Minister could still overrule latest windfarm restrictions

Friday, 19th September, 2014 12:11pm

Minister could still overrule latest windfarm restrictions

Despite watering down a proposed clampdown on windfarms near homes in Offaly, the Minister for the Environment could still overrule windfarm restrictions in Offaly County Council’s new county development plan, the Offaly Independent can reveal.
At last Monday’s council meeting, councillors voted to scrap a proposed 3.2km minimum setback distance between windfarms and residences in the county, which had been included in the draft county development plan. The decision, on a 10 votes to 4 margin, came after the council’s chief executive Colette Byrne strongly advised the councillors against proceeding with the planned 3.2km setback restriction.She said the 3.2km setback restriction, which the council executive had warned against, was inconsistent with other parts of the plan, in particular, the designation of certain Wind Energy Development areas in the county.
This could lead to the entire windfarm policy being rejected, leaving the whole county open for windfarms.
And Ms Byrne advised councillors that, at this stage in the county development plan process, it was not open to them to create new provisions regarding windfarms. Their only option was to revert to proposals in a previous version of the draft county development plan, a 2km buffer zone between windfarms and towns and villages.
Ms Byrne said: “Within the context of the legislation it is now only possible to revert to the 2km set-back included in the draft plan, although this was contrary to the advice given at that time I consider that it is preferable to the current proposal.”
She also stated: “Although this 2km setback was advised against at the time and the Minister has expressed concerns about it, the legislation does not allow for its removal from the draft plan at this point.”
The councillors then agreed to revert to the provision of a 2km buffer zone between windfarms and towns and villages.
However, the Offaly Independent can reveal that less onerous restrictions on windfarms included in the county development plans of neighbouring counties have already been overturned by the Minister for the Environment.
In July last, the new Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, under new planning powers, ordered Roscommon County Council to remove a number of restrictions on the location of windfarms in the county from its county development plan, including a provision of a minimum separation distance of 1.5 kilometres between the nearest wind turbine and an existing or permitted dwelling house.
He also scrapped a provision which proposed a minimum distance from dwellings of 10 times the height of turbines.
And in Westmeath the previous Minister for the Environment Jan O’Sullivan ordered Westmeath County Council to remove a restriction requiring “industrial” wind turbines to have a setback distance, from homes, of ten times the turbine’s height.
And in a written submission as part of the development plan process, the Department of the Environment has already told Offaly County Council that it believes the identification of any minimum separation distance is premature pending the finalisation of revised windfarm planning guidelines.

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