Kilkenny councillors are standing firmly behind the wind energy strategy they submitted to the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) as part of the new County Development Plan.
The plan submitted by councillors rejected the recommendation that Templeorum/Mullenbeg and Castlebanny be classified as ‘acceptable in principle’ to wind farm development.
The OPR, upon receiving the plan, cited concern over this issue and raised it with Minister of State for Local Government and Planning Peter Burke.
Minister Burke has since given Kilkenny County Council a direction to reinstate areas of Kilkenny including Templeorum/Mullenbeg and Castlebanny to ‘acceptable in principle’ status.
This forced a new process of consultation on the matter at a local level, and a special council meeting was held on the matter earlier this week.
All local councillors made it clear that they are not against wind energy at the meeting, but raised serious concerns over the handling of the matter by the OPR.
Cllr Patrick O’Neill, the first of 18 councillors to speak on the matter, stated that ‘nobody wanted to get to this point’ and that the plan submitted by members was ‘sensible and achievable within the national framework’.
Cllr Maria Dollard stated that the handling of the wind energy strategy has ‘created fear and anger that is turning people completely against wind energy’.
Cllr Eugene McGuinness stated that ‘a poisoned chalice’ had been handed to Kilkenny County Council and criticised the ‘silence’ of local Oireachtas members on the matter.
Another major topic of discussion was the lack of policy and regulations around the implementation of renewable energy infrastructure at present.
“You can’t drive a car without an extensive phase of training and testing now and yet we’re here being asked to allow these giant turbines to be built in some of our county’s most sensitive heritage areas with no policy or guidelines in place,” Cllr Pat Fitzpatrick said.
Cllr Tomás Breathnach raised the issue that local democracy is at risk of being stepped on and cited weariness about the precedent that direct orders such as these might set in the future.
“We spent the best part of three years getting the County Development Plan to the stage we got it to with intense public consultation on the ground with the people we are elected to represent,” he said.
“To have had the plan pushed back to us almost immediately with a Ministerial direction to alter it is an outcome that disappointed a lot of people engaged with the democratic process.”
Kilkenny County Council Chief Executive Collette Byrne will compile all of the councillors’ statements in a report that will be submitted to the OPR this week.
The statements will be accompanied by 723 individual public submissions.
Once the report is submitted, the OPR will then consider it and report back to the Minister for a final decision to be made.
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