Planners urged to halt development at ancient Co Down site

The Neolithic Knockiveagh cairn in Co Down

PLANNERS have been urged to halt development close to a Co Down Neolithic cairn.

Former Stormont planning minister Chris Hazzard has also demanded protection for the 6,000-year-old Knock Iveagh Cairn near Rathfriland in Co Down, which archaeologists believe could be historically significant.

It is a large stone mound covered by earth and would have been used as an ancient burial chamber.

A 15 metre telecoms mast was erected close to the hilltop cairn last month without planning permission and work on the installation of a 40 metre wind turbine has begun in recent days.

The turbine was previously granted planning approval, while the developer behind the telecoms mast has submitted a retrospective planning application.

But according to the Historic Environment Division (HED), the body within the Department for Communities (DfC) that protects the north's heritage, planning approval for the turbine was "issued without due consideration of the potential effects upon the setting of the scheduled monument".

"The Historic Environment Division – then part of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency – was not consulted during the consideration of the application," said a spokesman for DfC.

"Based upon the evidence available to us, the department considers that the erection of the turbine will have an adverse visual impact upon the integrity of the setting of the monument which should be considered as contrary to planning policy – we have informed the planning authority of our concerns."

The HED has also recommended that planners reject the retrospective application for the telecoms mast.

South Down MP and former infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard said approval for the turbine close to archaeological remains appeared contrary to planning policy.

He said he had asked his former department and Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council to immediately halt any development on or near this site.

The Friends of Knock Iveagh, a group set up to oppose development near the cairn, described recent work on the site as "heartbreaking".

"This is a place which has been cared for respectfully for thousands of years – where our ancestors surveyed their kingdom, where they chose to bury their most important people and where kings were initiated," a statement said.

"Now in the space of a few weeks it is at risk of being destroyed completely all because the agencies who are supposed to be protecting it are quarrelling and pointing fingers at each other."

A spokesman for Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council said it was aware of concerns and that they were "being given full and proper consideration".

The spokesman said council would issue a decision on both structures imminently.

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