The Planning Service has started an internal investigation into why it failed to inform residents at Strathfoyle and Maydown that it had approved a £700m recycling project on their doorstep.
The residents only found out about the huge waste management plant 18 months after approval was granted — which fell outside the time frame for objections.
While the Department of the Environment has admitted to an “oversight” it refuted any suggestion of a cover-up.
With construction work due to begin later this year residents are now taking legal advice on their options, which could include a judicial review.
The gasification plant will cost approximately £220m to construct and when complete will cover 150,000 sq ft.
The recycling contracts are valued at £500m over 25 years once construction is complete and the facility is operational.
The chosen site is at Maydown on the outskirts of Londonderry and once operational the plant will recycle waste from seven councils — Derry City, Strabane, Limavady, Ballymoney, Magherafelt, Coleraine and Moyle.
While the Department of the Environment insists that Derry City Council and the wider community were consulted, it admits that due to an “administrative oversight” a general notice — which it is legally required to give — did not appear in the local press.
Residents from neighbouring Strathfoyle area are furious, saying that they have been treated with contempt by the authorities.
A spokeswoman for the DoE said: “A planning application was received from a bidder for the NW waste management procurement and processed by the department in compliance with all requirements including advertisement and consultation with all interest groups.
“Derry City Council and the wider community were consulted about the application in line with standard procedures before the decision was taken to approve the application in September 2011.
“Once the decision was taken anyone who had made representations in respect of the application were notified of the decision taken in the normal manner,” the spokeswoman added.
“However, for these types of application there is also an additional special requirement to place a general notice in the local press after the decision has been taken.
“Due to an administrative oversight this last action was not taken at the time. Action has now been taken to rectify this.
“There is no question of attempting to cover up the decision taken.
“On the contrary everyone who had made representations in respect of the application were notified in writing by the department of the outcome to the planning application at the time the decision was taken.
“The oversight was identified internally in the department and once it was identified — (a) action was taken to rectify the error and; (b) an investigation initiated to ensure that the problem did not recur.
“In all other respects the planning decision taken followed due process and the planning approval remains in place.”
‘Planners think they can ride roughshod over us’
The first we knew about this gasification plant was when we read about it in the local media and by that time it had already passed the time frame for us to lodge objections with the planning authorities.
We contacted them and it transpired that they had sent letters to seven addresses in this area. But there are 2,500 houses here and that's not to mention the thousands in Culmore who will be living across the lough from this plant.
That is not consultation on any real level and this week we received a letter from the planners admitting they had made an ‘oversight'.
They seem to think they can ride roughshod over the residents and sneak this plant under the radar.
We are already surrounded by a number of large-scale industries — including DuPont (a chemical plant) and Foyle Meats — and we fear that this latest project will add to the air pollution they are causing.
Once we became aware of this, we addressed Derry City Council and asked for reasonable information and assurances, but they have failed to provide either.
We also wanted an independent Health Impact Study done but ultimately that hasn't happened.
We launched a petition against this on the streets of Derry and almost everyone we spoke to had no idea it was on the cards at all and people are genuinely concerned.
Shauna Healy was part of a|residential group that made a presentation to Derry City Council documenting residents’ fears for their health and that of future generations once the plant is|operational.