Catherine Murphy TD calls for planning regulations for solar farms

April 25, 2018

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy has said there are legitimate concerns regarding how decisions relating to planning applications for solar farms are made.

A recent reply from the Minister to a question posed by Deputy Murphy has confirmed that there are still no specific planning guidelines for solar farms.

Deputy Murphy said that the number of applications for solar farms has increased exponentially and many communities are starting to become concerned with the overall impact on the landscape in the absence of good planning regulations.

Deputy Murphy said:

“It is welcome that we are increasingly utilising alternative energy sources however it is always vitally important that the associated infrastructure for such projects are designed and implemented in such a way as to benefit and not harm the local community.

“We know that there have been refusals for some solar farms by An Bord Pleanalá for reasons of ‘landscape impact.’ But while there are guidelines in place for wind farms, the same is not true of solar farms. Recently the Chair of An Bord Pleanála, Dr Mary Kelly, has said it would be ‘preferable’ if guidelines were in place for such projects.

“As such people have legitimate concerns about development of such solar farms going beyond what is suitable and sustainable for the local area. People want to be reassured that developments of such farms will make sense in that they would be located on brownfield sites or contaminated land and preferably close to the grid. I would urge the Minister to reconsider his position on providing guidelines to fill what is currently a policy vacuum for what is a positive and increasing use of this alternative energy source.”

ENDS

25th April 2018

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Relevant PQ:

* To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government his plans to develop guidelines for planning authorities with respect to solar farm projects; the criteria used in the absence of guidelines to determine planning applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Catherine Murphy T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 17 April, 2018.* To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government if the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála formally requested that national guidelines for solar farm projects should be provided to planning authorities; if so, his views on same; the nature of the response; if not, his plans to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Catherine Murphy T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 17 April, 2018.

REPLY

There are no specific planning guidelines in place in respect of solar farms. Proposals for individual solar farm developments are subject to the statutory requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, in the same manner as other proposed developments. Planning applications are made to the relevant local planning authority with a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála.Under the Planning and Development Act, each planning authority’s development plan must set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned. Section 10 of the Act requires a development plan to include, inter alia, objectives for the provision or facilitation of the provision of infrastructure, including energy facilities, and many local authorities have developed renewable energy strategies for their areas in this context.In making decisions on planning applications, planning authorities and the Board must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the local development plan, any submissions or observations received and relevant Ministerial or Government policies, including any relevant guidelines issued by my Department. Planning authorities must then make their own decisions based on the specific merits or otherwise of individual planning applications. My Department has not received a formal request from the Chairperson of An Bord Pleanála to provide solar farm planning guidelines for planning authorities.I am satisfied that the planning code is sufficiently robust to facilitate the assessment of individual planning permission applications for solar farm developments. However, the matter is being kept under review, in consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, and his Department – which leads on renewable energy policy – in the context of the Government’s White Paper on Energy Policy published in December 2015, is working on the development of a Renewable Electricity Policy and Development Framework, as well as the finalisation of a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme.  On foot of engagement between our two Departments, where the need for specific planning guidance for solar farms, in the context of developing renewable energy policy, is identified, my Department will develop such guidance as deemed appropriate.