Attorney General set to intervene in Hightown Incinerator case
Northern Ireland's top law officer appears set to intervene in a major legal battle which will establish the authority of civil servants to take decisions in the absence of ministers.
Attorney General John Larkin QC has raised an issue of devolution at the appeal against a ruling that a permanent secretary lacked the power to approve a £240m waste incinerator on the outskirts of north Belfast.
It was also confirmed that a protected costs order will be in place to limit the legal bill for the losing side in the litigation.
Senior judges have fast-tracked the case for a one-day hearing at the Court of Appeal in Belfast next week.
The Department for Infrastructure is seeking to overturn a verdict that it unlawfully gave the green light for the waste disposal facility at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk without a functioning executive at Stormont.
In May the High Court held the senior civil servant who took the decision did not have the required legal power.
The judgment is being appealed amid fears it could have wider repercussions for other significant planning applications.
At a review hearing today it emerged that the Attorney General has raised a specific point about the interpretation of part of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan requested a draft notice of devolution to establish its bearing on the case.
The incinerator scheme had originally been turned down in 2015 by the then Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan.
But a consortium behind the project on behalf of six local councils, Arc21, was given permission after the Planning Appeals Commission recommended approval.
In September last year the Department said it was in the public interest for the waste management system to be built, describing it as being of strategic importance for the region.
The decision came months after the Stormont Executive collapsed in January 2017.
Up to 4,000 letters objecting to the incinerator were lodged, with residents listing concerns about the visual impact, light and noise pollution and health implications.
Judicial review proceedings were issued by Colin Buick, chairperson of community group NoArc21.
His lawyers argued that the decision lacked the direction and control of a minister required under legislation.
With the lawfulness of the planning process set to come under fresh judicial scrutiny, potential legal bills will be capped.
David Scoffield QC, for Mr Buick, confirmed: "It's been agreed in principle between ourselves and the appellant that there should be a protective costs order for this stage of the proceedings."
Belfast Telegraph Digital