Further details have emerged on the recent High Court settlement reached between the Donegal County Councillor John Campbell, and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, following the Councillors Judicial Review of the Ministerial Direction issued on a proposed 2014 variation to the Donegal County Development Plan.
Donegal County Council had sought to introduce a variation to its County Development Plan that excluded certain Fresh Water Pearl Mussel catchments from the areas open to consideration for wind farms as well as introducing a set back of ten times the tip height for turbines from sensitive properties including dwellings. These provisions breached the current guidelines on wind energy and so the Minister issued a direction stating that the variation could not be made.
A settlement has now been reached at the High Court between the two parties which will lead to the appointment of an inspector to consider the matter and advise the Minister further, with the Inspector to be appointed by the 31st of July. In the meantime the Department have confirmed that the settlement leaves the Minister’s previous draft direction standing and the council’s variation in abeyance pending the outcome of the process. The Department have confirmed that there has been no admittance of error on behalf of the Minister in reaching the settlement and that the process of identifying and appointing an inspector is ongoing.
The Development Plan Variation process is therefore now at the stage where the Department has to consider the submissions made to it in relation to the Draft Direction that it previously issued (in 2014) on the Councils proposed variation. Previously the Minister considered the submissions received by the Department and issued the Direction formally. However, the High Court settlement means that the Minister must take the second option open to him (under Section 31(11)(b) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) whereby an independent inspector can be appointed to review the situation. The independent inspector must:
(a) Review the draft direction and all submissions made,
(b) Consult with the Chief Executive and Elected Representatives of the Planning Authority,
(c) Furnish a report within 3 weeks of being appointed containing recommendations for the Minister.
(d) They can also consult with the regional assembly and any persons who made a submission if they feel it necessary.
Copies of the report and recommendations must be circulated to all (members of the Planning Authority, people who made submissions to the process etc.). After the report is issued by the independent inspector the Minister has up to 6 weeks to either issue the direction or a changed direction, or not issue the direction. Once issued any direction is issued it will have immediate effect as normal.