Wednesday, 15 May 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Wind Energy Guidelines
I will not say anything at this point; rather, I will wait until I hear the response of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. I am well versed in this matter, about which I have spoken on a number of occasions. I will use my four minutes after I hear his response.
I thank Senator Lawlor for giving me the opportunity to update the House on the review of the wind energy development guidelines. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is undertaking a focused review of the guidelines to address a number of key aspects, including sound or noise, visual amenity setback distances, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividend and grid connections. The review essentially aims to strike a better balance between addressing the concerns of local communities over wind farm developments and the need to generate additional renewable energy capacity, having regard to our binding EU renewable energy targets, while also ensuring that there will be greater and earlier engagement with communities by wind farm developers. In this regard, officials in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government have been working closely with officials in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the revision of the guidelines in the context of that Department’s remit and lead responsibility in renewable energy generally, including wind energy.
As Members may be aware, as part of the overall review, a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, is being undertaken on the revised guidelines before they come into effect, in accordance with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/24/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, otherwise known as the SEA directive. SEA is a process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes which act as frameworks for development consent or planning permission prior to their final adoption, with public consultation being part of that process. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government appointed SEA experts to assist in this regard, and significant work was undertaken during 2018 on the SEA process and the development of the revised guidelines. While it was intended that the revised draft guidelines would be published for public consultation in quarter 1 of 2019, some delays to the planned schedule arose due to the publication in October 2018 of updated World Health Organization environmental noise standards, which consequently need to be taken into account in the finalisation of the guidelines to ensure compliance with best international practice, as well as the need to address certain Brexit related planning issues.
As part of the SEA process, there will be an eight-week public consultation on the revised draft guidelines and the comprehensive SEA environmental report. This will enable all stakeholders, including members of the public, to examine the details of and submit comments and views on the draft proposals. Following the completion of the SEA process and the consideration of the submissions received during the public consultation phase, it is intended that the revised guidelines will be finalised and published in late 2019, after which they will come into effect. The revised guidelines will then be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. In this connection, planning authorities and, where applicable, An Bord Pleanála must have regard to ministerial planning guidelines issued under section 28 in the performance of their statutory functions under the planning Acts. In the meantime, the current 2006 guidelines remain in force.
This is typical of the Department down in the Custom House. Most of them live in the city and have no experience of what goes on in rural areas. It is unfortunate the Minister of State is giving the response. It is not his Department. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and Minister of State, Deputy English, have allowed this crap response to be given here today. This has been going on since 2014 and various Ministers have stood up in the Dáil or in this Chamber and said the guidelines will be published. They were supposed to be out last October or November but there was another excuse not to publish them. There are communities where planning applications have been made to local authorities and to An Bord Pleanála which are using guidelines from 2006. Things have changed since 2006. They are not the same as they were. The height of the turbines has gone way above what was advocated in the guidelines in 2006. This is crap. We do not expect this from a Department. There is some official in the Custom House who, when his arse hits the files on this issue, his head hits the roof, there are that many files on it. This sort of crap is not what the public wants. They want decisions. Unfortunately, the Minister of State is taking the brunt of what I am saying, but it is not his responsibility.
They are delaying this. Those guidelines should have been out in 2014. Here we are in 2019, and it will be almost 2020 before these guidelines are out. I do not give a hoot about the officials. It is about time they were named. Who is sitting on these files and not making decisions so that the public can act on what is out there at the moment? The planning guidelines go back to 2006, and it will be 14 years until the new ones are published. It was a waste of time putting down this matter.