Northern Ireland

Consultancy firm awarded £300k Stormont contract to help review gold mine application from company it previously did work for

Some people are opposed to a planned goldmine at Greencastle in Co Tyrone
Some people are opposed to a planned goldmine at Greencastle in Co Tyrone

A consultancy firm has been awarded a £300,000 contract by a Stormont department to help review a gold mine planning application submitted by a company it has previously carried out work for.

Golder Associates UK was given the contract by the Department for Infrastructure last month.

The Nottingham-based company will help review the content of a waste management plan lodged by Dalradian Gold as part of a controversial application for a gold mine near Greencastle, Co Tyrone, in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains.

The Irish News has learned that Golder Associates UK was retained to carry out work as part of the project by Canadian-based Dalradian Resources, parent company of Dalradian Gold, in 2011.

This included conducting a Tailings Management Facility Site Selection Study aimed at identifying potential sites to store tailings - a by-product, or waste, of the mining process.

The department has said it satisfied there is no conflict of interest.

Some locals are opposed to the gold mine on environmental and health grounds, although Dalradian insists it is safe and will create employment.

It submitted a planning application for the mine in 2017 but later dropped plans to build a processing plant that would use cyanide to extract gold from ore.

The Dalradian Waste Management Consultant Procurement contract was initially estimated at £175,000.

However, the total value of the contract, which was re-issued and has three tenders, now stands at over £295,000.

The contract period runs for 20 months and includes “the provision of expert witnesses, as necessary” at any future public inquiry.

Independent councillor Emmet McAleer said there are questions arising around the issuing of the contract.

“This needs to be scrutinised and investigated to ensure there is no conflict of interest,” he said.

“The department is going to make the call (on the mine) and it needs to ensure it is above reproach and ensure it has done everything by the book and that there's no hint of conflict.”

Greencastle resident Martin Tracey said local people are surprised by the development.

“The community is very concerned and are currently seeking legal advice as to the next step,” he said.

A spokesman for DFI, which is headed by the SDLP's Nichola Mallon, said it was aware that Golder Associates UK had previously been retained by Dalradian Resources.

"Following completion of this study, Golder Associates (UK) Ltd were no longer retained to work on the gold mine project by Dalradian,” he said.

“The department is satisfied that there are no conflicts of interest with Golder Associates (UK) Ltd providing professional advice to the department.”

The spokesman added that the original procurement was launched in June last year but Dalradian Gold later submitted revised proposals for the project.

That process was then discontinued and a revised procurement reissued last November.

He said the cost of the contract increased due to its complexity.

“The department's initial estimate for the service was £175,000,” he said.

“The actual tendered total and accepted contract sum was £295,267.50 due to the complex nature of the assignment which is in a highly specialised technical field.”

Dalradian Gold declined to comment.

Golder Associates UK said "all media queries related to this project are to be directed to the Department for Infrastructure press office."