Proposed Variation (No. 2) to the County Donegal Development Plan 2012-2018
The winds of change are beginning to be felt in relation to Donegal’s wind energy strategy and county development plan. The hard work of the Glenties Wind Farm Information Group, their advisers and supporters (including the help of a number of well informed Councillors) has culminated in a number of proposed amendments to the county development plan being put to public consultation.
The council summarise the purpose of the proposed changes as follows:
- to afford greater protection to Fresh Water Pearl Mussels and to reinforce existing Policy FWPM, through the inclusion of the catchments identified in the 6 Sub- Basin Management Plans as areas ‘Not Favoured’ for wind energy development;
- to afford greater protection to residential properties and centres of human habitation; and
- to refine the Zone of Visual Influence of turbines within the context of Glenveagh National Park.
The amendments will see centres of human habitation defined so as to include “schools, hospitals, churches, residential buildings or buildings used for public assembly”. This underlines the ambition of the Glenties group to ensure the changes deliver real protection for local communities faced with the onslaught of encroaching wind farm developments.
Protection of residential amenity to be recognised as development plan objective
Underpinning this protection for local communities will be the recognition, for the first time, through an expressly stated objective of an assurance that wind farm developments do not adversely impact on existing residential amenity. The precise wording of the development plan objective is:
E-O-6: To ensure that wind energy developments do not adversely impact upon the existing residential amenities of residential properties, and other centres of human habitation (as defined at 10.6.7) in Chapter 10 Development and Technical Standards.
This objective is further enhanced by a recognition, also for the first time in Donegal, of a progressive setback from proposed wind farm developments to homes. The principle of the larger the turbine the greater the required separation distance from people will be incorporated into the development plan.
Minimum setback distance of ten times maximum turbine height
This significant and tangible benefit to local communities will see the introduction of a setback distance of ten times the maximum tip height of proposed turbines from residential properties and other centres of human habitation. Again “schools, hospitals, churches, residential buildings or buildings used for public assembly”, shall all benefit from this proposal. The adoption of this variation would greatly reduce the fears of many local communities in relation to residential amenity, wind farm noise and any subsequent indirect health impacts, while also addressing the wind industry’s concern in relation to disproportionate fixed setback distances from wind farms. The ten times maximum tip height setback is a simple, progressive and proportionate setback which is likely to receive widespread public support.
Dezoning of Fresh Water Pearl Mussel Areas
There is a legal obligation on Donegal County Council under the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel (FWPM) Regulations – Statutory Instrument No. 296 of 2009 European Communities Environmental Objectives (Freshwater Pearl Mussel) Regulations 2009 -to implement the measures in the FWPM sub-basin plans. This includes a requirement that measured improvement in the parameters listed in schedules 3 and 4 of the FWPM Regulations, which indicate both the health of the FWPM population and their habitat, should be evident by 2015. Other specific targets relate to the maintenance and improvement of the water status of the catchment, with some waters earmarked for an improved status by 2015 and, others by, 2021.
The FWPM sub-basin catchment areas in Donegal are generally in areas with significant peat. Wind farm developments in these areas would pose very significant risks through the excavation and disposition of large quantities of peat. Objective NH-O-4 of Donegal County Development Plan, also seeks to protect and improve the integrity and quality of FWPM basins therefore the removal of these protected areas from the zoned for wind farm development is to be welcomed and supported. The proposed wording is as follows (changes to existing plan in red):
Not Favoured – Areas where wind energy proposals will not be favoured have been identified due to the significant environmental, heritage and landscape constraints. These include; SAC and SPA (Natura 2000) Sites, NHAs, unspoiled areas of EHSAs, Areas of Fresh Water Pearl Mussel including the catchments identified in the Sub-Basin Management Plans for Clady, Eske, Glaskeelin, Leannan, Owencarrow and Owenea (as listed in S.I. 296 of 2009), important views and prospects. It is considered that these areas have little or no capacity for wind energy development.
The extent of the proposed changes, in particular relating to the six sub-basin areas, are detailed in the map below with the areas in red.
Refining the Zone of Visual Influence of Glenveagh National Park
The third element of the proposed variation is to be opposed. Despite it’s wording this refinement will see a diminution of the protections afforded to the landscape character and zone of visual influence around Glenveagh National Park. The recent An Bord Pleanála decision in relation to a proposed 16-turbine wind farm at Newmills, Letterkenny was refused, in part, because it “would detract from the visual quality/amenity on … the approach roads to [and] the views to be had from” Glenveagh National Park.
This proposed amendment was facilitated by Fianna Fail councillor Liam Blaney and will in fact lessen the protections for the National Park. If passed it will, in fact, enable the GDNG Renewables Ltd 16-turbine wind farm development to gain planning permission. It must, therefore, be opposed.
Have your say before 9 May 2014
Submissions must be received no later than 4.30pm, 9 May 2014, either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org -or- by post to: Mr. D. Kelly, Senior Executive Planner, Central Planning Unit, Donegal County Council, County House, Lifford, Co. Donegal.
Alternatively the Glenties wind farm information group have a helpful online submission form. This offers an easy way for you to ‘have your say‘ just follow this link – http://www.gwig.net/index.html – to their website; click ‘Have Your Say’; fill in your name, address and e-mail details; then just click send and your support for the set back and dezoning proposals will be registered with Donegal County Council.
Now is the time for you to have your say on wind farm planning in Donegal – don’t let it pass!