Environment Agency wins court High Court case after refusing licence to firm over landfill site
A government conservation body has won a High Court case over refusing a licence to a firm it classed as unfit to operate a landfill site.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency issued proceedings after the Planning Appeals Commission overturned its decision to deny Ace Bates Skip Hire Ltd a permit.
Mr Justice Treacy quashed the PAC verdict after finding that only a bare denial was made in response to allegations levelled against the company.
Ace Bates was turned down for a licence under the Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations for the site at Ballyutoag Road, Belfast.
The refusal was based on alleged serious breaches of environmental protection legislation, disregard for basic environmental protection requirements, and a lack of basic technical competence.
The NIEA concluded that the firm was not a fit and proper person (FPP) to hold the licence.
But in June last year the PAC allowed an appeal by Ace Bates, stating that the Agency's allegations should be determined in a criminal court.
Seeking to judicially review that finding, lawyers for the NIEA claimed the Commission misdirected itself and failed to address the substance of the case.
They also contended that, based on unchallenged evidence from the Agency, it reached an irrational conclusion on the FPP question.
An NIEA chief inspector acknowledged Ace Bates has not been convicted of any offences.
But the court heard his assessment of unfitness to operate the site centred around a series of claims set out for the PAC. These included:
:: Overwhelming evidence that Ace Bates had imported or allowed to be imported large quantities of non-inert waste at the site and had carried out unauthorised in-filling of the site.
:: Importation and depositing of waste was not authorised and was unlawful.
:: Activities on and around the site involved serious breaches of environmental protection legislation.
Ace Bates strenuously denied the allegations, describing them as generalised, unsubstantiated by any evidence and not the subject of any charge or prosecution.
According to Mr Justice Treacy, however, no attempt was made at the PAC hearing to either rebut the allegations or offer contradictory evidence.
Delivering reasons for his decision to quash the Commission's decision, he said: "Save for the untested evidentially unsupported bare denial by the solicitors the allegations were unchallenged.
"As the PAC itself said... where there were unchallenged allegations of illegal environmental activity it would be absurd to grant a permit even in the absence of a conviction.
"I accept the applicant's submission that was in fact the position the PAC were in at the end of the case."