Judge dismisses High Court challenge to a controversial oil exploration project ruling proceedings are 'now academic'

Drilling at Woodburn Forest ended without any fuel being found. Picture by Mal McCann.

A CO Antrim resident has lost his High Court challenge to a controversial oil exploration project close to his home.

With drilling at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus having ended without any fuel being found, a judge ruled that proceedings were now academic.

Mr Justice Colton also held there was no good public interest reason for determining the case brought by Richard Irwin.

Mr Irwin was seeking to judicially review Mid and East Antrim Borough's decision to permit development rights for the exploratory borehole.

Drilling was carried out amid sustained protests from environmentalists in May and June last year.

But the firm behind the project, InfraStrata, finished operations and returned the site to its previous state after failing to strike oil.

Mr Irwin, who lives less than a mile for the drill location, challenged the legality of the decision to give the go-ahead for the exploration.

His lawyers argued that InfraStrata should have gone through a full planning application because of the scale of work involved.

Although he was previously granted leave to apply for a judicial review, the judge had to decide whether there was any point in the case continuing.

Emphasising that the development under challenge no longer exists, Mr Justice Colton backed submissions that the proceedings will have no practical consequence for Mr Irwin.

"I have therefore come to the conclusion that the dispute is indeed academic between the parties," he said.

The Department for Infrastructure is also carrying out public consultation on proposals to remove development rights for any similar mineral exploration projects, the judge noted.

If accepted, it would mean future exploration of the type carried out by InfraStrata would require a full planning application.

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