It’s groundhog day for windfarm planning in Donegal. Cllr John Campbell has once again been granted leave by the high court to challenge a section 31 Ministerial Direction issued to Donegal County Council, by Minister Simon Coveney on 6 October 2016, in relation to Variation no. 2 to the Donegal County Development Plan 2012 – 2018 (as varied).
As a reminder the primary elements of the variation as passed would 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.
Cllr Campbell had earlier this year successfully obtained an order of the high court quashing a 2014 Ministerial Direction made by then Minister Alan Kelly. We have blogged extensively on the background to Variation no. 2 (here, here, here), the subsequent section 31 Direction issued by Minister Kelly (here, here), Cllr Campbell’s successful first court challenge and the acceptance by the Inspector (Hendrik van der Kamp) appointed by Minister Coveney that:
- Donegal County Council did not ignore or take insufficient account of the submissions made by the Minister in May 2014;
- Variation no. 2 did not significantly impact on the internal coherence of the County Development Plan; and
- Variation no. 2 did not make the County Development Plan inconsistent with national and regional policies or targets
The other issue to note in relation to this ongoing battle for Donegal’s sovereignty in terms of proper planning and sustainable development of the County is the reliance placed by Minister Coveney, in giving reasons for his direction, on what he accepts is the non-mandatory guidance provided by the s28 wind energy guidelines. Many planning and legal observers were surprised by Minister Coveney reissuing a section 31 direction to Donegal particularly given that the 2006 Guidelines are accepted by Minister Naughten as being unfit for purpose and that they remain in place without a Strategic Environmental Assessment as required by EU law.
The high court reference for the case is, Campbell -v- Minister for Housing Planning Community and Local 2016/976 JR and it returns for mention on 17 January 2017.