By Cronan Scanlon
THERE was anger and confusion yesterday after it emerged the Minister for Environment may overturn a decision by Donegal County Council to make large tracts of Donegal out-of-bounds for windfarm development.
At the end of last month County Councillors voted to vary the County Development Plan in favour of restricting wind farms, against the advice of planners and the Department of Environment.
They voted by 18-11, with one abstention, to create a set-back distance of ten times the tip height of proposed turbines from residential properties and other population centres.
However the Donegal News has learned that Minister Alan Kelly wrote to the council CEO, Mr Seamus Neely, on Monday.
The minister informed Mr Neely that, in making their decision, the council has “ignored or not taken into account” the advice of his department.
As a result, another public consultation will take place in the county next month before the Minister decides whether or not to formally overturn the council’s decision.
His draft direction, which was attached to the letter to the CEO, also relates to two other variations made by councillors last month.
The council voted 16-13 to accept the inclusion of Fresh Water Pearl Mussel areas as not favoured for wind farm developments.
On the third vote, councillors decided by 21-9 that turbines could only be erected in areas that their ‘Zone of Visual Influence’ did not include Glenveagh National Park.
Speaking to the Donegal News yesterday (Thursday), a spokesman for the Glenties Wind farm Information Group (GWiG) described the minister’s decision to consider overturning the councillor’s variation as “incredible” and without legal basis.
“The draft Ministerial Order against the variation is an incredible decision by the minister. He did not challenge the executive when they made the current Development Plan in 2012 and declared 2,300 townlands were ‘preferable’ for windfarm development,” the spokesman said.
“But now, he is challenging the people of Donegal. In his draft direction to the CEO this week, the minister said that the council did not have due regard to the 2006 Planning Guidelines, even though these guidelines are under review and will not be published by September, as originally planned.”
He also rubbished the minister’s assertion that the variation was “not evidence based” and did not give proper regard to the 2006 guidelines.
“That’s nonsense as this process (on last month’s variation) was going on for over a year and department officials even gave a full day workshop to councillors.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the minister said yesterday he could not elaborate on the draft issued to the council as a statutory process must now begin, which will involve notices being published in local press.
A spokesperson for the council said they are currently examining the minister’s notification.
For full report see today’s print edition of the Donegal News.