THE Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has expressed concerns about key aspects of the draft 2022 to 2028 County Development Plan, which is currently being prepared by Kerry County Council.
While the OPR was supportive of the majority of the draft plan – which it said “generally sets out a well-balanced strategy” for the county – it called for major changes to the proposals to limit windfarm development and provide for the significant growth of a number of Kerry’s smaller towns.
The draft plan proposes to cut the amount of land designated as suitable for wind farms to 90 per cent; prevent wind turbines being erected within a kilometre of a dwelling and to limit the construction of new turbines to sites in a thin sliver of land along the border of north Kerry and west Limerick.
In the current County Development Plan, 546 square kilometres of land – the majority of it in north Kerry – is designated as suitable for wind turbines.
Should the draft plan be approved by councillors, this would be slashed to just 59 square kilometres.
There are currently 362 wind turbines, in 25 wind farms, located in the county – most in north Kerry – with planning applications for a further 38 pending.
Though Kerry only accounts for three per cent of the country’s population, it currently produces 18 per cent of Ireland’s total wind energy.
The proposal to slash the amount of land available for wind turbines and place restrictions on their erection near homes was strongly criticised in the submission on the draft plan, which was sent to the Council by the OPR on February 23.
“The Office is of the view that some aspects of the Wind Zoning Methodology lack a clear policy or evidence basis and have the potential to significantly and unreasonably limit wind-energy development when combined with other environmental and amenity constraints,” said the OPR submission.
The OPR said there was “no sound evidence basis” provided for the application of a one-kilometre setback from settlements, and that this rule was in conflict with Government guidelines on wind-energy development for planning authorities.
Serious concerns were expressed about the proposal to drastically scale back the amount of land zoned for turbines:
“The Draft Plan proposing an area where wind energy development is ‘open for consideration’, that is fragmented and extremely limited in extent, and [contains] no area where such development is ‘permitted in principle’, contrary to the requirements of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines for Planning Authorities.”
As a result, the OPR has called on Kerry County Council to remove the 1km exclusion area rule and to “re-evaluate” the amount and location of lands zoned for wind turbines in order to meet Government guidelines and national wind-energy production targets.
The Council’s proposals on wind farms have met with widespread approval – from north Kerry’s public and Councillors in particular – and the OPR’s intervention is likely to spark concern that this key aspect of the Draft Plan could be overturned at the State’s insistence on following guidelines.
While Kerry’s wind-energy policies were the main bone of contention for the OPR, the agency also voiced strong opposition to Council proposals to greater expand housing in three fast-growing Kerry towns and villages.
The draft development plan contains proposals to significantly increase the amount of available housing – both local authority and privately owned – in Milltown, Fenit and Farranfore.
In the period of the plan, Milltown’s population is expected to surge by 30 per cent, while both Farranfore and Fenit have population-growth projections of just under 23 per cent.
The OPR argues that Council plans to increase housing supply in these areas would be unsustainable and instead calls for the additional housing to be centralised in Tralee and Killarney.
A key part of the agency’s opposition to increased housing in Fenit is the lack of sufficient wastewater infrastructure in the area.
This is despite the fact that, in June 2021, Irish Water confirmed plans to build a new wastewater treatment plant in Fenit by 2024 as part of its “Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme”.
With regards to Milltown, the OPR claimed that rationale for its designation as a ‘Regional Town’ in the draft plan was unclear in terms of its “scale and functionality” given its proximity to Killarney and Tralee.
“There is a real danger that this settlement will grow at a rate that is not supported by physical and social infrastructure, and will result in a highly car-dependant and unsustainable pattern of suburban development,” said the OPR submission.
Milltown is Kerry’s fastest-growing town, with Census figures showing its population more than doubled between 2006 and 2016 (due to the cancellation of the Census during the COVID pandemic, these are the most recent figures available).
Around 400 houses were built there during the Celtic Tiger era, and 200 more are planned under the new County Development Plan.
Despite this, no specific town plan was ever drawn up to accommodate Milltown’s rapidly expanding population, a failure the new county plan will seek to address.