Belfast Telegraph

Council to review Woodburn Forest oil drill project issues, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A council facing legal action over permitting controversial oil exploration in Co Antrim is to re-examine disputed issues within days, the High Court has been told.

Attempts to secure an interim order to stop planned drilling work at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus have been put on hold following the announcement.

Lawyers for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council confirmed it will reach a final decision on areas of complaint by the start of next week.

Details emerged during a challenge by a local resident to the decision to permit development rights for the exploratory borehole to InfraStrata, the company behind the scheme.

Richard Irwin, who lives close to the forest, claims the firm should have gone through a full planning application because of the scale of the work involved.

Last week Mr Irwin won permission to seek to judicially review the Council's decision.

Campaigners opposed to the project claim it could impact on the water supply into Belfast, but NI Water insist there is no threat.

Although exploratory drilling has not yet started, a lawyer for Infrastrata has claimed it could face "financial ruin" if the plans are halted.

The court was told last Friday it is urgent that work gets underway, with the company having committed up to £4 million.

InfraStrata will also be fined £40,000 for every day non-operational rigs are on the site, a judge was told.

An application for interim relief to put drilling on hold until the judicial review is decided was due to be heard today.

But William Orbinson QC, for the Council, confirmed the new development in the case.

"The Council undertakes to make its final decision on all the issues complained about... on Monday coming," he said.

"Following that a letter will issue setting out its reasoning to the other two parties either that day or at the latest the following day."

A delegation of senior officials are expected to decide the issues, which involve complaints about enforcement of the development rights.

Mr Irwin's barrister confirmed he was content with the new position.

On that basis Mr Justice Maguire agreed to adjourn the case for a week.

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