Row over planned wind farm at Cork beauty spot Gougane Barra
Credit: Local objectors dismayed by permission for ‘domineering’ turbines in area | David Forsythe | The Irish Times | Tue, Apr 26, 2022 | www.irishtimes.com ~~
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For millions, the image of Gougane Barra in Co Cork is of the little church looking on to the lake, with rolling hills behind. Today a local campaign group wants it to stay that way.
The campaigners are now objecting loudly to plans to erect seven 178m-high turbines, some of the tallest in the country, in the townlands of Curraglass and Derreendone immediately south of Gougane Barra.
The closest turbines will be two kilometres from the lakeshore, but the top of one turbine will be visible, while several others will be visible to walkers in the adjacent forest park.
Opponents will give voice to their opposition at a hearing in west Cork on Wednesday, arguing that they are not opposed to wind energy but rather to the placing of turbines in this case.
The original planning application by the Cork-based company Wingleaf Ltd was refused by Cork County Council, which said it would materially contravene the objectives of the Cork County Development Plan.
It “would be excessively domineering from very many vantage points over a wide area”, the ruling found, but this decision was immediately appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
There, its inspector stated: “This is a development that would have significant adverse environmental and visual impacts and is not sustainable at this highly sensitive location.”
Despite this, An Bord Pleanála granted permission on the grounds that the wind farm would “make a positive contribution to the implementation of Ireland’s national strategic policy on renewable energy”.
The decision was met with dismay by local objectors, who are now seeking a judicial review of the planning process through the local community development society Coiste Forbartha Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh.
More than 10,000 people signed an online petition, while Cork county councillors voted unanimously to oppose it, directly voicing their opposition to An Bord Pleanála and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan.
“This is really about local democracy. Clearly the local people don’t want it, the local development company don’t want it, the council don’t want it, the planners don’t want it,” said the owner of Gougane Barra Hotel, Tim Lucey.
“Even An Bord Pleanála’s own inspector advised against it. So when you take all of that into consideration, how can it be right that An Bord Pleanála can still give this permission?”
“This really is a question of democracy and I can’t see how imposing a decision like this on people who are clearly against it can be democratic,” said Lucey, the campaign’s spokesperson.
“There are several wind farms in the area. It’s not as if the people in the Lee Valley are opposed to renewable energy – they are not – but in this case it is simply in the wrong place,” he said.
Describing the plan as “crazy”, local Fianna Fáil councillor Gobnait Moynihan said: “The fact is these will be three times the height of County Hall. We won’t be able to find another Gougane Barra but we will be able to find another location for these wind turbines.”
Just across the border in Kerry, the County Development Plan 2022-2028 there includes a proposal to require wind turbines to be built at least a kilometre away from homes, 500m more than current rules demand.
Similar proposals have also been drawn up in Westmeath and both councils have been criticised by the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) for effectively restricting wind farm development.
Justin Moran of Wind Energy Ireland, representing wind energy providers, said planning delays must be addressed if Ireland were to meet 2030 climate change targets.
“If we are going to meet our targets, we effectively need to do in eight or nine years what previously took 20 years to accomplish, and that includes 5,000MW of offshore capacity.
“People have a right to object but it would be helpful for everyone if decisions were made quicker. If an application goes to judicial review, you could be looking at four years or even longer, and at that rate we just won’t make it.”
Richard More-O’Ferrall of South Wicklow Wind Action Group has campaigned against plans for a wind farm at Ballymanus near Aughrim for seven years.
An 11-turbine plan was initially refused by Wicklow County Council, but eventually approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2019 against the recommendation of their own inspector.
Mr More-O’Ferrall said: “We’ve been waiting nearly three years now and there’s no end in sight. You get put into a queue and there’s not much you can do about it. The whole process seems to be incredibly slow.”
Despite some local opposition, Justin Moran believes a majority accept the need for wind farms: “You need to treat people with respect and you need to listen to them.
“Wind will make up more than double of all of our renewable resources combined, and it can reach the kind of numbers we need. Communities will have to get used to wind turbines as part of the landscape,” he said.
An ESRI survey last year found that 77 per cent of people viewed wind turbines positively, but just 36 per cent were willing to accept a turbine within five kilometres of their homes.
Meanwhile, the public’s acceptance of transmission lines needed to carry such energy to the grid is even less, with just 28 per cent prepared to tolerate them within five kilometres of their homes.
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