Woman wins wind turbine challenge

A woman has won a High Court order overturning a grant of permission for a development of four wind turbines near her home in Co Clare.

In a ruling strongly critical of the absence of clarity and specificity in An Bord Pleanála’s grant of permission, Mr Justice Max Barrett said decisions of public bodies must be clear enough for people to decide if there is a legal basis to challenge them.

“Proper planning was never intended to be, nor can it be allowed to become, a perk reserved for the few who can afford expert lawyers, with something less than best being the lot of the many who cannot,” he said.

Kathleen Connolly was “rightly insistent” there be full compliance with the law before a wind farm is planted by her homestead, he said. While the board had criticised her case as “opportunistic”, arguing it had “little or nothing to do with a bona fide concern for ecology”, there was “nothing opportunistic” in seeking to have a statutory body comply with legal requirements, he said.

The board is required to comply with the law, it had come to court claiming it had done so but, “unfortunately for it”, it had not, Judge Barrett said.

He ruled Ms Connolly was entitled to an order quashing the board’s 2014 grant of permission for four wind turbines, with hub height of up to 85m and rotor diameter of up to 82m, at Coor West, Shanvogh, Co Clare.

Clare County Council in 2011 refused permission for the original planning application by McMahon Wind Acquisitions Ltd for six turbines on grounds including visual and noise impact, unsuitability to the location with consequent water pollution risks and lack of information about what threat was posed to the hen harrier, bats, and to intended haulage routes.

On appeal, An Bord Pleanála asked the developer for specific information to address the deficiencies identified after which it granted permission in 2014.

Ms Connolly appealed to the High Court on grounds including the board failed to meet requirements of the planning acts in its assessment of, and decision on, the planning application.

The judge said it was not sufficient to say “somewhere in an ocean of documentation is some stream of logic that An Bord Pleanála favours”.

The board must make precise and definitive findings and conclusion of a degree of specificity to enable a person to meaningfully assess the lawfulness of that decision and enable a court to undertake a comprehensive judicial review.

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