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Locals could launch bid to take over forest after oil drilling fiasco

By Linda Stewart

Published 18/06/2016

The drill at Woodburn Forest
The drill at Woodburn Forest

Discussions are taking place over whether Woodburn Forest can be transferred to community ownership following the decision by InfraStrata to abandon its oil borehole there.

Dr James Orr, Northern Ireland director for Friends of the Earth, said he backed the move because the Government and private sector could not be relied upon to care for the area.

He added local residents were already in discussions over the proposal, following a campaign to stop InfraStrata carrying out oil and gas exploration close to a reservoir that supplies drinking water to thousands of people.

"The behaviour of NI Water in relation to the forest is reprehensible, and a lot of people are looking for a model for that forest and other sites, such as Cairn Wood, that gives democratic and community control over what happens in the forest," Mr Orr explained.

"What we saw in Woodburn was the privatisation of a public asset. The situation has got to the point where you have a public sector virtually giving its land for nothing to a dangerous industry. People have lost trust in NI Water."

Dr Orr also claimed the proposal fitted in with Government strategies to divest public assets into community ownership, and said there now needed to be "soul searching" into regulatory failures by all the Stormont departments involved.

The Green Party warned that lessons concerning policing and planning also needed to be learned. Leader Steven Agnew said: "Most importantly, we must be wary of exaggerated claims of oil and gas companies. We were told there could be 25 million barrels of oil at Woodburn. That proved utter nonsense.

"This whole exercise, which was driven by a commercial company seeking to increase its profits without regard to due process or the environment, has generated a lot of ill-feeling in the local community."

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has proposed removing permitted development rights for oil and gas exploration.

"In the future, exploration for oil and gas will require the submission of a planning application and will be subject to the full rigours of the planning process, including environmental impact assessment and public consultation," he said. "I intend to consult on the legislative change in due course."

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