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Public must be able to air views on Co Antrim solar farm, says Paisley

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Letter: Ian Paisley

Letter: Ian Paisley

Letter: Ian Paisley

DUP MP Ian Paisley has entered into a dispute over a planning application for a new solar farm outside Ballymena.

Elgin Energy EsCo Ltd is seeking to develop a solar installation at Whappstown Road, east of the villages of Kells and Connor.

The energy facility is likely to have an operational period of 25 years. It is expected that the site will have 200,000 solar panels and will generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.

Construction is estimated to take four months.

A hearing by the Planning Appeals Commission was requested by Mid and East Antrim and Antrim and Newtownabbey borough councils to discuss the Department for Infrastructure's Notice of Opinion proposing that planning permission for a "revised scheme" should be granted, subject to conditions for the "regionally significant" planning application.

However, the hearing had to be rescheduled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Initially, a Notice of Opinion to refuse planning permission had been issued by the Department for Infrastructure. The application was for the construction and operation of a solar farm.

The Department received 1,054 objections.

A larger portion of the site lies within Antrim and Newtownabbey. The borough council has not yet made a submission.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said previously that its planning committee requested a hearing to provide the community with an opportunity to have their views heard before a final decision is taken on the application by the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon.

In a letter to the council, Mr Paisley, the North Antrim MP said: "Given the importance of the solar farm application and the impact it will have on the area, I believe it is essential that the PAC hearing takes places in an open and transparent manner and in a way that enables the entire community who have views either way on this are able to follow and participate.

"With that in mind, I would ask that the council and PAC now work closely to lay on a public facility, that in line with guidelines for public health, facilitates such a hearing.

"I know many of my constituents who take views on either side of this important local issue feel strongly that they need to see this process in operation and I would ask that such an arrangement is made."

In reply, Mr Paisley was advised by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council that it has not received any correspondence from the PAC on arrangements.

The PAC said: "Commission has developed a protocol to be used to facilitate oral hearings pending the lifting of Government restrictions on public gatherings resulting from the risk of transmission of Covid-19."

Belfast Telegraph