Monday 17 March 2008

Judge criticises wind farm project

A DEVELOPMENT society in Derrybrien, Co Galway, scene of a massive bogslide in 2003, has won its High Court challenge to the manner in which Galway County Council extended planning permissions for the erection of a wind farm on a mountain in the area.

In a judgment strongly critical of the council's "plethora of mistakes" in handling the planning issues, Mr Justice Declan Budd found the council breached the planning acts and applied the wrong criteria when assessing applications by Gort Windfarms Ltd (GWL) for extensions of the duration of planning permissions.

Consequently, it had acted outside its powers in granting the extensions.

He said the council had failed to apply the crucial test - whether the development had not been completed within the terms of existing permissions due to circumstances - the bogslide of October 28th, 2003 - outside the control of GWL.

GWL had failed to provide the necessary information on this issue to the council and, had it done so, the council's decision was likely to have been very different, he said. This was because there was "a substantial body of evidence" which "overwhelmingly suggested" that the peat slip and bog slide was caused by the actions and omissions of GWL, its servants or agents for whom it was responsible under the planning code, he said.

There was a strong consensus in expert reports that the operations of GWL disrupted the stability of the blanket bog on the top and side of Mount Cashlaundrumlahan in the Slieve Aughty mountains near Derrybrien, he noted.

The reports also found GWL had ignored the "eminently foreseeable" risk of destabilisation and bog slide and ensuing delay in completing the wind farm development. Galway County Council had acted on the wrong criteria and irrationally in extending the permissions for the development, he ruled.

A "plethora of mistakes" seemed to have occurred "to the point of embarrassment" in this case, including there being no managerial decisions as required by statute and no record of relevant entries in the planning register.

He added that it was "hard to credit" claims by GWL that it could not have anticipated the 2003 bogslide. This claim was contrary to a consensus in expert reports about effects of the deposit of 400 tonnes of material excavated from the wind turbines "on jelly-like blanket bog".

The leaving of material on unstable blanket bog was a "recipe for disaster" as it was a trigger for a bog flow down the mountain, through the fields and into rivers, with ensuing environmental damage.

One "could only wonder" why appropriate technical expertise was not obtained at an earlier stage by the developer and obvious safety measures and proper construction methods instituted.

The judge was giving his reserved judgment on proceedings brought last July by Derrybrien Development Society challenging the manner in which planning extensions were granted by the council in March 2005 relating to two wind farms of 23 wind turbines being developed by GWL.

The construction of the wind farm is complete and the judge yesterday adjourned the making of final orders in the case until next month, to allow the sides to consider his findings.

If he overturns the permissions, or makes declarations in accordance with his findings that the extensions of the permissions were not in accordance with the terms of the planning acts, retention permission may have to be sought.

Mary Carolan
The Irish Times

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