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Conservation Objection to 12 wind turbines, up to 126.6 meters in height, in the Blackwater River valley

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From The Illustrated Guide to the Blackwater and Ardmore by Samuel Hayman. (Youghal, 1861)

"... the beautiful Blackwater river suddenly opened before us, and driving along it for three miles through some of the most beautiful, rich country ever seen... Nor in any country that I have visited have I seen a view more noble - it is too rich and peaceful to be what is called romantic, but lofty, large, and generous, if the term may be used; the river and banks as fine as the Rhine..." Thackeray (1842) The Irish Sketch Book.

The Irish Georgian Society has objected (September 2014) to the proposed siting of 12 wind turbines, each reaching up to 126.6 meters in height, on the Blackwater River valley. Following is thesubmission made to Waterford County Council:

The Society contended that the development of major new renewable energy infrastructure, such as these proposed wind turbines, is considered to be premature pending publication of the revised National Spatial Strategy, the draft Renewable Energy Export Policy and Development Framework and the National Landscape Strategy (and in particular the National Landscape Character Assessment proposed thereunder).  This suite of documents, together with the National Development Plan, will establish a national policy context for the development of energy infrastructure and "broadly identify strategic areas in Ireland for renewable energy generation".  It is respectfully submitted that the development of major new renewable energy infrastructure without reference to this suite of documents has the potential to result in significant negative impacts on the integrity of sensitive landscapes and compromise the future development of strategic sites for energy infrastructure.

Much of Ireland’s most distinguished architectural heritage is to be found in its landscapes, whether it be National Monuments or protected structures, ecclesiastical buildings and ruins or country houses, whether grand or modest in scale.  What is distinctive for all of these structures is their siting and setting.  Furthermore, their associated lands and/or demesnes had been designed, elaborated, planted and inhabited to enhance the setting.  Rivers, loughs, hills, magnificent valleys and mountains are all engaged and embraced whether as framed views or as elements within the designs.

The gardens and designed landscapes of the 17th through to the 19th century were extensions of the plan of the house, to be experienced through all the senses as one inhabited outside spaces or moved along walks or rides.  House and landscape were often a single coherent design.  Ancient monuments and sacred places along with ruins and churches have been engaged in a visual dialogue across the land with country houses and their designed landscapes, each renewing their importance and redefining their significance.

In the attendant landscapes of country houses, ancient woodlands have been greatly valued.  Individual groups of trees, avenues, boundary zones and new woodlands have been planted for both utility and amenity value.  They have created microclimates, providing shelter for buildings and productive land.  They have heightened the experience of the setting, and they have composed views, framing significant natural and manmade features.  Natural watercourses and features were augmented with man made versions for utility and beauty and water was managed for supply and productivity in a way that contributed to the landscape.  These landscapes, large and small, along with the fields enclosed with walls or banks and planted with hedgerows that now contain mature trees, all coalesce to make collective creations of singular importance.  It is within such a picturesque landscape that Ecopower Developments Limited are seeking to erect 12 Turbines of upto 126.6 meters high, out of all proportion and scale to the structure and detail of the landscape.

The adjacent Blackwater valley is particularly spectacular in the near proximity of the proposed development.  The mainly wooded steep banks let down to the tidal stretch of the river.  This is a Special Area of Conservation.  The picturesque quality and the richness of the habitat have attracted and stimulated the development over the centuries of a string of historic houses and demesnes: Strancally Castle, Tourin House and Gardens (open to the public), Headborough House and Dromana House.  As elsewhere, the demesnes have contributed to the survival of this intact special place, enhancing its ecological quality.  The 19th century Strancally Castle was sited and designed to add romantic drama to this most picturesque of places, while at the same time, itself commanding stunning views both up and down the valley.  Each house and their attendant designed landscape has been subjected to substantial investment either by the owners or the State (by way of Section 482), investment that sought to secure this ensemble of natural and cultural heritage for the future.

The Blackwater Valley, south of Cappoquin, Co. Waterford is one of Ireland’s most remarkable picturesque landscapes. It combines a mighty river, steep terrain, dense woodland and architectural set pieces. In other parts, extensive wildlife and rich reed beds extend from the river to a pastoral landscape. Views are exchanged across the river and up and down its length between the houses and castles that strategically and picturesquely stud the banks.  The construction and enhancement of the houses and their designed demesne landscapes enhanced the dramatic topography and ancient woodlands.

This stretch of the Blackwater was inhabited and protected from early times as evidenced by the extant and known castles. The river was an important trade and communication artery until the mid-twentieth century. Tower houses were extended and eventually supplanted by more fashionable dwelling in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The nature and character of the Blackwater valley from Temple Michael to Cappoquin is a fusion of the natural and the man made. The natural terrain has been worked, prepared and clothed for utility and pleasure and adorned with architectural set pieces of large and small scale. Places of prospect have been set up within buildings or along routes that lead you through the landscape. It is a cultural landscape of great heritage value. Each new piece has been added for effect and in some way enriches the scene. Furthermore it is their collective endeavour and the visual interconnectivity that makes this landscape of international importance. With the exception of Strancally Castle’s masterly architectural presence the surviving built heritage individually is not momentous. However, the designed demesne of Dromana is outstanding and unique. It is the total co-ordinated design of the architecture and landscape that is exceptional.

It would be churlish of Ireland in its promotion of “green energy” to despoil one of its landscape and heritage treasures and endanger its ecology.

It is remarkable that the Blackwater valley has survived the excesses of the Celtic Tiger and the damage it has wrought elsewhere in Ireland’s landscapes. If anything, the economic boom has helped to rescue and breathe new life into the architectural and designed landscape heritage. Indeed rarely in Ireland and Europe has a landscape arrived into the 21st century so unspoilt.

It is worth remembering that as one of the signatories, Ireland ratified the European Landscape Convention. The convention notes “that the landscape has an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental and social fields, and constitutes a resource favourable to economic activity and whose protection, management and planning can contribute to job creation”. It acknowledges “that the landscape is an important part of the quality of life for people everywhere: in urban areas and in the countryside, in degraded areas as well as in areas of high quality, in areas recognised as being of outstanding beauty as well as everyday areas”. Furthermore, it puts forward the belief “that the landscape is a key element of individual and social well-being and that its protection, management and planning entail rights and responsibilities for everyone”. The spirit of this Convention is embedded in Ireland’s draft National Landscape Strategy.

 

The Irish Georgian Society urges that full consideration be given to the issues raised in this submission.