Tuesday, 8 February 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Last week's decision by An Bord Pleanála to approve a wind farm at Derreendonee in Curraglass, along the southern rim of Cork's beauty spot, Gougane Barra, has really taken locals in Ballingeary by surprise. Cork County Council had refused planning permission, as had the board's inspector. The council's response was an adamant and definite refusal. The council's planner said that the plans would "materially contravene the stated Objectives of the Cork County development plan" and "provide for a highly intrusive visually domineering form of development that debases the integrity and the landscape character". The council was very adamant. These towers, whose tip height would reach 178 m, would dominate the landscape in the area. It is acknowledged that alternative energy sources are need and that wind energy is going to form part of that. A great many wind farms have already been built across County Cork, including seven locally, but this is a question of the suitability of the Gougane Barra area. You cannot make another Gougane Barra but you can find other locations for a wind farm.
When you think of Gougane Barra, you think of the secluded valley, the tiny oratory on the big tranquil island and the tall cliffs around it. It is an isolated lost valley. There is a real opportunity to develop the whole area, right the way down the Lee Valley from Gougane Barra, through the Gearagh and on to Blarney Castle, for tourism. An awful lot of people rediscovered the area during the pandemic but Gougane Barra had already established its identity, nationally and internationally, well before then. We want to see tourism developed in the area. When An Bord Pleanála examined this application, it would have looked at Fáilte Ireland studies from 2007 and 2012. Even with those, it was not satisfied. It would have had to supplement them with studies from Scotland because the others were from so far back. How much consideration was given to tourism when this decision was being arrived at?
The proposed development on the southern slopes of Derreendonee in Curraglass are right on the rim of Gougane Barra. If you imagine Gougane Barra like a horseshoe with the lake in the middle, these towers would be on the far side of the cliff, on the southern side as you approach from the Wild Atlantic Way from the Bantry direction. To put the 178 m height of these towers in context, the spire in Dublin is only 120 m tall. Liberty Hall is 59 m tall. These towers would be as tall as Liberty Hall with the spire on top of it. Towers of that height situated 300 m above sea level would be seen from a very long distance away. They would have a very significant impact.
The local community is very much against it. Coiste Forbartha Béal Átha'n Ghaorthaidh is now faced with having to put together funds to possibly take on a judicial review. The council has identified Gougane Barra and only a handful of other places in the county as tourist attractions of special quality. These include the likes of Garnish Island, Blarney Castle and Gougane Barra. This development would stand out like a sore thumb. What consideration was given to the tourism value of the area?