Friends of the Earth appeal High Court ruling on Lough Neagh sand extraction

The environmental group that took Stormont to court over a decision not to stop sand extraction on Lough Neagh has appealed a High Court ruling that the former Environment Minister did nothing wrong.

Tuesday, 3rd January 2017, 5:06 pm
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 1:03 pm
Mountains of sand removed from the bed of Lough Neagh

Friends of the Earth NI has long argued that then Minister Mark H Durkan should have used his powers to stop the removal of sand from the lough until the environmental impact could be examined - a step he chose not to take despite being advised to do so twice by senior officials.

Sand has been removed from the bed of Lough Neagh for decades without any planning permission or independent environmental assessments, despite the lake being protected as a RAMSAR site, Special Protection Area (SPA) and Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

Instead of issuing a stop notice after the Mail wrote about the issue in April 2015, Durkan instead imposed an enforcement notice on the sand traders removing sand ‘illegally’ from the lough.

This means they were able to appeal the notice, a process that is still under way with the Planning Appeals Commission and has suffered a number of delays in relation to the submission of environmental reports commissioned by the sand traders.

Lord Shafetesbury, who owns the bed, and five sand traders have long argued that the removal of hundreds of tonnes of sand from the bed of Lough Neagh is causing no environmental damage.

But Friends of the Earth (FOENI) disagree and in court argued that the Minister in charge should have adopted the ‘precautionary principle’ in relation to the protected area.

Director of FOENI, James Orr, told the Mail he disagrees with the Judge’s decision and feels it “exposes protected sites to potentially a lot further harm”.

“If anyone can go into an SPA or ASSI and damage it... it’s wrong,” he said.

“You need to be sure there isn’t going to be harm before you give permission.

“We think the decision is too important to let go,” he continued.

“We are absolutely determined to take it all the way. Even though it could cost a lot, we think the cost to the environment is even greater.”

There have never been any independant environmental reports done on Lough Neagh that include sand extraction.