Rockchapple in the north Cork Mountains is already known as the Sitka spruce capital of Ireland. Now, developers who already have permission for wind turbines in these mountains are seeking to construct a further 13. They have split these into two applications, doubling the costs for objectors.
The proposed site is located in a designated Special Protection Area for the hen harrier. This developer already has permission for nearby turbines - but only on condition that a study on the interaction of the turbines and hen harriers was carried out on site.
As this wind farm is not yet constructed the study can not be done.
Thus the cumulative impact of these developments on the range and scale of foraging areas critical to the survival of the Hen harrier remains unknown. To grant permission now risks a developer investing in a multi-million development and subsequently being required to cease development on the grounds of the adverse impact on the habitat of an protected species.
January 29, 2009
Cork County Council,
RE: 08/ 10249
Development: Erection of 5 wind turbines, 3 borrow pits and construction of internal site tracks and associated works at Tooreenmacauliffe, Rockchapel - Applicant: SWS Energy
Friends of the Irish Environment would like to make a submission on the above named planning application.
The Proposed Site
The proposed site is located in a designated Special Protection Area of special conservation interest for the hen harrier (SPA 004161, Stack's to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills and Mount Eagle) and as such comes under the EU Bird Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (79/409/EEC). The hen harrier is an Annex 1 species of this Birds Directive, and the area supports the largest concentration in the country.
Cork County Development Plan
The operative Development Plan is the Cork County Development Plan 2003. The policy on Environment and Heritage is set out in Volume 1, Chapter 7. Objective ENV 2-1 states that it is a general objective to seek the conservation and wise management of areas of natural environmental value. It is also indicated that where development is proposed, appropriate assessment of the risk to the hen harrier will need to be made. An appropriate assessment has not been carried out on this site.
Interaction of wind farms and the hen harrier
The proposed development has potential for adverse impacts on hen harriers from disturbance, displacement and collision. The position regarding the interaction of wind farms and the hen harrier has not yet been scientifically established.
A nearby wind farm development by the same developer (Ref: 04/8534, PL 04.210685) was granted planning permission on condition that a study on the interaction of wind farms and hen harriers was carried out on site. A research study was to be established on this site.
This research study would apply in the pre-construction and post-construction period. As this wind farm is not yet constructed, this study cannot be complete.
In relation to this study, in a similar case permission was refused by An Bord Pleanala, the Inspector commenting:
‘In considering granting permission in this development it is difficult to see how mitigation measures can be put in place if the study referred to identifies whether at the post permission / pre construction phase or the post construction phase that the development has a significant adverse impact. It is also difficult to consider what conditions could be included in a grant of permission to address this issue as this would be tantamount to granting permission, the developer subsequently investing in a multi million development and then the possibility of requiring the development to cease on the grounds of the adverse impact on the habitat of an Annex 1 species.' [ABP 03/6946, Inspector's Report, page 16]
This is particularly relevant in the Rockchapel area, as there area large number of large scale wind farms with planning permission. Most of these wind farms area likely to be constructed over the next two years.
The cumulative impact of these wind farm developments in this area, on the basis of current knowledge and research, are unknown. They are almost certain to have implications for the range and scale of foraging areas for protected species. The retention of foraging areas is critical to the survival of the Hen harrier. Therefore in the absence of this study being completed, it is premature to allow any further windfarm development within the proposed SPA.
The hen harrier species would be adversely affected and to grant permission would be in contravention of Article 6.3 of the EU Directive as we cannot be sure that it "will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned". This is a clear case where the precautionary principle should apply, and we submit that the application should be refused.
As previously mentioned precedence for refusals on these grounds have been set by An Bord Pleanala [ABP PL04 .207910, Rockhill and Rockhill West, Rockchapel, Co. Cork 03/6946].