The Nore freshwater pearl mussel has given a Laois community group new hopes of preventing construction of a massive windfarm by Coillte.
Last Friday, June 19 People Over Wind were granted leave to take An Bord Pleanála to the Appeals Court over their approval of Coillte’s proposed windfarm on Cullenagh mountain, because the impact on the highly endangered mussel was not considered.
Juveniles of the endangered species were recently reintroduced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), upstream from Coillte’s site.
Questions over whether this should have been considered by An Bord Pleanála will now be asked in the Appeal, expected in December.
In the Commercial High Court, attended by 80 concerned residents, Mr Justice Haughton said clarification on points of law over Appropriate Assessment were “of exceptional public interest”, noting the number of residents.
“In considering public benefit I take into account the physical scale and extent of the proposed development, and that the first named applicant (People over Wind) is a large grouping of members of the public,” he said.
The appeal will question if An Bord Pleanála is obliged to ensure developments do not adversely affect NPWS objectives of restoring habitats and species to favourable status.
It will clarify what obligation is on An Bord Pleanála to get ‘best scientific evidence’ in appropriate assessments, and if it should have taken regard of new evidence on the pearl mussel.
If the appeal finds it should have, the planning decision may be “quashed or remitted for further consideration”.
Lastly, Justice Haughton wants to know is it lawful that details of “mitigation measures” to prevent environmental damage, be agreed later between the developer and authorities.
People Over Wind chairman Seamus Fingleton said the group was “very happy”.
Having spent €60,000 already on legal costs, he says community support is as strong as ever.
“It is very strong, we had fifty or sixty texts on the day with messages of support. We have 75 families contributing to the costs, and 200 or 300 people contributing in smaller ways. The judge recognised this is a community group, with a very strong public interest,” he said.
Coillte had unsuccessfully argued that another appeal would delay the windfarm, potentially making them lose out on a guaranteed 15 year minimum price for renewable electricity sold to the grid, called REFIT.
The government subsidy applies to windfarms which are built by December 2017.
Judge Haughton reply was that public interest lay more in an appeal than in getting the windfarm built quickly.
“Coillte’s argument is somewhat undermined by the fact that the proposed windfarm development is a commercial development. Ultimately it is primarily intended to produce profit for Coillte,” he said.
Coillte also argued that POW had a full opportunity to already make their case, before Laois County Council, An Bord Pleanála and the High Court.
Judge Haughton said this argument was “undermined by the fact that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht/NPWS made no submission on the appeal to An Bord Pleanála as they did not receive notification of the appeal”.
This follows a failed appeal by POW against the windfarm, heard in the Commercial High Court in May.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service did not make a submission at that appeal, but Laois County Council had failed to notify it.
When POW notified the NPWS about their new request for an appeal, they were first assured by a senior official that a submission would be made, adding that Coillte’s information was “not sufficient to form a conclusive appropriate assessment”.
Four hours later that statement was withdrawn.