Court overturns permission for windfarm with joint tallest structures in Ireland

Challenge by environmentalist Peter Sweetman upheld by Mr Justice Richard Humphreys

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys upheld a challenge by environmentalist Peter Sweetman over An Bord Pleanála’s permission granted to Bord na Mona PowerGen Ltd.

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys upheld a challenge by environmentalist Peter Sweetman over An Bord Pleanála’s permission granted to Bord na Mona PowerGen Ltd.

 

The High Court has overturned planning permission granted to a subsidiary of Bord Na Mona for a windfarm development in Co Longford.

The proposed windfarm site is located in bogland known as Mountdillon Peat Production Bog, near Lanesborough.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys upheld a challenge by environmentalist Peter Sweetman over An Bord Pleanála’s permission granted to Bord na Mona PowerGen Ltd.

The judge agreed with Mr Sweetman the planning application did not contain the level of detail required to allow the board grant permission.

If constructed to the maximum dimensions, the height of the proposed windfarm’s 24 turbines would be the joint tallest structures in Ireland, with a tip height of 185 metres, he said.

As the proposed windfarm was deemed to be strategic infrastructure, the developer sought the fast-track permission directly from the board.

Mr Sweetman’s judicial review action was against the board, Ireland and the Attorney General with the developer as a notice party.

Among his arguments, Mr Sweetman claimed the board erred in law in accepting an application without an appropriate level of detail in respect of design contrary to EU law and domestic Planning & Development Regulations 2001.

The plans and particulars lodged by the applicant in respect of the turbines, which are one of if not the largest series of structures ever to be constructed in Ireland, had no detail in terms of their design relative to their particular siting and were completely inadequate, it was argued.

The documents lodged showed virtually no detail and no specific detail and given the scale and extent of the development, and the likely consequences and impacts, it was impossible to formulate any definitive findings in respect of the windfarm’s impact, it was claimed.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Humphreys said Mr Sweetman had complained that core elements of the proposed windfarm’s design had been left to the post-consent stage.

In particular, the judge noted, the proposed turbine’s heights and blade lengths are expressed in the planning application in terms of maxima, not the actual proposed dimensions.

That is equivalent to applying for planning permission for a house on the basis that it could be anything from a one-storey bungalow to a 10-storey mansion, and contending that proper details have been furnished as long as a maximum dimension is provide, the judge said.

The board had accepted that typical details of aspects of the development are given rather than precise details, everything was assessed on a worst-case basis and that this was sufficient, he said.

“Unfortunately, I don’t consider the ‘worst-case scenario’ defence as really being an answer. It amounts to saying that, to take one of the matters at issue, the blades are going to be of some length, totally unspecified apart from a maximum.”

He said that did not amount to providing “plans and particulars” of the development. Specifying particulars of the works for which permission is sought is a statutory obligation, he said.

A party cannot seek permission for a project that is open-ended at one end of the scale and which could be anything up to a maximum specified, he added.

On foot of those findings, the board’s decision should be quashed, he ruled.

He dismissed several other grounds of Mr Sweetman’s challenge, including claims the permission decision was unconstitutional, contrary to common sense and irrelevant considerations were taken into account. Those claims had not been established, he held.