The High Court has ruled ‘unlawful’ a proposed £240m waste incinerator plant at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk on the outskirts of north Belfast.
Mrs Justice Keegan says a senior civil servant who approved the scheme did not have legal power to do so. “I do not consider that Parliament can have intended that such decision making would continue in Northern Ireland in the absence of ministers without the protection of democratic accountability,” she said.
Three years ago, the scheme had been turned down by the then Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan. He says he now feels vindicated. “This is a hugely significant judgement, particularly given that the Judge recognised that the decision by the Department ‘went against the premises of the devolved institutions’.
“The question for all of us now – must be how we move forward. The SDLP will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Head of the Civil Service to determine how he intends to instruct future decision making across the civil service.”
While opposers to the scheme are celebrating, the Becon Consortium who would have progressed the plan says it remains committed to delivering the project on behalf of Arc 21, which represents six local councils.
A spokesman for Arc 21 said: “We are obviously disappointed and we will take time to consider the judgement in detail and consult with our stakeholders.”
In a statement, Becon commented: “We are disappointed with the outcome of the Judicial Review process for what we believe is one of the most regionally significant and strategically important infrastructure projects currently required here in Northern Ireland.
“The original planning decision by the Department followed very clear recommendation from the independent Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) report, which recognised the strategic need for the facility, its compliance with regional waste policy and the significant environmental benefits it will deliver. At the PAC hearing the facts around this project were robustly considered and any concerns raised through the planning process were addressed in a measured way. Ultimately the PAC made an unambiguous recommendation to the Department to approve the project, alongside a series of planning conditions and they in turn concurred by granting planning approval.
“We note that the decision not to uphold this decision does not change the material facts at the heart of the planning decision, the project’s compliance with regional waste policy or indeed remove the strategic need for such infrastructure here in Northern Ireland in the future. Instead, the judge’s decision is entirely based on procedural matters in relation to the ability of the Department to make a decision in the absence of a Minister in post.
“While this a frustrating setback, we remain fully committed to delivering this project on behalf of arc21 and will now take time to consult with them, to consider the implications of this decision and agree the next steps to move this strategically important infrastructure project forward.”