Friday 19 January 2018

Council's solar farm decision overturned by An Bord Pleanala

Esther Hayden

An Bord Pleanala have overturned another solar planning decision made by Wexford County Council, going against the recommendation of its own planning inspector.

Wexford County Council had refused Highfield Energy Services Limited permission for a 12.7 hectare solar farm at Monfin, Enniscorthy last summer saying that the development would be 'contrary to proper and the sustainable development of the area'.

Refusing permission the council said that all developments should be 'appropriate in scale and sited, designed and landscaped having regard to their setting in the landscape so as to ensure that any potential adverse visual impacts are minimised'. However it said that 'the proposed development due to its scale, siting and elevated nature of the site fails to have regard to its setting in the landscape and have an adverse effect on the visual amenity of the area'.

In addition to this the council also said it 'is not satisfied that it has been adequately demonstrated that the dwellings to the west of the site will not be adversely effected by glint from the proposed development.

'Therefore, the proposed development would have a detrimental effect on residential amenity.'

However, Highfield Energy Limited of Dublin appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanala and a decision in its favour was made last week by the Board.

Granting the application with a number of conditions, An Bord Pleanala said 'it is satisfied that the proposed development, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, would not be likely to have significant effects on European Sites in view of their conservation objectives'.

The decision comes just a week after the members of Enniscorthy Municipal District said that An Bord Pleanala seemed to be consistently overturning solar farm planning decisions made by Wexford County Council.

At that meeting council executive Deirdre Kearns said 'a good few (solar farms) have been refused permission by the council but An Bord Pleanala appear to be overturning our decisions.'

Cllr Paddy Kavanagh fumed 'if An Bord Pleanala is overturning us we might as well not be here. They seem to have a different level of adjudication.'

In respect of the solar farm at Monfin An Bord Pleanala went on to say that it is 'satisfied that the proposed development would not be likely to have significant effects on the environment, either by itself or in cumulation with other development in the vicinity, including other permitted solar arrays.

'The proposed development would not seriously injure the residential amenities of property in the vicinity, would not have unacceptable impacts on the visual amenities of the area, would not result in a serious risk of pollution, would be acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience, and would, therefore, be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.'

The Board said that it did not accept the Inspector's recommendation to refuse permission for the application because it 'did not concur that the visual impact of the proposed development would merit a refusal of permission. In particular, the Board did not consider that the site is notably prominent or elevated especially from views in proximity to the site.

The Board also didn't agree that the site is especially open or exposed saying that 'it is well-screened on the whole, being bounded by mature trees and hedgerow on most sides. In respect of those sections of boundaries that are less well screened, it is proposed to manage these hedgerows to a more effective height, and the Board considered it appropriate to supplement this approach with semi- mature planting by means of condition.

'Additional new boundaries are also proposed to the west of the northern plot and to the south of the southern plot. The Board noted the concerns raised that the effectiveness of existing and proposed screening might be compromised by the effect of rising topography, and did not share those concerns in light of the gentle slope involved.

'The Board was satisfied that, following the implementation of the proposed landscaping measures, the visual impact would be acceptable, and that no serious injury would arise in respect of the visual amenities of the area or the residential amenities of property in the vicinity.

'Similarly, the Board did not share the Inspector's concerns in relation to the potential for serious injury to the residential amenity of dwellings from glint or glare. The Board was satisfied that the separation distance provided to houses, the existing level of screening to the houses on their eastern boundaries, and the proposals for new hedgerow boundaries, would mitigate risk of glint and glare to an acceptable degree.

'The Board also noted the Inspector's view in relation to the absence of natural screening to the houses to the west of the site and did not concur on this matter, having regard to the evidence on file. For these reasons, the Board did not share the Inspector's view that permission should be refused for the proposed development.'

Some of the conditions imposed on Highfield Solar relate to the boundaries of the site, the direction of the CCTV cameras and payment of a development contribution.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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