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Wind farm planning process excludes public, claims engineer

High Court hears claim proposed Co Meath farm will impact environment and health

It is alleged An Bord Pleanála decided the proposed development has “strategic infrastructural status” which means a planning application can be made directly to the board with no public involvement in the environmental-impact assessment

An engineer opposed to a proposed wind farm in Co Meath claims the development has a “fundamentally unfair” planning procedure. He said there is no public involvement in the environmental-impact assessment.

John Callaghan fears the development of 46 turbines on land near his home at Kells, Co Meath, will adversely impact on the environment as well as the health and development of his autistic son.

His counsel Michael Cush argued that An Bord Pleanála decided the proposed development has “strategic infrastructural status”. This means a planning application can be made directly to the board with no public involvement in the carrying out of an environmental impact assessment. It is claimed this is inconsistent with EC directives aimed at the public having a say in the vital issue of assessing environmental impact.

One of the “really weird” aspects of Section 37A of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is that it gives “no guidance at all” as to what is considered to be of strategic and economic importance, he said.

Mr Callaghan, who studied renewable energy at postgraduate level, alleges the normal planning process is being “by-passed”. He has “grave concerns” about the impact of the proposed wind farm on his autistic son and family and on the local area, including wildlife, heritage and the cultural landscape, particularly archaeology, he said.

His son (7) with autism is very sensitive to noise and research indicates people with autism are afraid of visual dominance of wind turbines on the skyline, he said.

The proposed €240m Emlagh development is for 46 wind turbines, each up to 169m high with a power output of 2.5 to 3.5MW, on three clusters of land at Farragara, Castletownmoor and Ísealchríocha, near Kells.

The developer claims the wind farm will generate substantial electricity for up to 30 years, create jobs and earn some €3.5 million for local projects over its lifetime.

The board is expected to give a decision soon on the planning application by North Meath Wind Farm Ltd (NMWF), whose majority shareholder is Element Power Ireland Ltd (Epil). Mr Callaghan’s case is against the board while Epil, Element Power Ireland and NMWF are notice parties.

Mr Callaghan claims the alleged by-passing of the normal planning process means the developer has plenty of opportunity to meet any concerns of the board while he, of limited resources, has just one opportunity to deal with matters within a specified time. The entire procedure is “fundamentally unfair” and he is concerned the “appropriate level of detachment” had not been applied by the board.

He claims Epil was formulating the much larger Greenwire Project but, when that could not proceed as intended due to decisions in other EU states, it was decided a “sub-set” proposal of the Greenwire project would be drafted and proceed to by-pass the normal planning process.

In an affidavit, Kevin O’Donovan, director of Epil and NMWF, said his side believed the proceedings were aimed at delaying the planning application for this development which must have permission in place by late 2015 to be completed in time to meet Ireland’s 2020 renewable-energy targets.

Epil wrote to the board last May seeking consultations about the development. There were two “pre-planning consultation meetings” and minutes of those were on the board’s file, he said.

A board inspector later put on file his report recommending the board determine the Emlagh development as a “strategic infrastructure development” and the board did that in September 2014.

Epil has developed some 45MW output of wind farms and hopes to create another 51MW in 2015, he said.

The case continues before Ms Justice Caroline Costello.

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