Saturday 28 June 2008

Proposal could give planning exemption for energy plants

HOUSING estate residents may wake up one morning to discover a biomass energy development -- the same size as their estate -- built next door if new proposals go ahead.

And the developments will be governed by the same planning regulations that cover kitchen extensions, conservatories and porches.

Under new proposals by Environment Minister John Gormley, biomass, heat recovery and composting developments of some 1,000 square metres -- the size of a small housing estate -- will be entirely exempt from planning regulations.

Exemptions will be provided in the case of wind turbines of 8m in width and 20m in height. They will cover combined heat and power systems, 300sq m in size and 8m in height, and with flues of 20m in height as well as significant extensions to schools.

Labour Party deputy leader Joan Burton last night said the proposal would have serious implications for local residents.

"Wind energy and biomass developments half of the size or even the same size as an adjacent housing estate will be totally exempt from the planning process and there will be no requirement to provide an environmental impact statement," she told the Dail.

"This is not the way to provide transparency in planning matters, which I understood was a hallmark of the Green Party.

"We are opposed to this provision."

Anyone could wake up in the morning to discover a biomass development the same size as their housing estate right alongside it, she said.

"Will the Tanaiste ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on provisions that will affect the residents of every housing estate in the State?" she asked Tanaiste Mary Coughlan.

"We all welcome the exemptions that exist in those cases but we do not welcome this proposal.

"Nor will the constituents of Members on the Government benches when they find such developments taking place beside their own housing estates," she insisted.

Ms Burton said Labour Party spokesman on the environment, Ciaran Lynch, had spent the past several days trying to find out what is encompassed in these additional exemptions, but nobody could tell him.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan said the issue would be discussed at committee, and followed up by committee if needed.


"I wish to be helpful. I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or somebody in his Department to brief the Deputy on this prior to the committee meeting, which I assume will be next week," she said.

"If Members are not satisfied with the outcome of the discussions in committee, this can be brought to the Whips' attention and we can deal with it in the full forum of this Chamber."

Patricia McDonagh
Irish Independent

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