Lough Neagh sand ban welcomed by campaigners
CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed a decision by environment minister Mark H Durkan to order a halt to unauthorised sand extraction from Lough Neagh.
Five operators have been served with enforcement notices to cease their operations by the end of next month.
It is understood the owners of the lough bed, the Shaftesbury estate, also received a warning letter earlier this week.
Around 1.2 million tonnes of sand are pumped from the lough each year. The Shaftesbury estate is paid a fee for every tonne taken.
Lough Neagh Irelands largest inland waterway, is designated as a Special Protection Area, and is also an Area of Special Scientific Interest.
Mr Durkan had previously requested a halt to sand extraction in the lough but it continued.
He had been under increasing pressure to act after it emerged that two of his top officials warned four months ago that formal enforcement action should be initiated to ensure the cessation of the activities.
Green Party assembly member Steven Agnew welcomed the development last night.
This activity has been ongoing for decades, causing major damage to the lough eco-system, he said.
I now hope that these stop notices will be adhered to and enforced, given that failure to do so will constitute a criminal offence.
The assembly member warned that the DoEs delaying in taking action could have consequences.
I would remind the minister that Lough Neagh has been designated a Special Protection Area, and the DoEs lack of action to date could be interpreted as clear breach of EU wild birds, habitats and environmental impact assessment directives, he said.
This leaves the Department wide open to the possibility of infraction fines from Europe.
Friends of the Earth director James Orr welcomed the move.
It is disappointing, however, that the minister didnt issue a stop notice, but opted instead for an enforcement notice.
His department has a very poor track record of following through with enforcement notices," he claimed.
This unlawful sand dredging should be stopped immediately. If not, prosecution proceedings should begin."
A statement issued from the sand traders said: The sand traders have confirmed that they have been in pre-application discussions with the DoE since last year and will be submitting a planning application. They welcome the regulation of all aspects of activities on the lough and have campaigned for this for decades.
As part of the lengthy and extensive planning process a number of independent environmental studies have been carried out, all of which have indicated that sand extraction does not have an impact.