Belfast Telegraph

Anti-fracking campaigners' fury after DoE admits drilling web error

By Linda Stewart

Angry anti-fracking campaigners have branded the Department of Environment's planning website "a disaster" after it mistakenly posted that an application for exploratory drilling on the north coast had been refused.

Rathlin Energy Ltd recently submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment to the DoE for exploratory drilling at Ballinlea, north Antrim.

The company insists it has no plans to frack in north Antrim and is looking at conventional oil and gas exploration.

On Tuesday, the DoE's planning portal listed the decision on the drilling application as 'EIA - deemed refusal'.

But inquiries by local residents the next morning revealed that it was a mistake.

A DoE spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: "The status of the application is live. 

"Unfortunately, a computer glitch indicated that the application was 'deemed refused'.

"This information has now been removed from the Planning Portal."

The Protect Our North Coast group said last night that normally such a planning decision cannot be appealed, so the initial news was a huge relief to residents who had had the threat hanging over them for three years.

"We sought confirmation from the DoE first thing this morning.

"We were told that there had been lots of mix-ups on the new portal and that someone would get back to us to confirm it," a spokesperson said.

"We then got the news from a resident who had received confirmation that it was actually a mistake - in her own words 'a very cruel mistake'.

"The public relies on the DoE to get it right. We rely on Planning to get it right.

"Local residents on the north coast want to be reassured that the DoE will not make mistakes when it comes to protecting their health and their environment from potentially devastating industrial developments."

Ross Brown of the Green Party said residents were jumping for joy because they wrongly thought the application for drilling had been refused. "It's incompetence in the Planning Service - it's an incredibly classic example of how to screw things up," he said. "They've been caught out here. It's an admin error, but it's a pretty significant one."

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