High Court Ruling Boosts Wind Farm Sector
The fast-growing wind energy sector in Northern Ireland was given a significant boost recently with a ground- breaking judgement in the High Court on the crucial balance between economic arguments and the views of those objecting to developments on visual and environmental grounds.
The judgement quashed a decision by the Planning Appeals Commission to refuse an application for a seven-turbine wind farm in the Sperrin Mountains, allowing the appeal to be reheard.
The application was originally submitted back in 2004, refused by the DOE Planning Service in 2007 and appealed to the PAC in 2011.
A specialist energy team from Belfast law firm Tughans acted for the applicants in the case, and have hailed the judgement as highly significant for the Northern Ireland wind farm industry.
The judgement makes it clear that the economic benefits of a proposal are critical, even where potentially adverse impacts on the landscape have been identified by opponents of the proposal.
says Andrew Ryan, Head of Tughans Energy Team.
The Planning Appeals Commission had ruled that the visual impact of a wind farm in the Sperrins Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty would outweigh any potential economic benefits including a green contribution to energy output and associated benefits for the local economy.
But, in the High Court judicial review, the Tughans team argued that the Commission had failed to properly consider the economic benefits, and the farm’s contribution to the 2012 Northern Ireland-wide target of 12% renewable energy generation.
The trial judge, Mr. Justice Treacy, concluded that:
the flawed assessment tainted the balancing exercise which involves weighing adverse impact against, inter alia, economic benefits.
This judgement should be carefully reviewed and considered by anyone involved in promoting renewable energy development.
says Andrew Ryan.
Given the number of planning applications for renewable energy development in Northern Ireland, the decision is of paramount importance in shaping how the policy will be interpreted in future applications and appeals.
Tughans, led by Andrew Ryan, acted for the applicants, Michael and Brian Quinn, with expert evidence from planning consultants Kevin Gillespie and Alan Farningham. Counsel for the applicant were William Orbinson QC, a renowned expert on Northern Irish planning and environment law, assisted by Jonathan Dunlop BL.