Belfast Telegraph

Antrim firm which pledged job boost with power plant project takes Stormont to court

By Jonathan Bell

A major project which would have brought hundreds of jobs to Co Antrim is at the centre of a legal challenge against a Stormont department.

Papers were lodged at the High Court on Friday seeking a judicial review against the Department for the Economy for its exclusion of a major power plant plan from the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

It centres on the original inclusion of combined heat and power plants in the RHI scheme. Initially the department had said the RHI scheme would support the plants.

However, the department did not apply for their inclusion for state aid to the European Union, meaning it could not provide any financial assistance. It also meant the department's £490m projection of overspend in the scheme was exaggerated by at least £160m.

Agrifood business AA McGuckian Limited is behind the challenge. It invested over £500,000 in getting planning permission, employing consultants and obtaining finance for the project.

It's unlikely the £26m project will now go ahead.

The plant, in Cloughmills, would have created 200 construction jobs over two years and another 100 when it became operational.

Barney McGuckian told the Belfast Telegraph the scheme represented a "major loss for Co Antrim and Northern Ireland".

It was only in June this year the company was informed by the department the project would not be eligible for funding from the RHI scheme and it would be 2019 before it could be considered for financial support.

Brian Moss, of Worthingtons Solicitors representing the firm said his clients, with a "heavy heart" felt they were forced to take the case.

"My client had invested heavily to the tune of over £500,000 based on communication received from the department," he said.

"For the client now to be told two years after applying for planning permission and obtaining finance for the project that the tariff is no longer available has left them with no option but to seek redress through the courts for the losses they have accrued."

The Department for the Economy said given legal proceedings it would not comment.

The legal challenge is understood to be the fourth taken against the department over the RHI scandal.

It was taken to court by the association which represents boiler owners in a bid to prevent their names being published. That resulted in the department given the green light to put the names out, but having to pay all the legal costs.

The department faced a similar challenge from an individual seeking to have his name withheld from the publication of claimants.

The Renewable Heat Association is also fighting to have the original tariffs set out in the 20-year scheme re-instated. That case is set to be heard in October.

An inquiry into the RHI scheme, which ultimately brought down the Stormont government, is set to begin public hearings.

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