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More sand dredging at Lough Neagh a "disgrace"

Around 1.5 million tonnes of sand is dredged from Lough Neagh each year. Picture by Mal McCann

A DECISION by the Department for Infrastructure to continue to allow sand dredging at Lough Neagh has been branded a "disgrace" by environmental campaigners.

Five companies are to be permitted to continue dredging sand from the lough, which is used to supply the construction industry, but with conditions attached.

The work does not currently have planning permission, and in June, the Court of Appeal ruled that officials in the department should review a previous decision not to halt extraction.

In a statement, the department said that a review had led officials to determine that "it is not expedient at this time" to prevent dredging but added that it "reserves its power to reconsider its position and serve a stop notice at any time."

Around 1.5 million tonnes of sand is extracted each year, and although dredging has been happening for 80 years, it has been on a large scale since 2005 with around 15 boats in operation.

In a series of other announcements yesterday, the department has also granted planning permission for a maritime museum at Ebrington Square in Derry and for the extension of an existing waste landfill facility at Hightown Waste Management Site, which is separate from the waste incinerator proposed at the nearby Hightown Quarry.

Three planning applications have been refused, including a proposed solar farm near Kells, Co Antrim; a tourist destination resort at Gublusk Bay, Killadeas, Co Fermanagh; and for an extension to the existing Lagan Construction Group facility at Pond Park Road East in Lisburn.

James Orr from Friends of the Earth said: "The message that the government is sending out is that when it comes to the environment the rule of law is not welcome in Northern Ireland.

"The courts ruled in our favour yet unlawful mining of Lough Neagh continues with the complicity of government. It is a disgrace on the planning system...we may have no option but to go back to the courts."

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