I propose to take Questions Nos. 721, 722 and 723 together.
On 21 December 1998, the European Commission notified a reasoned opinion to Ireland in relation to the implementation of Council Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain projects on the environment in relation to wind farm developments. Ireland has two months to respond to the reasoned opinion.
The amending directive on the assessment of the environmental effects of projects – Directive 97/11/EC – provides specifically that a wind farm project which is likely to have significant effects on the environment must be the subject of an environmental impact assessment. Regulations due to be in force by 14 March 1999 transposing that directive into national law will provide accordingly. The original Council Directive 85/337 does not refer to wind farm projects and my Department considered such projects not to be covered by that directive.
In 1996, my Department published guidelines on wind farm development to ensure that all relevant issues, including the environmental implecations of such developments, are fully considered in deciding whether or not planning permission should be granted. Planning authorities are advised that environmental information comparable to that required in an environmental impact statement is likely to be necessary to enable them to assess planning applications. Specific guidance is provided in relation to dealing with issues of ecology, archaeology, geology and heritage. Where such issues are relevant, the guidelines state that consultations between the developers, the planning authority, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, and the Geological Survey of Ireland should take place at the earliest possible stage. Planning authorities are also advised to have regard to the status of, and obligations arising from, sites and areas which are subject to national or international designations. I am satisfied that the guidelines provide local authorities with a basis for dealing properly with proposals for wind farm developments, pending the making of the forthcoming regulations.