Government's 'lack of joined up thinking' on illegal dump criticised
The government has been criticised for a "lack of joined up thinking" on how to deal with issues around a massive illegal landfill near Londonderry.
The Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) said planners in one department were insisting on compliance with an enforcement notice requiring total removal of waste from part of the site.
However, environment experts in a different department warned against it.
The PAC said removing the waste could pose "significant risks".
Up to a million tonnes of waste are believed to have been illegally buried close to the River Faughan at Mobuoy on the outskirts of the city.
The commissioner who heard the case said the "alarming feature... is the possibility that the enforcement notice may itself represent a threat to the environment".
The appeal was brought by Henry and Evelyn Craig, who own around a quarter of the land on which the waste at Mobuoy is dumped.
They were seeking the quashing of the Department for Infrastructure enforcement notice requiring them to dig up and dispose of the waste.
The dumping is under investigation and there are criminal proceedings active against a number of businessmen.
Mr Craig is said to have co-operated with the investigation and will be a prosecution witness.
He has also taken a civil action alleging illegal dumping on his land.
During the case the Department for Infrastructure referred to a number of potentially harmful impacts of the waste, including pollution of the protected River Faughan which supplies much of Derry's drinking water.
But the Craigs claimed it was "premature" to insist on compliance with the enforcement notice while experts in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency were still finalising plans for dealing with the Mobuoy waste.
In response to the BBC, a Department of Infrastructure spokesman said:
"The decision taken by the Planning Appeals Commission on 22 September 2017 upheld the Department's enforcement notice in relation to unauthorised waste deposition on lands at Mobuoy Road.
"Both Strategic Planning Division and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency were represented at the appeal hearing and we will continue to work together on our approach to the Mobuoy Road waste deposits."
The case also heard that the plan to deal with the dump might have to wait for the appointment of a new minister.
The commissioner said that based on current site conditions "risks to the river from the... site were rated as low to moderate".
"Removal of the waste is highly likely to pose environmental risks to the water quality of the river.
"It is manifest that the extraction of the waste may pose significant risks of detriment to the environment and residential amenity and may not have turned out to the be the best remediation option."
The Department of Agriculture and Environment is currently drawing up options to deal with the Mobuoy dump.
Options include digging the waste out and leaving it in place with measures in place to protect the environment.
The Planning Appeals Commission did not quash the enforcement order but gave the Craigs until the spring of 2022 to comply with it.
It said by then the authorities should have worked out "what they really want to do about the unauthorised deposits".
In response to the comments made by the PAC, a Department of Agriculture and Environment spokesperson said:
"The Strategic Planning Service and Northern Ireland Environment Agency will continue to co-operate on the approach to the Mobuoy Road waste deposits."