Stormont in dock over 'failure to end dredging of sand' from Lough Neagh
A Stormont department is being taken to court after it was accused of failing to protect Lough Neagh from sand dredging.
Friends of the Earth yesterday made a successful bid at the High Court for a judicial review of the Department of the Environment's alleged failure to protect the lough's bed.
Approximately 1.5 million tons of sand is extracted from Lough Neagh annually and taken away on the barges that suck it up.
The department has accepted the dredging going on at Lough Neagh is unlawful because it does not have the necessary planning permission, and Environmental Impact Assessments or Habitats Assessments were not carried out.
Lough Neagh is an Area of Special Scientific Interest, is an internationally recognised bird habitat and is home to many important wildlife species.
In its submission to the court, Friends of the Earth accused the department of acting unlawfully by failing to comply with the precautionary requirement of environmental law.
A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland said it wanted the lough, with its finite sand reserves, managed in a way that would protect its important wildlife in a sustainable manner.
"A properly managed Lough Neagh is the only way of securing a future for this unique ecosystem and the many commercial interests using the lough," the spokesperson said.
"It is a matter of concern that it has taken the actions of a third party to address serious failings in the decision making processes of the department that is responsible for environmental protection."
The green activism group added that early assessments of the environmental impact of any development were fundamental to the planning process.
Stressing that the department had failed to take a precautionary approach on the issue, the spokesman added: "It is in the long-term interests of all the lough users, including the sand traders, that a breathing space is offered to the deteriorating health of the lough."
In May, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan issued a 'stop notice' to five companies involved in dredging sand, which is used in construction here.
It emerged two years ago that the companies do not have planning permission for what is regarded as a form of mining.
However, the sand companies and the Earl of Shaftesbury, who owns the lough bed, lodged an appeal with the Planning Appeals Commission against the stop notices.
Until there is an outcome or they withdraw their appeal, the companies can continue to dredge.