On the 22 July 2014 the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, notified Donegal County Council of his intent to issue a Direction pursuant to Section 31 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended). The draft direction relates to Variation No. 2 to the County Donegal Development Plan 2012-2018 (as varied), which relates to wind farm planning and zoning in the county.
Regular readers will be aware that on 30 June 2014 Donegal Councillors passed a series of variations (known as variation no.2) to the wind farm planning sections of the County Development Plan. The primary elements of the variation will see:
- the designation of Areas of Fresh Water Pearl Mussel (FWPM) 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) as not favoured for wind farm development;
- the inclusion of an objective to ensure that wind energy developments do not adversely impact upon the existing residential amenities of residential properties, and other centres of human habitation (*‘Centre of Human Habitation’ includes schools, hospitals, churches, residential buildings or buildings used for public assembly’); and
- the establishment of a set back distance of ten times the tip height of proposed turbines from residential properties and other centres of human habitation.
However newly appointed Minister Alan Kelly has issued a draft direction to the Council which seeks to overturn these wind farm planning decisions taken by the elected members of Donegal County Council. The Minister has two main issues, he claims:
- the elected members have either ignored or not adequately considered his submission on the matters made on 7 May 2014 which highlighted what the Minister considered to be inconsistencies of the varied plan with (i) the 2006 Wind Energy Guidelines, (ii) the Border Regional Authority Regional Planning Guidelines, and (iii) National targets for the generation of energy from wind ; and
- the decision by the elected members to alter the policies and objectives in regard to the wind energy objectives does not provide for proper planning and sustainable development and therefore the County Donegal development Plan 2012-2018 and is not in compliance with the requirements of s.9, s.10, s.12, and s.28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended).
The matter has been discussed twice at recent Council meetings and the elected members shall be making a submission to the Minister. Chairman John Campbell has in many interviews (including on Morning Ireland) highlighted that the incorporation of national wind farm policies and targets in Donegal does not begin on a ‘blank canvas’ as there are considerable ecological constraints and the needs of local residents to consider when establishing what is proper planning and sustainable development of the county.
Despite what the Minister claims the Council have met all the statutory requirements in relation to sections 9, 10, 12 and 28 of the Planning Act. The varied county development plan sets out a clear overall strategy for wind farm development in the county (s.10) and is clearly in line with the over-arching requirement to provide for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area (s.12). With respect to consistency the local councillors have in so far as practicable been consistent with the plans, policies and strategies of the Minister, in so far as they relate to proper planning of the area (s.9). Donegal councillors must balance the significant ecological constraints in the county, including the European and Irish statutory protection of the FWPM and sub-basins (s.10) and the importance to protect the amenity of the county’s residents with all national policies.
The balance achieved in the varied plan directs wind farm developers away (not an outright ban) from FWPM sites (this is similar to Kerry Council) and recognises a turbine height proportionate buffer zone around homes (unlike the blanket ban in Tipperary North who set a 1km setback). The impact of a proportionate setback is two fold it directs large-scale (height) development away from homes but also ensures that where developers seek to introduce turbines closer to residential areas the scale and size of turbines will not prove incongruent or visually dominant on residential amenity and the receiving landscape.
In my opinion Donegal’s councillors have shown great ability in achieving a consistent balance in relation to the competing objectives and constraints within which they must plan for the county while setting a clear strategy for areas to be targeted for development and the acceptable height of turbines in those areas.
Written submissions or observations in respect of the draft direction may be made to Donegal Council and must be received no later than 5.00pm on the 18 August 2014. All submissions shall be taken into consideration by the Minister before he takes a decision in relation to the draft direction. Submissions can be made either:
- by email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or
- by post to Mr. Denis Kelly, Senior Executive Planner, Central Planning Unit, Donegal County Council, County House, Lifford, Co. Donegal.
** It is important to note that this consultation is not on the merits of dezoning the FWPM area or the introduction of a setback. The elected members under the requirements of s.12(11) and s.13 of the planning act have already decided that such zoning and setbacks are proper planning and sustainable development of the area. The consultation is only in relation to the Minister’s powers (or not) to issue the direction under the Planning and Development Act (as amended) and his power to overturn the lawful and democratic decision of the Council.