Belfast Telegraph

Incinerator ruling: Stop 'shirking responsibilities and give us government,' MLA tells Bradley

By Jonathan Bell

A High Court ruling civil servants acted above their station in granting approval for a major incinerator project on the outskirts of Belfast underscores the need for direct rule, TUV leader Jim Allister has said.

The DUP said the ruling had "major implications" for decision making in Northern Ireland and reiterated its call for direct rule to be introduced.

On Monday campaigners celebrated as a high court judge ruled a decision to grant planning approval for the incinerator in a disused quarry at Hightown in Mallusk was "unlawful".

Mrs Justice Keegan backed claims a senior civil servant did not have legal power to approve the £240m waste disposal facility. She ruled the collapse of Stormont was not "adequate justification".

The scheme had originally been turned down by the then Environment Minister Mark H Durkan. However, the Department for Infrastructure said it was in the public interest for the build to go ahead and approved planning in September last year after a ruling by the Planning Appeals Commission.

One for the factors in PAC decision was that the department, then headed by Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard, adopted a "neutral" position on the matter.

That decision came after the collapse of Stormont in January 2017. Since then there has been ongoing confusion over the level of powers the civil service has and what decisions it can and can not make.

2017-09-20_opi_34738675_I2.JPG
The planned Hightown site

NoARC21 - the group of local residents campaigning against the incinerator project welcomed the verdict. They crowd funded their judicial review.

"This has been a community-based campaign run on a shoe-string budget by ordinary local people," said chairman Colin Buick.

"We successfully argued that in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive minister or replacement NIO direct rule minister the permanent secretary did not have the lawful authority to issue the planning approval."

The group argues that given other facilities and and the construction of another incinerator in Belfast there is no need for the Hightown operation. They also say the infrastructure around the proposed location is inadequate for the increase in heavy goods traffic.

Mr Buick added: "Today's judgement is a wake up call to the Department of Infrastructure. Now is the opportune time for the department to take stock and completely review its waste management strategy. There needs to be a rigorous assessment of what facilities are needed going forward - especially if they are paid for out of ratepayers' pockets."

There are big questions for how things function here. Mark H Durkan

ARC21, a consortium of local councils behind the project said it was disappointed with the decision.

Becon Consortium the waste management experts involved in the project said their arguments on the need for the site still stood and the judge's decision was on procedural matters.

"We believe [it] is one of the most regionally significant and strategically important infrastructure projects currently required here in Northern Ireland," a spokesman added.

The Department for Infrastructure said it would consider the judgement.

TUV leader Jim Allister said Monday's high court ruling signalled the need for the restoration of government in Northern Ireland.

"Government can come from only one of two places – Stormont or Westminster. Stormont is clearly inoperable. That being so there is an onus on Westminster to get on with the job," he said.

"A primary responsibility of government is to govern. Today’s decision by the High Court illustrates why the Secretary of State must cease shirking her responsibilities.

"Mrs Bradley has dragged her feet too long on establishing Direct Rule. Her failure to give us government is driven by two equally disreputable motives: a craven desire to pander to those who want Northern Ireland to be ungovernable, Sinn Fein, and a clumsy attempt to use the vacuum to force a return to the failed system of mandatory coalition.

“It is time to stop playing games and give us government. "

South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan added: "This ruling has major implications for decision making in Northern Ireland. It shows that the lack of ministerial direction is unsustainable if we are to have significant decisions taken that affect the lives of people in Northern Ireland.

"The Government must move to put arrangements in place so that ministerial decisions can be properly taken. Sinn Fein has collapsed devolved government but Her Majesty’s  Government cannot allow Northern Ireland to grind to a complete halt. The people should not be punished because of Sinn Fein’s narrow political agenda.”

Former minister, Mark H Durkan MLA who originally refused the application said he was delighted with the judgement.

"There are big questions for how things function here - both the British Government and the Irish Government should heed this judgement carefully as it underscores the urgency for restoration of local, accountable governance.

"The judgement calls into question the validity of any decisions made in the absence of an Assembly. Time is up on political drift - both the British and Irish Governments must now immediately convene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to clear the decks and get Stormont back to work."

The Northern Ireland Office has been asked for a comment.

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