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DUP Councillors Alarmed as Farmers Face Wind Turbine Planning Delays
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THERE has been a meeting between Down District Farmers for Renewable Energy (DDFFRE) and Down District DUP Councilors and serious concerns about the development of renewable energy in Down District have been revealed.

Over recent months, DDFFRE has been trying to arrange a meeting with the local Planning Service to discuss recyclable energy and wind farms, but the group have become frustrated at not making any progress on this front. Many farmers are keen to explore the possible opportunities in this area of recyclables.

DUP Councillors William Dick, Billy Walker and Garth Craig met with local farmers to discuss delays in wind turbine planning applications. Included is DDFFRE chairman Alan Montgomery, right.

DUP Councillors William Dick, Billy Walker and Garth Craig met with local farmers to discuss delays in wind turbine planning applications. Included is DDFFRE chairman Alan Montgomery, right.

The new Down area Planning Service senior planner Barbara Elliot has not yet met with the local farmers to discuss the year-long backlog in planning applications for wind turbines.  However, a group spokesperson said that  since the meeting with the councillors last week, Councillor Garth Craig has been able to confirm that Ms Elliot is prepared to meet with Down Councillors to discuss the issues, if not with the farmers themselves.

DDFFRE chairman, Killough farmer Alan Montgomery, said “Following a meeting with Minister Attwood late last year, we are aware that the norm for planning decisions on renewable energy projects across Northern Ireland is four to six months, but that the comparable figures here in Down District is two to three years. We were also informed by Minister Attwood that the Northern Ireland  approval rate is 83%, whereas an UFU Freedom of Information request in Down District exposed our rate of approval in 2010 as only 18%, and most of these were for developers, not farmers. We have been seeking a meeting with the new Head Planner to explain this obvious discrepancy”.

Farmers John Carville and Ted Nixon of Drumsnade thanked DUP Councillors Billy Walker, William Dick and Garth Craig for meeting with them and local Independent Councillor Cadogan Enright for setting up the meeting with his Council colleagues. John Carville said “We are grateful to  Councillor Garth Craig for following up with the planning office and I understand that Councillor Billy Walker is also seeking a meeting with the DETI Minister Arlene Foster to explore why farmers are being prevented from diversifying into this new industry in Down District”.

Councillor Garth Craig thanked Councillor Enright for the invitation and added: “I was shocked by the on-going refusal to meet with local farmers, and the wide disparity exposed by the UFU between farmers in Lecale and the rest of NI. This anomaly will hurt the local farming community and the DUP group in Down Council will address this serious planning issue and seek help with Minister Foster to address issues of grid connectivity for local farmers as well”.

Iain McMordie of Rossglass said:  “If we cannot get the Down District planning department to reflect normal policy locally, we will be calling for all renewable energy applications to be processed centrally in the regional headquarters of the Planning Service by properly qualified and trained personnel.”