Changes to Co Tyrone gold mine plans demonstrate 'healthy' consultation exercise, court told
Changes made to a planned gold mine in Co Tyrone demonstrate a "healthy" consultation exercise, the High Court was told.
Counsel for the Department for Infrastructure argued that amendments to the project showed the public process working properly.
Canadian Canadian firm Dalradian is seeking permission to operate a mine in an area of the Sperrin Mountains where up to £3bn worth of gold is said to be deposited.
But residents group Greencastle, Rouskey, Gortin (GRG) Community is challenging the Department's handling of the pre-application community consultation (PACC).
They claim there were serious flaws at that preliminary stage around such a significant and controversial proposed scheme, involving 144 hectares of surface infrastructure in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Issues have been raised about information provided at a public event in November 2016, with lawyers representing GRG arguing the plans were not "oven ready" at that stage.
However, Tony McGleenan QC, for the Department, countered that the project was sufficiently flexible to reflect consultation responses.
The court heard amendments were made to plans for a ventilation system, a crusher building was moved, noise-reduction banks added and a filler plant moved underground.
Mr McGleenan insisted these were examples of "the process delivering the change the community wanted".
He continued: "Far from showing some fatal legal defect, this demonstrates the objectives of statutory changes in action.
"This shows a healthy consultation exercise."
According to the barrister changes between the pre-application notice and the actual planning application are to be expected.
He told Mr Justice McCloskey: "The fact there are does not give rise to any illegality."
If approved, the 25-year mining scheme could support 350 jobs, with the company predicting a massive boost to the local economy.
The legal challenge is the first of its kind to be mounted in Northern Ireland.
According to the residents group they were not given enough information before the 10,000 page planning application was submitted.
Further issues were raised about the level of detail provided on the stripping of peat topsoil and the size of a car park which would feature.
The court was previously told that if the mine is approved, it will take an estimated five years to complete restoration of the area when the operation comes to an end.
However, Mr McGleenan contended that the challenge must fail.
He added: "The applicant can, of course, submit this to microscopic critique, but the fact there are some differences between the P1 (planning application) and the PAN (pre-application notice) is not sufficient to sustain the case that must meet the threshold of irrationality."
The hearing continues.
Belfast Telegraph Digital