An Bord Pleanala decision to refuse SID application for 49 turbines at Carrickaduff Co. Donegal

It is an understatement to say that the recent decision by The Bord dated the 23rd March 2016 to refuse permission for this enormous development, which covered an area of in the Finn Valley Co. Donegal, was greeted by all involved as a major relief and an endorsement of rational thinking.

I represented the local Finn Valley Wind Action Group which was a community wide initiative that also helped coordinate individual observations, which ran to over 200 submissions on the application.

The Community is very much to be commended for the position that it adopted in opposing this development which was completely out of character with the local area and conflicted across a wide range of environmental interests.

From my view point I would question the process around SID projects where this application had been subject to pre application consultation with The Bord through one of its Inspectors. A process for which the public and by extension the stakeholders in the local community where the application is intended to be developed, are shut out. This is an issue that has been challenged by others in recent times.

Given the restriction on space here I am somewhat limited as to the extent that I can explore the many significant pointers in the consideration by The Bord in reaching the conclusion to refuse.

I have dealt with wind farms and many large scale developments of great complexity over the past 18 years, and I have to say that this application presented us with a unique set of difficulties given the scale and spread of the proposal in an area with many environmental constraints.

It is therefore heartening that it would appear as if The Bord accepted our contention from the outset, that this application was fundamentally flawed, in that the Environmental Impact Statement provided by the applicants and the Natura Impact Statement were seriously inadequate and contained many significant omissions.

This is important as it is a frequent contention of groups opposing applications of this nature, where they have identified the potential for significant environmental impacts. A conflict arises where The Bord have subsequently dismissed these concerns or felt the proposed mitigation measures were adequate to address them.

This brings me to my long held view and a pointer which I have argued many times over the years, of the absolute essential requirement for community groups who pool their resources together to oppose developments of this nature and scale, to insure that at the outset they bring on board or engage their own independent experts; people who are qualified in the various disciplines that relate to likely impacts.

When you are arguing on scientific grounds it is essential that that is provided by suitable qualified opinion. That sets out the basis on which applications can be defeated.

Of significance in this application is that the area despite the environmental constraints identified, including landscape character, remains zoned as “open to consideration” for wind farm development in the current County Development Plan for County Donegal. The Bord had regard to this zoning in reaching its decision and has commented on this anomaly. Perhaps all the more ironic is that in Donegal Co Council’s own submission on the application, they recommended the exclusion of 33 of the turbines on the grounds of visual amenity, while finding all the other environmental factors to have been satisfactorily addressed. This is almost Father Ted territory.

Something that groups must become conscious of in the coming weeks is the upcoming SEA consultation which will identify areas suitable for wind farm development for both domestic connection and export.

These zonings will be important in the future and in particular given the recent changes to the Planning Act introduced by Mr. Kelly, it is important that people engage in this consultation, that they treat the consultation like an application and bring forward reasons and considerations as to why their area is not suitable to be zoned as wind farm friendly.

If necessary on the basis of proper argumentation it may be necessary to challenge inappropriate zoning in the Courts, but you cannot do this if you have not made a substantiated argument in the first place. This is not a forum for template submissions. Submissions should address the range of constraints in each individual area, including natural environment, cultural heritage, settlement pattern etc.

So that is one to watch.

I expect Planree to come back to Carrickaduff in the future with a new application but for now the community can breathe a collective sigh of relief and others around the country facing similar applications can take some comfort from the willingness of The Bord to refuse when the case against an application is presented in a way that is overwhelmingly proven.

Written by Peter Crossan