Tomorrow, 21 June 2016, finally sees the Irish high court sitting down to hear the legal arguments in relation to the Ministerial Direction issued by Alan Kelly to overturn Variation no. 2 of the Donegal County Development Plan 2012-2018, which was first passed by our elected councillors in June 2014. The variation had amended the County Development Plan to:
- increase protection to the fresh water pearl mussel by designating the Clady, Eske, Glaskeelin, Leannan, Owencarrow and Owenea Sub-Basin catchment areas as “not favoured” zones for wind farms; and
- to specify that any wind turbines must be set back from residential properties and other centres of human habitation by at least ten times the tip height of the proposed turbines.
The varying of the development plan in this way was seen by many as a prudent means of protecting both environmentally sensitive areas and residential properties from the inappropriate siting of wind farms within the county. This was evidenced by the 3,300 submissions delivered to the County Council during the consultation phase and significant cross party support in the council chamber. (see previous blog posts here, here and here).
Nevertheless the Minister for Enviroment, Community & Local Government (Alan Kelly) issued a draft direction seeking to overturn the decision and following the ‘charade’ of a consultation process, Minister Kelly directed that Variation no.2 be overturned. This was followed by the then Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council, John Campbell, embarking on a judicial review of the Ministerial direction and almost 2 years since the Council voted to add the amended wind farm planning rules to the development plan the case shall be heard.
While Cllr. Campbell has given a few interviews to the Donegal media in relation to the court action, see for example a Highland Radio interview (including audio) and a Donegal News article, little detail in relation to his precise legal arguments are in the public domain. When we get such detail from the court in the next few days we shall try to tie it together into a blog post.
Finally, we wish Cllr. Campbell all the best in his court action and we expect a strong judgment to issue in favour of accepting local democratic input and the bona fides of local decision making fora such as council chambers, especially when underpinned by a strong evidence base, as the appropriate fora for assessing proper planning and sustainable development of an area, and thus guiding the development plan process.