In response to a recent Dáil question, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney has restated the requirement on planning authorities to prepare and adopt policies that will maximise the contribution that wind energy can make in meeting overall binding EU commitments in relation to renewable energy generation.
In response to a written question by Deputy Willie Penrose querying why the Minister’s Department is opposed to local authorities introducing wind energy guidelines which are appropriate to their own areas, Minister Coveney stated he fully supports local authorities taking local conditions into account in considering and implementing national policy in relation to planning matters, including wind energy development. However, he went on to say there is also a clear statutory obligation on local government to not only reflect but also to support the implementation of national government policy in their various functions, including planning.
The Minister replied:
“To meet Ireland's legally binding obligations under international and EU level agreements in relation to tackling the drivers of climate change, which is the biggest global environmental challenge, central and local government must work together in diversifying our energy mix, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and moving towards a low-carbon economy and society.
Government policy is clear, that Ireland's best short- to medium-term prospects to significantly expand renewable energy production is from on-shore wind energy and that while other sources are emerging, they will take time, technological development and investment to emerge at the scale needed to meet our present and emerging targets.”
Minister Coveney specifically referenced how the 2006 Planning Guidelines on Wind Energy Developments, issued under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act (as amended), are very clear that planning authorities must prepare and adopt policies that will maximise the contribution that wind energy can make in meeting overall binding EU commitments in relation to renewable energy generation, commensurate with reasonable local requirements such as protecting sensitive habitats or landscapes. His reply went on to state “where local authorities adopt policies such that they would effectively frustrate the achievement of national policy objectives or breach statutory requirements, the Oireachtas has provided me with powers to direct a planning authority to amend development plans under procedures set out in Section 31 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended).”
The Minister explained that Section 31 is essentially a safeguarding mechanism that follows on from statutory consultation by planning authorities in drawing up or amending their statutory development or local area plans. Where such directions have issued, they have related to a broad range of planning issues, including excessive or inappropriate land use zoning objectives and failure to take account of flood risk assessment in preparing development plans and local area plans.
With regard to the Ministerial directions that have issued in relation to wind energy policy content of development plans, the Minister said these reflected the concerns in relation to the manner in which development plan objectives are increasingly being constructed in such a way as to effectively represent a ban on wind energy developments which would have grave consequences for the delivery of Ireland's agreed actions on climate change.
The Minister’s reply concluded by stating:
“Mindful of the considerable focus on planning policy aspects of wind energy developments in relation to location, set-back, height and related aspects that underscore much of the development plan debates that have taken place across the country, my Department is continuing to advance work on a focused review of the statutory guidelines on wind energy development, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and in line with the relevant commitments under the Programme for a Partnership Government. When finalised, the updated Guidelines will be issued under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, to which planning authorities and, where applicable An Bord Pleanála, must have regard in the performance of their functions under the Planning Acts. I will continue to keep under review the translation of Government policy by planning authorities to local planning policies and use the powers available to me, in line with the legislation passed by the Oireachtas.”