Businesses call for swift interconnector action as planners complete report
A decision on the controversial electricity inter-connector between Co Tyrone and Co Meath must be taken by the Department for Infrastructure "as soon as possible," it has been claimed.
Businesses called for a swift decision after the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) announced that it had sent its recommendation on whether the 60km of overhead pylons - intended to improve security of supply across the border - should be built. It held a public inquiry into the plans in Co Armagh earlier this year.
However, the PAC has not disclosed the nature of its recommendation.
The infrastructure, which would go through Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan, Monaghan and into Meath - is proposed by electricity system operator System Operator Northern Ireland (SONI) and its owner EirGrid in the Republic.
The Republic's planning body has already given the green light to the part of the interconnector which would be built in the Republic.
The Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland is now expected to review the PAC report and prepare an executive summary with its own recommendation.
That will then be sent to the department's Permanent Secretary - or the minister in the department, should the Executive be restored.
The process of preparing an executive summary is expected to take four to five weeks - and the PAC report and recommendation will not be made public until after the final decision.
But residents of border areas around Co Tyrone, Armagh and Cavan have said they are opposed to the North-South Interconnector, arguing that, instead, pipes should be laid below ground - an option which SONI has said is not feasible.
However, SONI's proposals have the support of major business bodies in Northern Ireland.
Christopher Morrow, head of policy at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said: "We look forward to the Department for Infrastructure announcing a decision as soon as possible.
"Delivery of the North-South Interconnector is a top priority for the Northern Ireland Chamber's membership.
"Businesses and employers need access to electricity in the most cost-efficient manner possible, and the proposed interconnector is key to achieving this.
"It is an essential piece of infrastructure which will allow the all-island electricity market to do what it was designed to do - achieve savings for all consumers north and south.
"This piece of infrastructure has real value to business and therefore to our members, and we will continue to vocalise our support until a decision is made by government - hopefully no later than the end of this year."
Robin McCormick, general manager of SONI, added: "The interconnector remains an urgent requirement to ensure we have enough electricity to meet demand in the coming years, and is also needed to reduce electricity costs to domestic and commercial consumers throughout the island.
"The PAC has been very professional in its approach to the proposal, and we now look forward to the Department for Infrastructure announcing a decision as soon as possible."
Angela McGowan, CBI NI regional director, said the interconnector was an "economically vital project" that would be key to improving competitiveness.