Northern Ireland news

New legal bid to halt sand dredging in Lough Neagh

A boat dredging sand on Lough Neagh. Picture by Mal McCann
Staff Reporter

AN environmental group is renewing its legal bid to force a halt to sand dredging in Lough Neagh.

Friends of the Earth wants an urgent hearing at the Court of Appeal amid claims that the extraction of up to 1.5m tonnes a year is harming the lough.

Last year the charity failed in a judicial review challenge to how a former Executive Minister dealt with the situation.

The case centres on the decision to issue an enforcement notice rather than order an immediate stop to the dredging.

The move in 2015 by then environment minister Mark H Durkan allowed sand companies to continue dredging pending a challenge with the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).

In November Mr Justice Maguire rejected claims that the decision amounted to Mr Durkan effectively giving consent by "turning a blind eye" to the practice.

But Friends of the Earth has now lodged an appeal in a bid to have his ruling overturned.

James Orr, the group's Northern Ireland Director, said: "We believe the judge erred in law and didn't take into account the significance of this major nature reserve.

"The decision gives any operator very dangerous rights to destroy a designated site like Lough Neagh without any sanction."

Mr Orr added: "We are seeking an expedited hearing given there is ongoing unauthorised extraction, and we hope the Court of Appeal recognises this is an urgent situation that requires a remedy."

Sand traders have been carrying out extraction work on the lough, a designated Special Protection Area due to its wintering population of birds, since the 1930s.

No planning permission for dredging has ever been sought or obtained.

However, firms have been able to continue dredging pending the outcome of their appeal to the PAC on the enforcement notice.

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