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Unauthorised sand dredging in Lough Neagh ' makes a mockery of planning rules'

Boats dredging sand on Lough Neagh. Picture by Mal McCann

UNAUTHORISED dredging of up to two million tonnes of sand a year from Lough Neagh is making a mockery of the north's planning regime, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.

Counsel for Friends of the Earth also claimed the ongoing extraction breaches ecological directives.

Judgment was reserved in the environmental group's renewed legal bid to force a halt to the practice.

In 2015, former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan served enforcement notices on companies dredging sand from the lough without planning permission.

The firms then lodged an appeal with the Planning Appeals Commission and were able to continue their activities.

Friends of the Earth later launched judicial review proceedings, claiming Mr Durkan should have ordered an immediate stop to all extraction.

Last year the High Court rejected claims that the Minister's decision effectively amounted to giving consent by "turning a blind eye" to the dredging.

But the group now wants appeal judges to overturn a finding that there was legal authority for Mr Durkan's decision.

A lawyer for Friends of the Earth called for a halt to the dredging.

Sand traders have been carrying out extraction work on the Lough, a designated Special Protection Area due to its wintering population of birds, since the 1930s.

No planning permission for dredging has ever been sought or obtained.

A lawyer for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said advice indicated there was no evidence of any environmental harm.

Following submissions Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan sitting with Lord Justice Weatherup and Mrs Justice Keegan, pledged to deliver judgment as soon as possible.

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