Glenties Windfarm Information Group
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Last week the Glenties Wind Farm Information Group welcomed An Bord Pleanala’s decision to refuse permission for a 25 turbine wind farm at Straboy, Glenties, Co. Donegal. The group described the decision as “a victory for common sense, and a vindication of the community’s stand in opposing this application”. The report followed an in-depth scrutiny of the proposed project at a two week oral hearing in the Highlands Hotel, Glenties, in October 2012. The group have spent much of the past week studying the 185 page report of Mr. Kevin Moore, An Bord Pleanala’s Inspector. GWiG note the depth and scope of the Inspector’s analysis, and group Chairman, Mr Ernan O’Donnell says, “By all accounts it has provided a damning assessment of the application, and clearly demonstrates the total unsuitability of the site for a proposal of this nature”

Mr Moore comments on the ecological qualities of the site, and its importance as a link along the chain of designated conservation sites in the area. The hazard risk associated with peat slippage, and the potential for contamination of water quality, and in particular the significant risk posed to the Freshwater Pearl Mussel in the Owenea River, are cited as the main grounds for refusing the application. Mr. Moore concluded that the complexities and extent of innovation involved in the applicant’s proposed mitigation measures to address these concerns, and the interdependence and inter relationship between these, did not give confidence that they were of long term viability. Therefore they could not be relied on. The development as proposed represented a serious and significant risk to local residents through the danger of peat slippage and the proposals for the storage of significant volumes of excavated peat in unsuitable locations. This risk was clearly established in the evidence of Dr. Bragg and Professor Johnston, speaking on behalf of Glenties Windfarm Information Group. He was also critical of the applicant’s failure to provide a base line noise survey before the commencement of the hearing. In his conclusion he stated he was not satisfied with the adequacy of the applicant’s noise assessment which ultimately was going to affect the many households who live in the exceptionally quiet rural hinterland.

The Inspector’s Report is available at the following links

Straboy ABP Inspector's Report .

Inspectors Report

We extrapolate, directly, some of his findings below, under various headings. They provide a fascinating insight into the value the Inspector laid upon our homes, our Donegal landscape, our heritage, our fauna and flora. As such, perhaps the Inspector’s report is an insight into the huge threat faced by Donegal as our planners seem intent on a headlong dash to embrace wind energy, often in hugely inappropriate sites like Straboy. We should indeed take heed.

Property Devaluation (p147)

“It is my submission to the Board that the residents of rural housing in the immediate

vicinity of the proposed wind farm site enjoy a wide range of amenities that evidently

contribute to residential property values in this area. Houses are sited in the vicinity of areas of high natural and scenic value. They enjoy a relatively quiet rural environment and are not exposed to any significant industrial or non-rural activity... It is my opinion that it is reasonable to conclude that the siting of the proposed wind farm, whereby there are large structures and a substantial road network superimposed on an expansive site in this relatively unspoilt rural location...would undermine the value of properties by the nature of the changes to the environment resulting, the proximity to such houses and the high visibility of such structures, and potential nuisance arising, such as noise and shadow flicker. There is the added real concern about the proposed peat repositories which would pose a constant concern for occupiers of dwellings in the vicinity of these two holding areas upslope from houses...”

Tourism (p71+)

" the conclusions on the resulting adverse impact this development would have on the valuable tourism industry in this area derived from the area’s natural amenities should not be underestimated. Tourism is perhaps the area’s most important industry. It has many facets in Glenties but all of it centres on the natural qualities of the landscape and the visual qualities of this natural landscape. Seriously detracting from the landscape and visual qualities of this area results in the tourism product being seriously eroded. This development would have a tangible impact on the area’s tourism product, i.e. its distinguished ridgelines that define the natural setting of the town and the edging of the natural wilderness just beyond this urban centre."

Noise and Health (p157)

"The extent of confusion, lack of clarity, conflict of epidemiological studies, and, most importantly, lack of appropriate guidance on the assessment of public health impact makes the Board’s task of adequately assessing the issue of public health impact improbable. However, it is reasonable to conclude that those particularly sensitive to noise in the quiet rural noise environment of Straboy and its environs would likely experience disturbance by the proposed wind turbines and the response to this disturbance could potentially affect the health of these receptors"

Cultural heritage and language (p141+)

"There can be no doubt that the landscape in this area has influenced the cultural richness of Glenties and its environs, reflected in the many writings, storytelling, traditional music and art deriving from the area. The Irish language is fully immersed in this heritage, an integral part of it, and the cultural expression of this heritage is best reflected through the traditional first language of the area. This link between landscape, art and the language, which produces the richness of this area’s cultural heritage, is often a forgotten or, indeed, misunderstood consideration because its tangibility is hard to define and impact hard to express... More often than not, impact on heritage focuses solely on the physical, namely archaeology and architectural heritage. This, in my opinion, fails to address, in this case, the true reflection of what can be termed impact on ‘cultural heritage’....In the context of the development now before the Board, it is my submission that it is short-sighted to address only those issues in any substantive manner and to avoid addressing impact on what is otherwise termed ‘cultural heritage’, including the Irish language.... Determining that the landscape impacts resulting from the imposition of the proposed turbines on the hills overlooking Glenties have an adverse impact in visual terms, in terms of physical disturbance, and in the reading of the natural landscape, then one can reasonably conclude that it does potentially impact on the cultural heritage of the area as this heritage is steeped in the link between landscape and the area’s expression of cultural heritage. I am satisfied to is adversely affected...The proposed development clearly will not make a positive contribution to the maintenance and sustenance of the rich cultural heritage of the Glenties area.

Ecology, flora & fauna (p95+)

“The appeal site contains substantial habitats of international importance, a wide range of fauna of international importance are resident, and flora and other fauna of international importance are potentially resident on this site. It can, thus, reasonably be determined that the site is of significant conservation value in itself. It is further determined that the appeal site forms an important link in the chain of designated conservation sites in the environs of Glenties and is an important ‘stepping stone’ site for migrant species. It is concluded that the proposed wind farm development poses a significant risk to internationally important habitats and would result in permanent loss, destruction and fragmentation of such habitats....

It is noted that there is a pair of territorial eagles in the area.... I would suggest that the applicant effectively seeks to devalue the site as an important habitat for Golden Eagle and, indeed, to curb the evident importance of the site for Red Grouse and Irish Hare....In addressing concerns relating to this Red listed bird species, I must firstly make the point to the Board that Red Grouse are a common occurrence on the appeal site at Straboy. They have been frequently sighted and flushed. I note again also that there was no proper breeding bird survey done for the site.... the applicant’s intention is overtly to downgrade the habitat status of this site, notably for Red Grouse and potential usage by Golden Eagle....

It is even more extraordinary that there was no assessment of the impact on Cró na mBraonáin (Red Grouse Sanctuary) given its proximity to the appeal site and the significant potential connectivity between the sites. The value of the Cró na mBraonáin sanctuary cannot be understated. I note importantly for the Board that its value is acknowledged in the current Donegal County Development Plan wherein there is a specific policy (NH-P-15) which is to ensure the protection of Cró na mBraonáin habitats and Grouse sanctuary given its high concentration of Red Grouse and its importance to the national Red Grouse population, which is a protected species under the EU Birds Directive.”

Mr O Donnell points out that the above examples illustrate the extensive grounds for refusal that are clearly documented in the Inspector’s report. The Oral Hearing came at a considerable cost to the Glenties community in acquiring the expertise of a range of experts to substantiate their concerns. That followed on from the failure and neglect of Donegal County Council to consider the views expressed by the community on the application when it was first made, and their total failure to adequately assess the application and the risks associated with this development to the local community and environment.

“We hope that in future this degree of neglect will not be repeated, and we are calling now on Donegal Co. Council to de-zone this area as ‘suitable for wind farm development’ ”, said Mr O’Donnell.

GWiG reflects on An Bord Pleanala Report.