Spurred on by the support of 5,600 people from across the county and beyond, Westmeath’s councillors are to once again defy Government recommendations on wind energy.
The councillors are insisting that wind turbines must be set back 10 times the height of the turbine from any residential dwellings, in spite of being instructed by Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Jan O’Sullivan to re-examine this policy.
Some 5,600 submissions were received by members of the public in support of the inclusion of objective PWin6, which outlines the proposed setback distance, in the County Development Plan.
Of the submissions, 30 per cent came from outside Westmeath. Just two submissions were received in support of the Minister’s direction.
The councillors have instructed county manager Pat Gallagher to make clear in his report to the Minister that they are sticking to their guns on setback distances.
Cllr Denis Leonard said that other counties were now following Westmeath’s example and proposing similar policies.
He said that elected members had to go with the views of members of the public who had submitted 5,600 submissions in this phase as well as 800 submissions to phase one and over 2,500 in phase two on the health, property, and community effects of industrial windfarms.
“These submissions include extensive research in relation to health, noise, shadow flicker, property values, and unique heritage and biodiversity concerns,” he said.
While there was support from the majority of councillors, Cllr Colm Arthur felt councillors’ hands were tied.
“It is unfair to let the word get out that something is going to change on foot of today. From my reading this is a fait accompli,” he said.
The council must now issue a report to the Minister, by April 9, which will summarise the public submissions and the views of councillors, and make recommendations for how to proceed with the guidelines.
Director of services Barry Kehoe pointed out that one option open to the Minister is to appoint an inspector to consider the issue.