The OPR performs independent assessments of the various stages of the preparation of local authority plans to ensure they properly apply relevant national policies of Government.
One important policy aspect, which we are obliged to consider, is how development plans will contribute to ensuring that counties achieve their share of national renewable energy targets, in particular, wind energy production and climate change mitigation.
The government’s commitment in the Climate Action Plan is to achieve 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Following our assessment, our submission on the Draft Westmeath County Development Plan 2021-2027 and our submission to Material Amendments to the Draft Westmeath Development Plan 2021-2027 have concluded that the plan is not consistent with government policy on wind energy development and on ministerial guidance on wind farm development.
The relevant policies and guidelines are:
- Interim Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Statutory Plans, Renewable Energy and Climate Change (July 2017)
- Wind Energy Development Guidelines, Planning Guidelines (2006)
In particular, the inclusion of onerous separation distances between wind turbines and residential dwellings will prevent the potential for wind farm development in the vast majority of the county.
These measures will limit the county’s capacity to contribute to meeting its share of renewable energy targets.
In our notice to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we have recommended that the Minister directs Westmeath County Council to take a number steps to address these issues.
In accordance with sections 31AM and 31AO of the Act, the OPR has responsibility for independently assessing all statutory forward planning with a view to ensuring that the plan provides for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned.
Firstly, the OPR provides the planning authority with observations and/or recommendations regarding how a plan should address legislative and policy matters. Once the OPR has provided statutory inputs, the relevant planning authority must outline how these inputs will be addressed.
If an adopted plan is subsequently not consistent with any statutory recommendations, the OPR may issue a notice to the Minister recommending that powers of direction, specified under section 31 of the Act, be used to compel the planning authority to address the matter.
The Minister then ultimately decides whether or not to issue the draft direction to the planning authority compelling them to take action.