An Bord Pleanála has refused permission for the 47 turbine Maighne Wind Farm (PA0041) by Element Power in County Kildare/County Meath.

This is the 10th application for Strategic Infrastructure Development (SID) to be refused, bringing the refusal rate to over a fifth of all SID applications made since 2006.

Critically, the first of three reasons for refusal is premised on the absence of any national wind energy strategy with a spatial dimension, in addition to the absence of wind energy strategies at local level in County Kildare and County Meath, for this large scale wind farm spread over an extensive geographical area. It is peculiar that this issue was not raised in the pre-application consultation which concluded in March, 2015, despite Circular (PL20-13) issued by the then Department of Environment, Community and Local Government instructing all local authorities to suspend the development of such strategies pending the adoption of the Revised Wind Energy Guidelines, and the adoption of a Renewable Energy Policy & Development Framework document by the DoCENR.

The Inspector recommended refusal for 12no. reasons.

Notably, despite the substantive reason for refusal, that being the large scale of the development, the Board declined to accept the Inspector’s recommendation to refuse permission on grounds relating to visual impact as the Board considered that notwithstanding the various landscape designations set out in Chapter 14 and Appendix 3 of the Kildare County Development Plan the local landscape is one of considerable robustness wherein extensive cross-country views, while possible given the basin-like nature of the current and former bogland, are rarely achieved due to the extent and depth of barrier and boundary vegetation. This limits, in the Board’s view, any adverse visual impact of the proposed development to a number of key localised areas of particular sensitivity, specifically the canal corridors (and associated human settlements) and the setting of the historical sites at Carbury and Lullymore. In other circumstances these concerns could have been addressed by the omission of selected turbines and/or clusters.

Also of interest is that the Board noted the existence of a Route Protection Corridor for the Leinster Outer Orbital Route in the current Development Plans for Counties Kildare and Meath and the potential conflict between the corridor as outlined and elements of the present proposed development. The Board did not consider that this potential conflict was in itself an appropriate reason for refusal given the present very early stage of planning for the route corridor and the clear scope that exists for mutual accommodation.

Furthermore, the Board noted the very strong and contrary cases made by both the Department of Defence/Air Corps and the applicant’s specialist aviation consultants in relation to the compatibility of wind turbines and air navigation in the subject area. The Board determined not to seek additional information on this matter in the light of the substantive reasons for refusal, and in particular Reason 1. The Board considered the matter to be one that would benefit from a definitive policy-based resolution given the specialist nature of some of the issues involved and the apparent potential relationship to aspects of national security.

Of further note is that the Board determined that an oral hearing was not necessary having regard to the comprehensive nature of the documentation available from all of the parties to the case.