NI Water ‘does not intend to comment' over claims it breached 1899 Water Act

Stop the Drill campaigners are objecting to plans for an exploratory oil drill at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus.
John Monaghan

NORTHERN Ireland Water has insisted it 'priorities water safety' amid claims it breached 100-year-old water legislation by allowing InfraStrata to develop an exploratory oil drill in Co Antrim.

NI Water has leased the land at Woodburn Forest, near Carrickfergus, for the next 50 years to the company.

A drill was moved onto the site earlier this week amidst protests from campaigners concerned about the potential impact on the water supply to thousands of homes in Belfast and across Co Antrim.

NI Water has previously said that it has "no concerns" about the quality of the drinking water. Two reservoirs have been put offline for the duration of the project.

Under the terms of the Belfast Water Act 1899, those responsible for the land "may sell or let for such period not exceeding three years."

The Act states that the "shall not be broken up for tillage but shall be used wholly as pasture or meadow and that no buildings shall be erected thereon."

It also adds that work on the land must not cause nuisance or pollution and that there is no legal right to erect buildings, fencing or gates, even temporary, on site.

In an email response to campaigners in March seen by The Irish News, NI Water chief executive Sara Venning said that "the lands still remain under the control of NI Water."

She wrote: "The Licence (granted to InfraStrata) contains a series of provisions to ensure that no 'nuisance' within the meaning of the Belfast Water Act 1899 will arise and to ensure that the lands remain 'protected land'.

"All structures erected by InfraStrata PLC pursuant to the licence will be temporary and will be removed at the end of the term."

A spokeswoman for the Stop the Drill campaign said the group believed NI Water were "acting outside their powers."

NI Water said that it understood that "issues" had been raised by residents against "various parties."

A spokesman said: "These issues do not engage NI Water and it does not intend to comment, save to say that NI Water prioritises the safety of public drinking water."

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