A variation to the County Development Plan which would place certain limits on windfarm development in Westmeath has been unanimously approved by councillors.
The elected members went against the advice of the council’s chief executive Pat Gallagher, and the Department of the Environment, to approve the variation, which aims to impose a night time noise limit of 30db, define equine facilities as noise-sensitive receptors, and designate Area 7 of the wind development map - an area to the east and northeast of Athlone - as an area of low capacity, in line with the rest of the county.
In a report to councillors at Monday’s meeting of Westmeath County Council, Mr Gallagher summarised the 128 submissions which were received between February 23 and March 23 this year regarding the proposed variation.
Some 119 submissions supported the proposal, five opposed it, and four did not express an opinion on the variation. Among the five objectors were the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Bord na Móna, and representatives of the wind energy industry.
Mr Gallagher said he was obliged to take the views of the Department on board in his recommendation to councillors. The Department’s submission stated that the proposed variation would seriously restrict the potential for wind energy development in the county, and would conflict with Government policy to support the development of wind energy.
He emphasised that wind energy policies in the County Development Plan are intended to support the Government’s objectives in meeting renewable energy targets.
“Whilst noting that the vast majority of submissions are in support of the variation, the submission made by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government must be taken into particular account, in view of the council’s obligation to adhere to national policy and guidelines,” concluded Mr Gallagher.
However the members unanimously agreed to go ahead with the proposed variation.
Cllr Andrew Duncan (FG ), who proposed the variation last year, said he did not accept the Department’s contention that the variation was “premature” and would usurp the finalisation of national wind energy guidelines.
“I have no confidence in that process, and that is the reason this variation was put forward and unanimously approved. It is up to this local authority to protect residences that may be compromised - if there is no issue with noise, fine, but if there is an issue then this will give people some protection,” he said.
He was seconded by Cllr Ken Glynn (FF ), who said that rural communities do not believe a lot of what the Department is saying.
Cllr Sorca Clarke (SF ) added that the Minister “can’t ignore the concerns of the people of Westmeath”.