Second opinion is sought on restriction zone
The elected members of Wicklow County Council are seeking a second legal opinion over the introduction of a restriction zone preventing the establishment of wind turbines within 1km of residential areas.
Last year, most Councillors voted in favour of an exclusion zone which would restrict wind farms from at least 1,000m, or ten times the tip of the height of the proposed turbines, from any residential properties or other centres of human habitation, as part of the County Development Plan 2016-2022. However, the then Minister for the Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney, issued a draft directive demanding that the restriction be removed from the Development Plan.
The matter was discussed at Monday's monthly meeting of the council, where Cllr Christopher Fox said: 'It's disappointing to read that members can't instigate an amendment. We are no longer in a position to direct a variation to the plan.'
Cllr Joe Behan sought a second legal opinion and voiced his annoyance over what he regards as interference in council matters.
'Here we again. We are being frustrated by Central Government in carrying out our functions as local representatives. We are effectively being told that this is the council's plan, except for the bits I or the Government don't want. It makes a mockery of local representation.'
He added: 'I understand that a public representative in County Donegal went to court on this and won his case. The judge set aside the Minister's direction. I don't think the Minister has clarified the guidelines either.'
Cllr Mary McDonald put forward a Sinn Fein proposal calling for a review of development levies so it isn't any longer sustainable to apply for such developments.
Cllr Shay Cullen, who last year initially proposed the set-back distance, also referenced the Donegal case.
'A Donegal Councillor won a case to have a distance for wind farms set back from houses to protect livelihoods and peoples living conditions. What's the difference between Donegal bringing in a distance and Wicklow bringing in a distance?'
Cllr Sylvester Bourke said: 'We varied it in the past over a wind farm three or four years ago. It's frustrating that our powers have been stymied. Perhaps we could get a working group together to come up with a variation, with the best will of the council executive.'
Cllr Pat Kennedy said: 'We were told that the county development plan was our plan, the plan of the people. Surely to God then we should be able to improve this plan. And it's not just Donegal who have brought in a distance. Other counties are doing it as well. We are trying to put something in that the people want.'
Cllr Steven Matthews said it was his understanding that the Development Plan had to comply with national planning guidelines.
'We have certain energy standards and I was told that we can't have standards that vary from county to county.'
Cllr Vincent Blake sad there was a big difference between some of the smaller wind turbines from years ago compared to the large-scale projects now being sought.
'I live close to what was one of the first wind farms at that point in time. But it was on the landowners own land and was nowhere near the size of nowadays. What we are seeing now is industrialised wind farms with international companies getting involved.'
Acting Council Chief Executive, Des O'Brien, agreed to seek a second legal opinion and would also inquire further about the Donegal case. However, he warned that raising the development levies on wind farms wouldn't be feasible legally.
'Development levies have to be proportional to the size of the development. They may need use of our roads to build the wind farms but after that they don't use much of our services at all.'