Northern Ireland news

Incinerator ruling deals blow to Casement Park plans

The High Court ruling in the Hightown incinerator case could further delay a decision on plans to redevelop Casement Park. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

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THE Casement Park project has been dealt a further blow after a court ruling indicating that civil servants cannot take major planning decisions in the absence of a minister.

A judge said yesterday that a senior official did not have legal power to approve a new £240m waste incinerator following the collapse of devolution.

Planning permission was granted last September for the controversial Hightown facility on the outskirts of north Belfast after the Department for Infrastructure said it was in the public interest.

However, Mrs Justice Keegan said she does not consider that "parliament can have intended that such decision-making would continue in Northern Ireland in the absence of ministers without the protection of democratic accountability".

The ruling could cast doubt on other major decisions taken by civil servants since the Stormont Executive collapsed early last year, as well as placing question marks over projects still in the pipeline.

Among the most high-profile planning applications awaiting a decision is the redevelopment of Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast, which has already faced years of delays.

In 2014 planning approval was quashed for an original 38,000-capacity design following objections from some residents.

A revised application was submitted in February last year and a decision was expected soon.

Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy warned earlier this year that it "remains a concern that there is currently no minister (local or direct rule) for the planners to make a recommendation to".

"The legal position regarding the ability of senior civil servants to take decisions on regionally significant planning applications is the matter of a judicial process on the ARC 21 incinerator project," he said.

"It will be interesting and potentially relevant for the outcome on the Casement Park application but it would be most unfortunate, and even ironic, that given all the delays that the project has endured that it could be delayed further by political inactivity when the project itself is politically driven under a PfG (programme for government) commitment."

A bid to increase public funding of £62m for the project is also expected to require a minister.

Colm Bradley, director of Community Places which provided assistance to residents opposing the incinerator plan, said yesterday's ruling calls into question other planning approvals.

He added: "It may well also mean that in the continued absence of a minister decisions will not be made on applications still in the system and of great concern to the communities affected such as the Dalradian goldmine, Casement Park and the Doraville Wind Farm proposal in the Sperrins."

It was unclear last night whether a decision to proceed with construction of the new A5 Dublin-Derry road will also be affected.

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