SDLP MLA calls for immediate withdrawal of planning permission for north-south electricity interconnector in wake of Hightown Quarry ruling

Planning permission for the north-south interconnector project was also signed off by civil servants at the Department for Infrastructure in the absence of a minister and Assembly
John Monaghan

THE SDLP has called for planning permission for a £200 million north-south electricity interconnector - which was also granted by Stormont civil servants in the absence of ministers - to be withdrawn in the wake of the Hightown Quarry court ruling.

The interconnector is a joint project between the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) and EirGrid.

A decision to approve the planned construction of pylons for the 400kV overhead electricity line running for 21 miles through parts of Armagh and Tyrone was made earlier this year by civil servants at the Department for Infrastructure.

Planning authorities south of the border have also given the green light for the 63-mile section through Monaghan, Cavan and Meath.

Campaigners are concerned about the planned construction of overhead pylons and have called for cables to buried under ground.

They have launched legal action, with lawyers arguing that, like Hightown, a development of such significance needed to be signed off by a minister.

SDLP Newry and Armagh MLA, Justin McNulty, said the consequences of the Hightown Quarry judgment "are far reaching."

"The knock-on from this decision must now mean the withdrawal of planning approval for the north-south interconnector.

"It too has seen large scale objections, it was highly controversial, and the same senior civil servant took the decision to approve it, in the absence of a minister and Assembly," added Mr McNulty.

Sinn Féin Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said the interconnector is "important to the development of the island but it must be undergrounded".

"This ruling gives a strong precedent and it is now likely that a legal case will be taken against the planning approval given.

"With regards tourism, heritage, agriculture and communities, the current plan with radically damage these counties.

"Serious questions must now be asked of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment who has already started procurement process for the building of the interconnector before the full planning process is fully complete," added Mr Tóibín.

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