Tag Archives: John Campbell

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.

Coveney issues Draft s31 Windfarm Direction to Wicklow Council

wicklow-cdp-2016-22-draft-direction

Another County Council, and it’s elected Councillors, has fallen victim of the Minister for windfarms.  This time it is Wicklow who have received a draft direction from Minister Coveney, who is proposing to overturn the elected members decision to insert a setback requirement from windfarms.  The setback from windfarms to residential properties was inserted into the Wicklow County Development Plan 2016-2022 in order to protect constituents from the encroaching threat of inappropriately sited wind turbines. The specific proposal had provided that:

Wind farms shall be at least 1,000m or 10 times the tip height of the proposed turbines from any residential properties or other centres of human habitation with special consideration given to the proximity of such developments to educational establishments.

In the text of the draft direction Minister Coveney, relies heavily on the discredited Wind Energy Guidelines 2006, he states:

The Wicklow County Development Plan 2016 – 2022 is not consistent with relevant guidelines to planning authorities issued by me under Section 28 of the Planning & Development Act, 2000, specifically the Wind Energy Guidelines (2006) … and insufficient grounds have been stated for such departures as required under Section 28(1B)(b) of the Planning & Development Act 2000, as amended.  The plan is therefore in breach of Section 31(1)(c) of the Planning & Development Acts 2000 as amended.

Guidance on wind energy development is provided in the ‘Wind Energy Development Guidelines’ (2006) issued by the DECLG under s.28 of the Planning & Development Act, 2000.  These Guidelines emphasise the need to fulfil Ireland’s national and international commitments to renewable energy and the importance of developing wind energy infrastructure in Ireland in this regard.  Importantly, the guidelines detail (in section 3.4) the strategic aims and objectives that the development plan should include in relation to wind energy development.

These include … objectives to secure the maximum potential from the wind energy resources of the planning authority’s area commensurate with supporting development that is consistent with proper planning and sustainable development … .

The Minister further claims that the Development Plan:

… specifically stipulates a minimum set-back for wind energy development from residential properties, the effect of which would seriously restrict the potential for wind energy development within County Wicklow and is therefore in conflict with other text within the same objective and with national and regional objectives in relation to the development of wind energy infrastructure.

As with all directions that overturn setback distances no evidence is provided by the Minister to support his claims.  As we have previously seen in Donegal when tested by an independent expert (see blog on Hendrik van der Kamp report) such claims of conflict and inconsistency with other national or regional objectives and guidelines are indefensible.

Those of you who wish to support the people of Wicklow should note that, written submissions or observations in respect of the draft direction must be made before 5pm on Thursday 5 January 2017 and shall be taken into consideration by the Minister before he directs the Planning Authority.  Submissions may be made in one of the following ways:-

  1. By post to: Administrative Officer, Planning Section, Wicklow County Council, Station Road, Wicklow Town; or
  2. Email to: planreview@wicklowcoco.ie

There is another option for people in Wicklow; the draft direction could be challenged through the courts.  As readers of this blog will be aware Cllr. John Campbell (Donegal County Council) has already successfully quashed a s31 windfarm direction issued in 2014.  We understand legal options are being considered by individuals and groups in the Wicklow area.

This issue is set to run-and-run in Wicklow, as it will in other counties who seek to protect people from the risks of having a windfarm foisted upon them.  We shall end this blog with words from local Cllr Shay Cullen, speaking to the Bray People, where he urged as many people as possible to make submissions, this (interfering with Local Authority affairs on windfarm planning) is a crucial issue for rural communities in particular.  He went on to state:

Wind turbines are a major issue which could affect an awful lot of people in Wicklow.  A distance was set which was voted for by councillors on two occasions.  I don’t think the Minister should be interfering.  You have noise issues and the shadow flicker effect, while wind turbines also diminish land and houses prices.  There are real concerns over the impact wind turbines have on people’s homes.

 


Cllr Campbell sends Minister’s s31 windfarm direction back to court

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.


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.


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.


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