High Court reporters
Donegal County Council claims unauthorised works have been carried out at the site of a wind farm development where a “significant bog slide” occurred in November 2020.
The contested allegations are contained in High Court proceedings taken by the local authority in seeking orders to restrain Planree Limited and Mid-Cork Electrical Limited from finishing the “largely complete” project at Meenbog, Cashelnavean, Co Donegal.
Senior counsel Esmonde Keane, for the council, told the court on Monday that the developer has engaged in “significant deviations” from what is allowed under planning permission granted by An Bord Pleanála in 2018.
There has been “quite significant” excavations of bog and construction of a two-hectare quarry when one of just 0.2 hectares was permitted, he said.
The project works, which began in late 2019, gave rise to a “significant bog slide” affecting European protected sites, Mr Keane said, The developer stopped the works following the slide, he added.
The proposed 19-turbine development was subject to an environmental impact assessment and another type of environmental screening called an appropriate assessment, he added.
Mr Keane was making submissions in arguing against the developer’s application for the council’s High Court proceedings to be modularised. He said the matters need to be dealt with at a full hearing.
Mr Justice Richard Humphreys ruled on Monday that there is not currently a sufficient basis for departing from the default route of a unitary trial.
Senior counsel for the developer, Oisin Collins, said his client carried out the works in “complete conformity” with the permission granted.
He wanted the court to first consider whether the orders sought by the council were an appropriate use of section 160 of the Planning and Development Act of 2000, which gives the court power to direct cessation of works following the carrying out of unauthorised development.
The orders sought under section 160 would restrain the developer from continuing the development “unless and until such time as […] Planree Limited obtains a grant of substitute consent” for the project.
The court does not have jurisdiction to “simply indefinitely restrain or delay” the development, which is now 95 per cent complete and has received more than €100 million investment, he said.
Mr Collins acknowledged there were some “minor” deviations from the permission that relates to a site of some 600 hectares. These, he said, are “all within the envelope” of the approval.
The peat slide is “regretted”, but it was not caused by any of those deviations, he added. His client wants to finish the job “to the letter” of the permission so the wind farm can begin generating renewable energy, he said.
After directing a unitary hearing, Mr Justice Humphreys adjourned the matter to June 12th. He noted the developer has undertaken not to work further on the site without giving notice.
A&L Goodbody solicitor Alison Fanagan, for the developer, says in an affidavit that works at the site stopped following the peat slide pending the conduct of an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in conjunction with the council and the Loughs Agency.
She claims the EPA and the council confirmed issues identified were satisfactorily addressed by the implementation of a series of environmental remediation plans.
The majority of the wind turbine components are in storage in Killybegs port ready to be erected and commissioned, Ms Fanagan went on. Further delays to the “largely complete” project raise “very significant concerns” as to her clients’ solvency.