N. Ireland Politics

Lough Neagh sand dredging: Charity taking environment department to court

Sand
Image caption Friends of the Earth Ltd want a judge to review the decision by Mr Durkan not to issue a stop notice to the sand companies

An environmental charity is taking the Department of the Environment to court over what it claims is a failure to protect Lough Neagh from the activities of sand dredging.

Friends of the Earth Ltd lodged papers at the High Court in Belfast.

It wants a judge to review the decision of the Environment Minister Mark H Durkan not to issue a stop notice to the sand companies.

The notice would have meant an immediate end to dredging on the lough.

Earlier this year, Mr Durkan did issue an enforcement notice, ordering an end to the practice.

But the sand companies appealed it to the Planning Appeals Commission, meaning the work could continue pending the outcome of the appeal.

There is no appeal process when a stop notice is issued - it can only be challenged in the courts.

Around 1.7m tonnes of sand is sucked out of Lough Neagh every year by barges.

Internationally important

It supplies around a quarter of the construction in Northern Ireland.

Image caption The lough is an internationally important bird sanctuary with EU protection

Two years ago it emerged there was no planning permission for the extraction - which is considered a type of mining under planning regulations.

The lough is an internationally important bird sanctuary with EU protection.

Friends of the Earth said this placed a legal requirement on the department to protect it.

"Sand dredging should therefore cease through the issuing of a stop notice and should only resume if planning permission is granted and it's demonstrated that it will not cause damage to the lough," a spokesman said.

In response to the legal action Mr Durkan said he did not think he had made the wrong decision, but it would now be "for the court to decide".

"It's Friends of the Earth's or anyone's prerogative to challenge any decision a minister makes, but I believe I have taken responsible and sensible action to date," he said.

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