PAC asked to look at Lough Neagh sand application
The Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) has been asked to hold a public inquiry into an application to extract sand from Lough Neagh.
The move comes after sand traders applied for permission to remove sand from the lough bed.
They had previously been operating without authorisation.
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has now asked the commission to hold a public inquiry.
“This will afford all parties an opportunity to discuss all issues openly in a public forum,” a spokesman said.
In the past concerns have been raised about the impact continued extraction of sand will have on the waterway.
Around 1.5 million tonnes of sand is extracted from the lough each year using large boats which pump it from the lough bed.
In 2015 environment minister Mark H Durkan issued an enforcement notice to sand firms involved in extraction requiring them to halt.
However, traders were allowed to continue operating while the decision was appealed to the PAC.
A spokesman for DFI said: “The Department has also advised that it supports a conjoined process so that the planning application and the enforcement appeals case already before the PAC may be considered at the same time as there are similar issues in relation to habitats and other planning issues.”
Last year the Court of Appeal ruled that the department should reconsider whether to issue a stop notice to sand extractors after judicial review proceedings were launched by Friends of the Earth, which claimed Mr Durkan should have ordered an immediate stop to all extraction.
The department later said "it is not expedient at this time” to prevent dredging and that it can continue "subject to the implementation of and adherence to mitigation measures and working conditions".