“Critical Flaws” In Wind Development Planning Noise Predictions

A community group fighting a wind farm application in the West Cork Gaeltacht has pointed to wider implications of ‘critical flaws’ found in a planning application for a wind farm that was granted planning by Cork County Council.The Derragh Wind Farm Group says their experience casts doubt on numerous other similar cases, not simply in Cork but nationwide and points out the potential implications of such ‘poor regulation’ for the Irish taxpayer.

The decision by Cork County Council to grant planning permission on June 18th to Tim Cowhig and Tim Buckley of Framore Ltd for a wind farm consisting of six turbines with a total tip height of 150m and associated development at Derragh, Rathgaskig and Lack Beg near Ballingeary has been appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Tim Cowhig is CEO of Element Power, one of the companies behind a controversial midlands wind energy project.

The Derragh Wind Farm Group, in a statement this week, claimed that ‘there are legal issues so stark in the application, it is difficult to understand how the screening process applied by the Planning Office resulted in a decision to grant permission.’

The group says a review by a noise expert has exposed hugely misleading information in the application’s environmental impact statement – just one of the shortcomings in the EIS for the development that got the go-ahead. The group lists what it regards as clear contraventions of the County Development Plan, legal entitlements of local landowners to the site, potential impacts to human health due to noise or negative effects on domestic water supplies, impacts on species protected under EU law and the negative impact on scenic amenities and cultural heritage which support tourism in the area.

The group secured the services of Acoustic Consultant Mr Dick Bowlder advisor to the British Government on noise standards. Mr Paul Green, group spokesperson, said Mr Bowlder’s review was ‘pretty damning’ in terms of the methods used.

Mr Bowlder examined the EIS and found that ‘background noise measurements are wholly unreliable and real background noise levels are likely to be lower than those shown’; that ‘turbine noise levels appear to have been under-predicted by up to 2dB’; that, by the applicant’s own admission, ‘three properties already fail to meet the DoEHLG guideline limits’ and that, taking into account the previous two points, that failure would now be much greater.

The EIS information is systematically deficient and includes inaccuracies and contradictions, according to the appeal to An Bord Pleanála by Peter Crossan Planning Research Studies and Pól Ó Gríanna on behalf of himself and local residents, which is signed by a further 18 people.

The appeal questions the validity of the application, because Coillte had not provided written consent at the application stage. Also, it states that Mr Kevin Buckley and Mrs Joan Buckley of Dirragh have turbary rights over the entire area and Ms Mary O’Leary also holds entitlement to the same lands.

It further states that Mr and Mrs Buckley have not given any written consent to this development and are party to this appeal and the Buckleys are in dispute with the forest service in relation to constraints on ownership, believing that the Forest Service cannot give approval for afforestation where such rights exist.

The appeal states that the development would conflict with the County Development Plan in that turbines concentrated along a ridgeline would be ‘excessively dominant and visually obtrusive in the landscape and would seriously injure the character of the local landscape and views that are of amenity value’ in an area with high visual amenity, scenic routes and way marked routes for walking and cycling.

The appeal draws attention to the finite resource that is the inter-relationship between landscape, cultural and natural heritage. While the power generated would not make a significant difference nationally the adverse effects locally and regionally would be extremely significant it states.

The decision, Mr Green said, was in direct contrast with previous planning decisions nearby. ‘I found two applications where the refusal was to do with visual amenity and yet, at the same time, 150m structures which industrialise the landscape effectively granted permission on the fact that there are only moderate implications for the visual amenity,’ Mr Green told The Southern Star.

On the environmental side, the appeal claims that approval of Derragh wind farm would result in the direct and permanent loss of the Kerry slug habitat (also including an area of Annex 1 habitat). ‘The approval of Derragh wind farm in the absence of a derogation licence, will contravene European Communities Birds and Natural Habitat Regulations 2011 as the local authority is permitting a development that will have an adverse effect on the conservation status of an Annex 1V species without the appropriate consent of the minister and crucially when alternative locations for turbines exist,’ it states.

The appeal lists as failures of the EIS, inadequate survey work for bats and birds, including protected species.

The appellants draw attention to the fact that the site is outside the preferred location for wind farms in the County Development Plan, 47 submissions were received by the planning authority and the application does not include a connection to the grid, so its impact could not be assessed.

The group states that planners who initially recommended to reject the application on four grounds were over-ruled by a senior executive planner on receipt of further information despite the fact that the further information for example on noise lent no clarity to the original application.

Other issues cited as reasons for rejecting the application in the ‘Planners Primary Report,’ such as sensitive scenic amenity, were not addressed at all in the further information submitted. ‘The question therefore about how the decision could be overturned is extremely unclear,’ the group says.

The group statement says it is difficult to believe that poor regulation which contributed to the economic downturn should continue unchecked and that public money is still being risked irresponsibly.

Referring to the recent recommendation from the European Court of Justice to fine Ireland for non-compliance with EIA standards, Mr Green said decisions taken at local authority level were exposing the state to similar expense. He added that it was remarkable that it was local citizens that end up carrying the financial burden in order to go after the information.

‘These issues are worthy of a wider investigation in Cork County, and indeed the relevant authorities in other counties, as there are surely many, many more applications that have been passed through without sufficient appraisal,’ the group stated.

The application is now with An Bord Pleanála and a decision is due by November 14th. The group says sufficient funds are in place to cover all the necessary legal steps that may be required.

Source:  By Catherine Ketch | The Southern Star | www.southernstar.ie