon urged to reject wind turbine plan in Mournes that could power 27,000 homes
Credit: Opponents call project a ‘forest of steel’ | John Breslin | Belfast Telegraph | March 08 2022 | www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk ~~
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Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has been urged to make a decision on a controversial Co Down wind farm first proposed seven years ago.
The proposed wind farm, close to the village of Hilltown near Newry, has divided opinion in the area.
Opponents of the plan, including mountaineer Dawson Stelfox, said it has drawn more than 4,000 objections and urged the Minister to reject the application without the expense of a public inquiry.
ABO Wind, a German company, first applied in March 2005 to build the Gruggandoo farm, initially 12 turbines reaching 142.5 metre (465ft), later reduced to eight.
The company claims the £25m investment will power 27,000 homes and is in line with wider government policy on reducing emissions.
It claims emissions will be reduced by the equivalent of over 60,000 tons a year.
But part of the facility is within the Mournes Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which supporters argue makes its construction entirely outside policy on planning.
A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said: “As with any such application it is open to the department to consider an approval or refusal, or hold an inquiry.”
Mr Stelfox, the first Irishman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, said that wind generation is a good thing but that turbines should be in the “right” place.
“This is definitely not the right place,” said Mr Stelfox. “It is so far outside policy it should just be refused, why go to the expense of a public inquiry?”
He added: “There are the social benefits, the visitors, tourists, people come because of the natural beauty and these are really big, enormously high.
“There are so few open scenic areas and the Mournes is the highlight.”
Mr Stelfox argued that no wind farm should be built in the Mournes and said that the best place for the facilities is at sea.
Planning officials received more than 5,000 comments, with over 4,100 against and just under 900 in favour.
In Hilltown, on one side of the argument are the landowners and supporters, and on the other are some residents, activist group, Mournes AONB Against Wind Farms, along with conservationists and hillwalkers elsewhere.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council voted in October 2020 to pass the decision to the Minister.
Sinn Fein councillor Gerry O’Hare said: “The council did not take a position and decided to send it back to the department.
“That was the problem, some were supportive but a lot were not supportive.”
ABO Wind said giving the project approval would help towards the Executive’s target of generating 80% of electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2030.
“To achieve these targets, we need to more than double the amount of renewable electricity we produce over the next eight years, meaning projects like the Gruggandoo wind farm are urgently required,” a company spokesman said.
Steven Agnew, head of Renewables NI, a trade body of which ABO Wind is a member, said his organisation does not take a position on any individual application, but he does not believe there should be a blanket exemption against development in a certain area.
“We believe each application should be judged on its own merit, planning policy, the social and environmental considerations being weighed up,” said Mr Agnew.
But he said that on average it takes twice as long for a wind farm application to go through planning here compared to Great Britain.
Connaire McGreevy of Mournes AONB Against Wind Farms, said a letter was sent recently to the Minister urging her to make the decision to reject what he claimed would become a “forest of steel” in the Mournes.
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