Following a positive meeting with Environment Minister Attwood and MP Margaret Ritchie last month, local farmers are seeking a meeting with new Down senior planner Barbara Elliot. A large number of local farmers have organized themselves into a new farming organization ‘Down District Farmers for Renewable Energy’ which is also supported by community leaders, politicians and environmentalists.
Edward Carson of Tryella said, “We want the planning office in Rathketer House in Downpatrick to reflect what is happening across N.I. and in G.B. There is a fear that the planning system favors developers and Multinational companies. These people can afford barristers to challenge the planners, and normally get a ‘free run’ though the planning system compared to ourselves. The new off-shore windfarm proposal for our area is a case in point, does anyone believe that they will be denied planning or not be able to get a grid confection?”
Alan Montgomery of Killough said “The Minister noted that planning applications for wind turbines across Northern Ireland generally take 4 to 6 months to process, but the average for our applications in the Downpatrick planning office is closer to 3 years”.
“The Minister pointed out the 83% success rate for planning application success for renewable energy across NI, and was surprised to hear that the statistics for Down are so different. For instance in 2010 only 18% of applications had been passed and few of these were for farmers – they were mostly for developers. 82% are still either refused or stuck in the planning process” continued Alan Montgomery.
Local environmentalist Cllr Cadogan Enright said, “Farmers in the Lecale and Strangford areas are particularly aggeived, given the traditional importance of wind energy in East Down. Historical maps of our area show hundreds of windmills in this area, making Down District the only area in Ireland outside of Wexford with a major tradition in wind energy. Old windmill sites area scattered all over our district”.
Patrick Magee of Killard pointed out, “Planning advisors charge twice the price for planning applications in Down District, as our local planning office is generally regarded as ‘not fit for purpose’ and involves them in far more work”.
John Gill of Rossglass said “If we cannot get the Down District planning department to reflect N.I. and British planning policy locally, we will be calling for all renewable energy applications to be processed centrally in the regional headquarters of the planning service by properly qualified and trained personnel.”