THERE was a collective sigh of relief in south Carlow as Coillte’s plans for a wind turbine farm on the side of Mt Leinster were rejected by local planners last week. However, many see the decision as ‘Round 1’, with Coillte expected to appeal the decision to An Bord Pleanála in the coming weeks.
The wind farm was to consist of seven turbines with a maximum blade tip height of 178m in the townlands of Rossacura, Cranemore, Kilbranish North, Bealalaw, Raheenleigh and Aclare, but it was refused planning permission by Carlow County Council. Local planners made the decision because of the project’s negative impact on the landscape, views and routes in the area, which contravened the county development plan. The development was also refused on the basis that protected habitats may be lost, with Coillte not adequately demonstrating that its plans would lead to ecological and biodiversity impacts on flora and fauna, referring specifically to the bat population and the Merlin bird species.
Finally, Coillte did not satisfactorily show that the local road network could handle the volume of heavy-goods traffic expected during construction.
There had been widespread opposition in south Carlow, north Wexford and beyond, with almost 300 submissions on the project.
“A lot of people felt that the visual impact and impact on a special area of conservation in Co Carlow – the strength of that alone – would make it very difficult for Carlow County Council to say yes,” said Cornelia McCarthy of the Save Mount Leinster (SML) group. “When we heard it was no, there was a huge sigh of relief certainly. Carlow County Council could have gone for further information, but they didn’t. It was a decisive ‘no’.”
A spokesperson for Coillte Renewable Energy, which lodged the application, told The Nationalist that its project team “has commenced its assessment of the reasons provided for the council decision and will look to make a decision on next steps, including appeal options, during the coming weeks”.
Coillte has four weeks from the date of the decision to lodge an appeal.
Ms McCarthy said: “We see it as a Round 1. We do believe Coillte will very likely appeal it and bring it to An Bord Pleanála. If they do appeal it, we believe that they do intend to invest considerably in the area; this turbine development is only the start and they would look to industrialise the Blackstairs Mountains.”
The breadth of opposition to the project was striking, considering the Covid-19 restrictions. The SML group held virtual town hall meetings to focus opposition. A total of 293 submissions were made, including many from people living close to the proposed development, villages and towns as well as local and national organisations, local political representatives and government agencies.
Irish Wildlife Trust, National Parks and Wildlife, Mountaineering Ireland, Irish Hand Gliding and the Paragliding Association were among those that made submission against the proposals. There was also a petition of 3,000 people. It showed the depth of feeling about the Blackstairs, said Ms McCarthy.
“You had literally thousands of voices represented in almost 300 submissions,” she said. “People from Wexford and Carlow are very connected to the Blackstairs. They identify with the area … proud of it. We identify with it the way people in Connemara feel like Connemara people and people in The Burren feel like Burren people. The Blackstairs links us together, even though mountains often separate.”
The SML submission team is now busy working away to challenge the expected Coillte appeal. It will host another virtual town hall meeting in the next few weeks. More information can be found at www.SaveMountLeinster.com.