Knock Iveagh: Planning system branded ‘profoundly ill’ after Minister declines to move against wind turbine
Northern Ireland’s planning system has been branded “profoundly ill” after John O’Dowd’s decision not to enforce planning restrictions against a wind turbine built near a 5,000 year-old Neolithic burial site.
Campaigners have long been calling for enforcement of the regulations against the development, a move that was supported by the Historic Monuments Council and the government’s own archaeologists.
The turbine was passed when planning powers lay with Stormont although it is understood heritage experts, who would have recommended refusal, were not consulted.
Issues with the build then passed to Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council along with a potential compensation bill totalling millions if they enforced removal.
A long running dispute followed, leading the council to take legal action against DfI over its refusal to order removal of the turbine. It later dropped the case pending a decision from DfI.
It has now come to light the Infrastructure Minister has declined to use Ministerial powers to order the turbine’s removal and referred the matter back to the Council for decision, in spite of the turbine’s clear proximity to a scheduled monument.
Friends of Knock Iveagh say the move suggests “development [is] becoming immune from enforcement”.
They said in a statement: “Knock Iveagh and the local community have been completely let down by the Department, despite the opposition of the Historic Monuments Council and the government’s own archaeologists to the wind turbine development.
“The Minister’s claim Irish culture and heritage are important is completely undermined by his allowing this desecration at the heart of an incredibly important ancient royal landscape.
“We value our cultural heritage, and the environment, and we believe that the Knock Iveagh case exposes how the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations are still not being properly implemented in Northern Ireland.
“In the absence of an alternative, we believe it is now our responsibility to bring this matter before the courts to protect our heritage and the environment.”
“The Friends of Knock Iveagh have raised the issue of the development becoming immune from enforcement numerous times.
“Despite the Minister publicly stating that he was ‘fully aware of the potential enforcement immunity issue’, the promised decision was not only delivered after the agreed deadline had expired, but following years of delays by the authorities.
“The Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations are very clear; [. . . . ] at Knock Iveagh is damaging the historic environment.
“It cannot be made lawful and it should not be allowed to become immune from enforcement action.
“The UN Compliance Committee issued a recommendation clarifying exactly this point in October 2021. The government cannot possibly claim to be ignorant of this fact.”
Planning expert Dean Blackwood, who gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee ahead of their Report into Planning in Northern Ireland, said: “The crisis of credibility into which planning is spiralling now seems irredeemable.
“This Ministerial abdication does not bode well for expectations that the cultural malaise laid bare in the brutal PAC report can be redressed. The institution is profoundly ill.”
UUP leader Doug Beattie described the minister’s decision as “a green light to step all over our heritage and important archaeological sites”.
A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said: “The Minister wrote to the Chief Executive of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council on 5 September to advise that the Department is of the view that the Council is best placed to take enforcement action relating to the wind turbine development at the Knock Iveagh site if they choose to do so. It is now a matter for the Council on how to proceed.”
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