Plans to locate a major gold mine in Co Tyrone were not “oven ready” when presented to the public, the High Court heard on Wednesday.
Counsel for a residents group claimed no proper indication of the size of the project was given at an information event.
Canadian firm Dalradian is seeking permission to operate a mine in an area of the Sperrin Mountains where up to £3bn worth of gold is said to be deposited.
If approved, the 25-year scheme could reportedly support 350 jobs, with the company predicting a massive boost to the local economy.
But the Greencastle, Rouskey, Gortin (GRG) Community is challenging the Department for Infrastructure’s handling of the pre-application community consultation (PACC).
They claim there were serious flaws in that preliminary stage around such a significant and controversial proposed scheme, involving 144 hectares of surface infrastructure in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Gregory Jones QC, for GRG, argued that a public event in November 2016, where information on the mine was put on show, implied a planning application being lodged a month later.
“You could say it’s premature, or that the development was not what it’s purported to be under the PACC process, something almost ready to go,” he said.
He contended that the height, scale and size of the surface infrastructure was not disclosed.
“If there’s to be a meaningful consultation, which the guidance says should take place, should give the parameters of, for example, overground development,” the barrister insisted.
Mr Jones told the court: “The application wasn’t quite as oven ready as was being suggested.”
The legal challenge is the first of its kind to be mounted in Northern Ireland.
According to the residents group they were not given enough information before the 10,000 page planning application was submitted.
Further issues were raised about the level of detail provided on the stripping of peat topsoil and the size of a car park which would feature.
The court was told that if the mine is approved, it will take an estimated five years to complete restoration of the area when the operation comes to an end.
But Mr Jones claimed there had been “a fundamental approach error” at the community consultation stage.
The hearing continues.