Westmeath councillors are to meet next week to finalise yet another submission on the county’s wind energy guidelines, after they rejected a call by Minister Simon Coveney to overturn restrictions they had placed on windfarm development in the county.
There was palpable anger in the council chamber on Monday as councillors reacted strongly to a draft direction from the Minister overruling a variation they had made to the County Development Plan which would place certain limits on windfarm development.
Minister Coveney is directing the council to delete 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.
However councillors are standing firm in their refusal to adhere to the Minster’s direction, which went out for public consultation on Tuesday (May 31 ) and is now open to submissions.
Several members were critical of the two-week window for submissions, arguing that it would not give members of the public enough time to put a submission together.
“It is a ridiculously short period; it is not giving people a chance to have their say,” said Cllr Andrew Duncan (FG ).
There was also anger among councillors that the Minister was attempting to overthrow the powers of local councillors.
“It is yet another slapdown... it is very disingenuous of any government to overrule local democracy. It is not something we pulled out of the air - we made a strong proposal based on what our communities were saying,” said Cllr Ken Glynn (FF ).
Cllr Paul Hogan (SF ) pointed out that the variations proposed by councillors were based on WHO (World Health Organisation ) recommendations, and added that the Government guidelines on windfarms were out of date.
“We are operating in a policy vacuum - the guidelines are out of date and need to be reviewed. Yet our decision as elected members is to be overridden by the Government; we have no power to protect the communities we have been elected to represent. It’s an absolute farce.”
He recommended councillors contact every community group and individual they could to encourage a large number of submissions.
The council’s director of services Barry Kehoe informed the meeting that at this stage the power rests with the Minister, who may decide after the public consultation process to appoint an inspector to investigate further, to direct the council not to make the variation, or to change his position.
A copy of the Draft Ministerial Direction can be inspected at the County Buildings, Mullingar until Tuesday, June 14 or viewed on www.westmeathcoco.ie, along with details of how to make a submission. The closing date for submissions is June 14.