After several months of controversy and discussion with the Department of the Environment, it appears that a large portion of South Westmeath is to remain free from industrial windfarm development.
Concerned Westmeath residents and local councillors and TDs who had been lobbying the Department received a welcome boost this week with the news that Minister Simon Coveney has agreed to allow Area 7 of the County Development Plan be designated 'low capacity' for windfarm development.
This area is to the east and northeast of Athlone and includes land close to the Hill of Uisneach, as well as Moate, Ballymore, Moyvore, Moyvoughley, Drumraney, Mount Temple, and Fardrum.
Deputy Peter Burke (FG ) confirmed earlier in the week that Minister Coveney had removed the Ministerial Direction which he had previously proposed in relation to Area 7, having taken elected representatives' and the people of Westmeath’s strong feelings into account.
He said he was glad to see that "common sense has prevailed" in relation to the issue.
"I am relieved after much discussion over the last few months the Minister is not opposing the variation inserted by Westmeath County Council in relation to Area 7. Specifically, this section outlines that Area 7 will be an area of low capacity and not suitable for wind development. The area includes large swathes of land and some of Westmeath’s most important and scenic heritage sites such as the Hill of Uisneach.
“I am happy to finally receive clarity that this protection will remain in the Westmeath County Development Plan 2014-2020. Anyone who has visited the Hill of Uisneach and its surrounds cannot but be impressed by its beauty and the construction of windfarms in this area would completely spoil the natural beauty of the site," said Deputy Burke.
Cllr Andrew Duncan (FG ), who originally proposed the variation, said it was "very positive news" for the county.
"It is good news for Uisneach in particular, that this area won't stand out as an area that can be developed for windfarms. It is very positive that the Minister has come out with this. I would have to question what the inspector who came down was thinking," he said.
Cllr Duncan added that a further proposal is likely to be tabled by councillors in the near future regarding setback distances for industrial windfarms.