Tag Archives: Alan Kelly

Minister concedes to setback and zoning for wind farms in Donegal

In the end Minister Coveney skulked out of the legal hearings which would have tested his powers under section 31 of the Planning and Development Act to overturn the democratically passed variation no. 2 to Donegal County Development Plan, dealing with wind energy development.

Councillor John Campbell who took the legal challenge announced the end of this, his second successful foray in the courts against a Ministerial direction, on twitter, where he also highlighted the extent of the shameful delaying tactics of the Minister and his Department:

What is notable is that when tested neither the Minister nor his Department were able to open any documents or arguments in support of their position in court, they merely used the section 31 process to delay the effective date of the variation passed by Donegal County Council.  This has meant that for 3 years local residents and the receiving environment have been exposed to unnecessary risk and unwarranted expense in order to defend the peaceful enjoyment and amenity of their homes and to ensure that their (and your) environment is not subjected to unsustainable wind farm development.

As a reminder the primary elements of the variation as passed 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.

Councillor Campbell had last 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; the subsequent report by the Inspector (Hendrik van der Kamp) appointed by Minister Coveney , and the granting of leave to Councillor Campbell for a second court challenge.

In this regard it is important to note that Inspector van der Kamp found in his report 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

Furthermore it is also important to note that the Minister and Department were also in possession of the RPS modelling on wind farm planning and yet decided to push through with a direction which failed to protect the Freshwater Pearl Mussel and blocked safe setbacks from homes.

This seemingly irrational behaviour of supporting wind farm development despite the evidence base to the contrary was also mirrored by Mr. Seamus Neely, Donegal County Manager who shocked observers with his submission on the van der Kamp report (see: Neely to DHPLG – S.31 Draft Direction – 1 Sept 2016).  In contacts with us, many have questioned his judgement and future credibility when it comes to wind farm planning, in particular as Donegal County Council is grant aided under the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme to protect the Freshwater Pearl Mussel and have prepared draft guidance on the interaction with wind farm as far back as 2014 (see: fwpm draft windfarm guidance 2014).  Ignoring such strong evidence based guidance to promote the wind industry raises many, many questions.  These are issues we will return to in further blog posts.

For now, congratulations to Councillor Campbell and the many who assisted in the background and foreground, in particular the Glenties Wind Farm Information Group (GWIG) and Mr. Peter Crossan, who together with Councillor Campbell have delivered both evidence based zoning and safe setbacks for the people of Donegal.

For those interested the high court references for the two cases are:

  • Campbell -v- Minister for Housing Planning Community and Local Gov 2016/976 JR; and
  • Campbell -v- Minister for Environment, Community & Local Gov 2014/712 JR.

Donegal windfarm planning rules closer to realisation

FWPM and Wind Farm Zones Dongeal 2013

It appears that Variation no.2 to the Donegal County Development Plan 2012-18 (as varied),  which sets zoning and setback rules for windfarms in the county has taken a significant step closer to realisation, following release of an Inspector’s report into the process.  We have blogged extensively on the variation process (see previous blog posts; here, here & here) and the subsequent high court challenge taken by Cllr John Campbell which vindicated the decision of the councils elected members to vary the wind energy elements of the Development Plan.

The Inspector (and author of the report) Mr. van der Kamp was appointed by Minister Coveney on 27 July 2016 after the Irish high court upheld an appeal by Cllr John Campbell, against a decision by the former minister, Alan Kelly, to overrule restrictions placed on windfarm developments by Donegal County Council.  In the high court case the Department had admitted that the section 31 direction issued by Minister Alan Kelly on 3 October 2014 did not set out an adequate statement of reasons, and that the references by the Minister to section 12 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) were in error.

As part of the settlement reached in the case, and as ordered by the high court, the current Minister, Simon Coveney, agreed to appoint an inspector to review the process.   The Inspector was tasked, among other things, to write a report reviewing the process, in particular the reasons underlying the issuing of the section 31 direction issued by Minister Alan Kelly  which purported to overturn the decision by Donegal County Council elected members to introduce wind farm planning rules.  In his report the Inspector confirms, despite Minister Kelly’s claims to the contrary, 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;
  • Variation no. 2 did not make the County Development Plan inconsistent with national and regional policies or targets; and
  • With respect to the six freshwater pearl mussel catchments – Minister Kelly’s claim that Variation no.2 does not provide proper planning and sustainable development is not capable of objective verification.

The only issue raised by the Inspector in support of Minister Kelly was a Planning Circular PL 20-13, issued in 2013, which advised local authorities not to amend their wind energy policies pending completion of the targeted review of the wind energy guidelines and the renewable energy export policy and development framework.

However, as is well known Planning Circulars, such as PL 20-13, are merely advisory and in this instance the targeted review of the wind energy guidelines, which began in January 2013 remains outstanding and has been stalled by successive Ministers.  Indeed the whole revision process has become something of a running joke with almost 100 answers to Parliamentary Questions (from 2013 to date) stating that publication of the Revised Wind Energy Guidelines is imminent.

Furthermore the renewable energy export policy and development framework was killed off following the collapsed in 2014 of talks with the UK (see RTE and Irish Times), and the development of the export framework was quietly parked.  We are unlikely to see it restarted, any time soon, as even the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources confirmed earlier this year that “any potential delivery of renewable energy export is realistically a post-2020 proposition.

What to do if you were invited to make a submission on the Inspectors Report

If you have received a copy of the Inspectors report from the Department you should immediately confirm receipt – including the date you received it – to the e-mail provided.  This is important as you will have to respond no later than 10 days from receipt of the report.  In general terms you may comment on any aspect of the report but the key points to highlight are as follow:

  1. Welcome the Inspectors report, in particular his findings 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;
    • Variation no. 2 did not make the County Development Plan inconsistent with national and regional policies or targets; and
    • With respect to the six freshwater pearl mussel catchments – Minister Kelly’s claim that Variation no.2 does not provide proper planning and sustainable development is not capable of objective verification.
  2. Highlight that planning circulars, in particular PL 20-13, are advisory and this circular was taken into consideration by the elected members in taking their decision to vary the development plan (confirmed by the Inspector as PL 20-13 was referenced in the Ministers May 2014 submission).  You may also wish to raise the points in relation to the stalled guidelines and that the export framework is no longer being developed.
  3.  It is important to highlight the significant evidence base in terms of protecting the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel (FWPM).  The six sub basin district’s referred to in variation No.2, were established under the The European Communities Environmental Objectives (Freshwater pearl mussel) Regulations 2009 (in response to a decision of the European Court of Justice against Ireland (Case C-282/02)) with the specific objective of supporting the achievement of favourable conservation status for the habit of the Fresh Water Pearl Mussels.  Ireland is estimated to hold 46% of the remaining Fresh Water Pearl Mussels population in the European union.  The population’s in the six sub basin district’s of Donegal are important not just from a regional and National level, but a European one.  Siltation and sediments entering these habitats related to windfarm development has been identified as pressure sources in the Donegal context (see for example Straboy wind farm appeal which highlighted the issue and the EPA STRIVE Report Management Strategies for the Protection of High Status Water Bodies (2007-2013) highlights the impact of wind farm development on the FWPM on the Oily river.)
  4. It should also be noted, in any response, that neither Minister Coveney (nor his predecessor Alan Kelly) have carried out an SEA or AA for any proposed direction, and to amend a Development Plan without carrying out such assessments would be otherwise than in accordance with Irish and EU law.

Next steps

Minister Coveney, under the terms of the settlement with Cllr Campbell,  has until 27 September 2016 to issue his conclusion on the process.  However given the direct and strong position taken by Mr. van der Kamp in his report it is highly unlikely that the Minister will attempt to again overturn variation no.2 and issue a fresh section 31 direction.


Section 28: Specific Planning Policy Requirements

FWPM and Wind Farm Zones Dongeal 2013

As described by A&L Goodbody: “Specific Planning Policy Requirements are sections of guidelines labelled as such and they are grafted into the Minster’s guideline-making power. Compared to ordinary guidelines, however, their effect is significantly different:

  • They constrain planning authorities’ normal discretion; they must be applied by a planning authority in deciding whether to grant planning permission;
  • Where Specific Planning Policy Requirements conflict with any provision of a development plan, they apply instead of the conflicting development plan provisions; and
  • Where planning permission for an apartment block (of a kind governed by the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011) was granted before the introduction of applicable Specific Planning Policy Requirements, any application for an amending permission will be subject to a fast track procedure that can be appealed to the Board only in limited circumstances.”

Our plan for this blog post is to test the claim by A&L Goodbody (and others) that these new requirements “must be applied”.  In other words are they such a clear attack on local democratic decision making and county development plans.

This new species of planning guideline – Specific Planning Policy Requirements – was introduced by the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2015 (PDF) which was passed in a few short weeks before Christmas 2015.  The Bill was introduced by Waterford based Fine Gael Senator Maurice Cummins on behalf of Minister for Environment Community and Local Government (Alan Kelly), on 26 November 2015.  It was then very quickly ushered through the legislative process by Fine Gael Junior Minister Paudie Coffey concluding in the Oireachtas on 17 December 2015.  It was signed by the President on 29 December 2015.  The full legislative history is available here.

More recently the legislation has come in for some criticism in the main stream media: see Irish Independent, 20 February 2016, New planning rules a ‘sleight of hand’, says expert; and RTE News, 22 February 2016, Councillors criticise new planning powers for minister.  Both these pieces followed the informative blog post by Neil van Dokkum, 18 February 2016, The amendment of Section 28 of the PDA 2000 and a follow up on 21 February 2016, More on that Sect 28 Amendment.

Sadly only one of our legislators Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell seemed to understand the impact of the amendment and made the following insightful, but ignored, contribution in the Seanad on 17 December 2016:

Development plans are obliged to be drawn up with due regard to legislation, national policy, national planning advice and so forth.  A development plan is a complex document drawn up by those who have unparalleled knowledge of their county and their aims for it.  It is contributed to by the public through an extensive round of consultation.  It is a collaborative, informed, visionary document for the local area by local people. For the development plan to be subjugated to the whim of a Minister is totally unacceptable.  …, for the guidelines of a Minister to carry supremacy over local statements of intent regarding a development plan is an undermining of democracy of the worst kind.  I would be interested in the Minister of State’s comments in this regard.

The Minister (Paudie Coffey) failed to address this point in his response and the Bill was duly passed.

What is clear however is that the Act as passed, while introduced to provide legislative underpinning to certain measures of the recently approved Government housing package entitled “Stabilising Rents, Increasing Supply”, namely the new Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments – Guidelines for Planning Authorities, which set minimum apartment sizes, has the effect of creating a new and significant power for an Environment Minister which could be used to undermine the County Development Plan process.  The Act further weakens the powers of local authorities and their elected members in directing planning policy for their areas.

The introduction of the Apartment Size Guidelines provides a few pointers as to the application of the Act.  The information note issued with the revised Apartment Size Guidelines state that they are “the first set of Ministerial Guidelines issued under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 as amended by the 2015 Act above which enables the Minister to set out specific planning policy requirements.”  This seems to confirm our initial thoughts that the legislation cannot be retrospectively applied to older guidelines, such as the Wind Energy Guidelines 2006.

From reading the revised Apartment Size Guidelines it seems that the Department of the Environment approach is that each specific planning policy requirement, contained in a Section 28 guideline must be clearly identified as such.  However as noted by others it seems that the Environment Minister’s in their rush to issue the new guidelines before Christmas published them on 21 December 2015, before the President signed the new legislation into law 29 December 2015, thus risking their so called mandatory status on a simple timing technicality.

As to the specifics on the legislaiton Neil van Dokkum’s blog deals with the insertion of sub-section 1C into section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended).  Changes were also made to other sections.  We have set out below the revised section 34(2) [new provisions in red] which deals with matters that are to be considered when making a decision on a planning application:

(a) When making its decision in relation to an application under this section, the planning authority shall be restricted to considering the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, regard being had to—

(i) the provisions of the development plan,

(ia) any guidelines issued by the Minister under section 28 

(ii) the provisions of any special amenity area order relating to the area,

(iii) any European site or other area prescribed for the purposes of section 10(2)(c),

(iv) where relevant, the policy of the Government, the Minister or any other Minister of the Government,

(v) the matters referred to in subsection (4), and

(vi) any other relevant provision or requirement of this Act, and any regulations
made thereunder.

(aa) When making its decision in relation to an application under this section, the planning authority shall apply, where relevant, specific planning policy requirements of guidelines issued by the Minister under section 28.

(b) In considering its decision in accordance with paragraph (a), a planning authority shall consult with any other planning authority where it considers that a particular decision by it may have a significant effect on the area of that authority, and the authority shall have regard to the views of that other authority and, without prejudice to the foregoing, it shall have regard to the effect a particular decision by it may have on any area outside its area (including areas outside the State).

(ba) Where specific planning policy requirements of guidelines referred to in  subsection (2)(aa) differ from the provisions of the development plan of a planning authority, then those requirements shall, to the extent that they so differ, apply instead of the provisions of the development plan.

(c) and section 54 (as amended by section 257 of this Act) of the Waste Management Act, 1996, where an application under this section relates to development which comprises or is for the purposes of an activity for which an integrated pollution control licence or a waste licence is required, a planning authority shall take into consideration that the control of emissions arising from the activity is a function of the Environmental Protection Agency.

(d) In this subsection ‘specific planning policy requirements’ means such policy requirements identified in guidelines issued by the Minister to support the consistent application of Government or national policy and principles by planning authorities, including the Board, in securing overall proper planning and sustainable development.

The clear question is what does all this mean?  As we had written as a comment on a Neil van Dokkum’s blog: The old requirement was that planning authorities must merely ‘have regard to’ the section 28 guidelines generally, as they are primarily advisory in nature.  Following these changes when considering a planning application, planning authorities must now apply the ‘specific planning policy requirements’ of ministerial guidelines.  Thus there is now a distinction between matters in ministerial guidelines that are advisory in nature and that planning authorities shall ‘have regard to’ and matters which appear mandatory in nature.

The important point to note is that the amendment Act also defines: ‘specific planning policy requirements’ to mean such policy requirements identified in guidelines issued by the Minister to support the consistent application of Government or national policy and principles by planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, in securing overall proper planning and sustainable development.

What is clear from this definition is that it is not merely enough to identify a matter as a specific planning policy requirement, it must also be issued to support consistent application of policy in securing overall proper planning and sustainable development.  Who can decide whether a specific planning policy requirement actually secures overall proper planning and sustainable development?  Shall this be left to the planning authority or ultimately the courts, or some other body?  The Act is silent.

This new standard of overall proper planning and sustainable development is also problematic when making a planning decision.  It immediately creates a conflict between the legislative requirement for a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála to restrict themselves to considering to proper planning and sustainable development of the area; as opposed to the newer overall proper planning and sustainable development, which specific planning policy requirements seek to secure.  The significance of this conflict between what is overall proper planning and sustainable development or that for the area becomes problematic where environmental impacts fall to be considered.

Take for example in Donegal where elected members sought to protect the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel SACs and sub-basin districts by identifying them as areas not favourable for wind energy development (see map above).  This would fall to be seen as a reasonable planning matter which the Donegal councillors would justify as a strategy to promote proper planning and sustainable development of the area.  If, for example, a Minister in future was then to use section 28 guidelines and a specific planning policy requirement to open these Fresh Water Pearl Mussel SACs and sub-basin districts up to wind farm development, would Donegal Council or An Bord Pleanála be required to follow the Ministers mandatory guidelines even if it would lead to significant negative impacts on the Fresh Water Pearl Mussel SACs and sub-basin districts?

Obviously the other requirements of the Act namely 34(2)(a)(vi) any other relevant provision or requirement of this Act, and any regulations made thereunder, must also be had regard to when making a planning decision.  Therefore issues arising as part of an EIA must also be taken into consideration; the seemingly mandatory nature of these specific planning policy requirements could be tempered somewhat.  It seems clear to us that despite the terminology implying that the specific planning policy requirements are mandatory and they shall apply, they cannot trump environmental considerations in relation to proper planning and sustainable development of the area and the need for screening and environmental impact assessments, when necessary, under EU and Irish law.

Nevertheless this legislative change is an attack on local democracy and could damage local authorities in protecting receiving environments from inappropriate development, if used inappropriately by An Bord Pleanála.  In the amendment to section 34 it clearly sets out that where specific planning policy requirements of guidelines differ from the provisions of the development plan of a planning authority, then those requirements shall, to the extent that they so differ, apply instead of the provisions of the county development plan.  What remains unclear however is whether in determining appeals where Section 28 guidelines containing specific planning policy requirements that differ materially from a County Development Plan: whether An Bord Pleanála would be required under section 37(2)(c) to indicate in its decision the main reasons and considerations for applying the specific planning policy requirement(s) when contravening materially the development plan.  Without such reasoning it is difficult to challenge in court any such decisions.

The reason we are unsure, in relation to reasons for decisions, is that a County Council may find itself in a position where despite a development materially contravening its Development Plan it doesn’t refuse permission as it as it can rely on a specific planning policy requirement to grant permission (section 34(2)(a)-(aa)), and therefore the section 37(2)(c) requirement on An Bord Pleanála to indicate the main reasons and considerations for contravening materially the development plan would not apply.  The further we have developed scenarios in relation to applying specific planning policy requirement(s) the more problematic they appear.

Our main point however is that while described by many as mandatory, specific planning policy requirements have limits:

  • They must be issued to support consistent application of policy in securing overall proper planning and sustainable development; and it must be noted that overall proper planning and sustainable development is a novel term in Irish planning which to date appears not to have a legal definition.
  • They are just one of many matters which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála must have regard to and apply, where relevant when making its decision in relation to an application.
  • The planning authority and An Bord Pleanála still appear to retain wide discretion when weighing up the constituent elements which regard is being had to or which the apply, where relevant, as set out in the planning and development legislation when arriving at their decision under section 34.

In concluding therefore it is the broad discretion which local authorities and An Bord Pleanála retain, in making its decisions that leaves the new ministerial specific planning policy requirement(s) and their application as a dangerous weapon, which could be used to undermine the local democratically taken decisions to ensure proper planning and sustainable development of the area.


Minister Kelly, section 31 and wind farm planning in Donegal

It has been another interesting year in relation to wind farm planning in Donegal.  Just before Christmas the Chairman of Donegal County Council, Cllr. John Campbell , was granted leave by the high court to challenge the section 31 Direction issued by the Minister for the Environment, Labour’s Alan Kelly.  This case is just one of 17 wind farm related actions in the high court in 2014.  As regular readers of this blog will know the Ministerial Direction sought to reverse variation no.2 of the Donegal County Development Plan which set a ten times maximum tip height setback from wind turbines to homes and zoned 6 Freshwater Pearl Mussel catchment sub-basins as not favoured for wind energy development.  See previous posts in relation to the variation and the proposed Ministerial intervention.

Unclear if Direction has “immediate effect” or requires Council approval

The Minister eventually issued the Direction to Donegal County Council on 3 October 2014 <PDF copy here> but this was under subsection 31(11)(a)(ii) of the Act and was done without the appointment of an Inspector as provided for under subsection 31(11)(b).  This is significant, if the Minister had appointed an Inspector any subsequent direction issued would have been made under subsection 31(16) of the Act and would have had “immediate effect and its terms are considered incorporated into the [development] plan” (subsection 31(17)).  The failure to appoint an Inspector leaves uncertainty as to when, if at all, the County Development Plan has been amended as per the Ministerial Direction.  Furthermore, the Direction issued by the Minister failed to set an effective date or a deadline, nor is an effective date or deadline provided for in the Act, within which elected members must comply with such a Direction under subsection 31(11)(a)(ii).

From media reports (as no minutes are yet available) the issue of the Ministerial Direction was not raised at any of the subsequent Donegal County Council meetings before Christmas and no motion was ever put to the elected representatives to adopt the Direction and amend the development plan accordingly.  It is important to note that the making and amending of a development plan is a reserved function of the elected representatives.  While the elected members may have little choice but to accept such a motion to change the plan, as Directed by the Minister, nevertheless changes to a development must be adopted by resolution of the elected members before taking effect.  Any effort by the Council Executive to amend the plan without a resolution of the elected members would appear to be unlawful.  Therefore, despite the Direction being issued on 3 October 2014 the variation as passed on 30 June 2014 remains in force.

Judicial Review

It is likely that these issues will be brought to the surface as part of Cllr. Campbell’s judicial review of the Ministerial Direction.  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.   However, Cronan Scanlon in his Donegal News report highlights that “a separate application to have a stay put on the implementation of Minister Kelly’s direction will be heard in the High Court on January 12.” (I presume this should read 13 January 2015 as the case – Campbell -v- Minister for Enviroment, Community & Local Gov 2014/712 JR -is listed for return to the court on that date by courts.ie.)  It is likely that the “stay” will crystallise the issue and ensure that the variation, including the setbacks and zoning, as passed on 30 June 2014 remains in force, at least until the substantive issues are decided by the court.

Can the Council grant planning permission in contravention of variation no. 2?

This is more than just an interesting question as at least two applications for permission await a decision before Cllr. Campbell’s “stay” hearing.  Given that the Ministerial Direction hasn’t been given effect, through a resolution of the elected members, it seems that should the Council planners be minded to grant permission, without seeking further information, for wind farm applications such as Corvin (DCC: 14/51295) or Clogheravaddy (DCC: 14/51305) that a vote on a material contravention under section 34(6) of the Planning and Development Act would be required.  Alternatively an emergency meeting of the Council could be convened to give effect to the Ministerial Direction, albeit for a brief period before Cllr. Campbell’s “stay” is put in place.  It seems wind farm planning in Donegal for 2015 will continue to intrigue.


Consultation on Draft Ministerial Direction

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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:

  1. by email to donegalcdp@donegalcoco.ie; or
  2. 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.


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