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Council wants public hearing on Kells solar farm proposal

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Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Planning Committee has reiterated the local authority’s wishes for a hearing over a proposed new solar farm to be held in public.

The committee was commenting on an application for a new solar farm at Whappstown Road in Kells outside Ballymena at a meeting on Thursday morning.

Elgin Energy EsCo Ltd is seeking to develop a solar installation east of the villages of Kells and Connor which would have an operational period of 25 years.

It is the company behind Ballygarvey Road solar farm on the outskirts of Ballymena.

A hearing by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) was requested by Mid and East Antrim and Antrim and Newtownabbey borough councils last year to discuss the Department for Infrastructure’s Notice of Opinion proposing that planning permission for a “revised scheme” should be granted and to enable the local communithy to have their say.

Initially, a Notice of Opinion to refuse planning permission had been issued by the Department for Infrastructure in 2017.

The Planning Committee has been told in a report by a council officer that the Department is now of the view that planning permission should be granted following a reduction in the size of the solar farm application from an area of 79 hectares to a 35.4 hectare site area (86 acres) that no longer falls within the “regionally significant” development category.

A larger portion of the site lies within Antrim and Newtownabbey.

Mid and East Antrim councillors have also been informed that the Planning Appeals Commission and the Department have written to Antrim and Newtownabbey and Mid and East Antrim Borough Councils to advise that since both councils have “adopted a neutral position and confirmed that they are taking no stance on the proposal” and the fact that the applicant did not request an opportunity to appear before the Planning Appeals Commission, it appears that the PAC has “no jurisdiction to proceed with a public inquiry”.

The PAC has adjourned the hearing which had been scheduled to take place last month and the Department is seeking the council’s views on the matter.

Residents’ group KellsVocal has written to the Department and Planning Appeals Commission claiming that the Notice of Opinion is “invalid” and requesting that it be withdrawn.

The Department received 1,054 objections in relation to the initial application which was made to the Department of the Environment Strategic Planning Division in 2015.

The Planning Committee has already stated that the council should “afford the citizens of the borough an opportunity to be heard” and have been advised by a council officer that a hearing should make a determination “in an open and transparent manner”.

The officer has recommended that the council “maintains its position that a public hearing be held in the interests of public law and transparency and that local residents should not have their commonlaw right to have their say denied in the absence of a hearing”.

Committee member Larne Lough DUP councillor Alderman Paul Reid told the meeting: “I am adamant that citizens have the right to have their views heard. I propose we accept the recommendation from officers.”

His proposal was seconded by Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Robert Logan.

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