Westmeath County Councillors have voted to uphold variations made to the County Development Plan placing limits on windfarm development despite the fact that they have been warned they leave the council open to legal action from developers.
Last year councillors approved a variation to the County Development Plan which aimed 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 response, Minister Coveney used his powers under Section 31 of the Planning and Development Act to direct the council to delete the variations. However, councillors have remained steadfast in their defiance, saying they are acting in the interests of the people of the locality.
At Monday’s meeting of Westmeath County Council, Chief Executive Pat Davitt presented the latest report on the issue to councillors. It contained a submission from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government calling on the council once again to remove the variations.
Among its list of reasons, which include the variation being at odds with the Government’s renewable energy targets, the Department warned councillors that their continued refusal leaves them open to the threat of legal action from developers.
Labour Deputy Willie Penrose said that councillors are not in any way against renewable energy, but that the introduction of windfarms would be “a blight on rural Ireland”. He noted that the council has been waiting almost three years for the guidelines to be reviewed and published, and questioned how councillors can be pressured into a decision when they have not yet been furnished with them.
“I am sticking to my guns and setting this back no matter what the consequences,” he said.
Cllr Andrew Glynn said to receive such a dictat from the Government is “laughable”. He said it is deeply frustrating that councillors are being ignored in their attempts to represent their local constituents.
Sinn Fein’s Paul Hogan went further, suggesting that if the council is to bow to Government pressure they may in fact leave themselves open to legal action from the communities they represent, for not fighting for their views as they have been elected to do.
The council will meet in advance of next month’s county council meeting to discuss their response to the report.