Local public inquiry approved for proposed solar farm at Kells

A local public inquiry into a proposed new solar farm outside Ballymena has been approved by the Department for Infrastructure, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Planning Committee has been told, writes Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 9:39 am

Speaking at last week’s meeting, Committee Chair Alderman Audrey Wales said: “Following consultation with ourselves and Antrim and Newtownabbey Council, the Department for Infrastructure is satisfied that the application for the proposed solar farm at Kells meets the legislative requirement for a local public inquiry. The Department has written to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) asking it to arrange for the hearing to proceed and provide all relevant parties with the new hearing date.”

A public hearing into the application for the Kells solar farm had been scheduled for March 30 and 31 but had been postponed because the Department for Infrastructure considered that the PAC no longer had jurisdiction on the matter and wanted to seek council’s view on the matter.

Elgin Energy EsCo Ltd is seeking to develop a solar installation east of the villages of Kells and Connor at Whappstown Road 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 first 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 community to have their say.

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

The size of the solar farm application has been reduced from an area of 79 hectares to a 35.4 hectare site area (86 acres) meaning that it no longer falls within the “regionally significant” development category.

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

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 stated previously 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”.