Two weeks to have your say on Lough Neagh sand dredging appeal

Lough Neagh.INMM2015-380
Lough Neagh.INMM2015-380

Anyone “wishing to make representations” on the sand traders’ appeal against the Environment Minister’s order to stop taking sand from Lough Neagh, has two weeks to act.

Anyone “wishing to make representations” on the sand traders’ appeal against the Environment Minister’s order to stop taking sand from Lough Neagh, has two weeks to act.

The public notice, issued by the Planning Appeals Commission, appeared in this week’s Mail and states six companies are involved in “the alleged unauthorised working of minerals” from “land at Lough Neagh”.

It comes after companies including the Shaftesbury Estate of Lough Neagh, P&J Walls, A&E Mulholland, Norman Emerson Group Ltd, Northstone (NI) Ltd and Lagan Group all lodged an appeal against the “stop notice” on June 29 - meaning they can continue work until the case is heard.

Shaftesbury Estate owns the mineral rights to the bed of Lough Neagh and permits sand barges to suck up material between Ballyronan and Ardboe, in what is now a 70-year-old industry.

It is understood there are around 15 barges operating on the lough, each taking loads of between 100-150 tonnes, two or three times a day.

The sand is then put through an aggregate machine where any gravel that was also sucked up, is removed.

The six companies’ appeal against Department of the Environment’s instruction could cost them £250,000.

But they say around 200 direct jobs are on the line and that ending the dredging could have a knock on effect on the construction industry.

On May 28, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan issued a stop notice, giving the six companies involved until June 30 to stop taking sand from Lough Neagh as they had no planning permission to do so.

Despite the fact planning powers have now been handed over to councils, DOE will oversee this case [ref EN/2015/0109].

The Mail reported on May 20 how the Environment Minister had failed to protect Lough Neagh from ‘illegal sand extraction’.

The dredging had no planning permission and was taking place in a bird habitat with European protection.

Both the Green Party and Friends of the Earth NI have spoken out against the sand extraction and a complaint has also been lodged with the European Commission.

It has also emerged that the Northern Ireland Audit Office is investigating the environmental impact of sand extraction, focussing specifically on DOE’s role.

Documents lodged at the Planning Appeals Commission show the Shaftesbury Estate has four grounds of appeal.

They say dredging complies with existing European and domestic legislation, including environmental law.

And include claims that the order to cease within a day of the departmental enforcement notice coming into effect was “manifestly unreasonable”, that the stop would have “catastrophic implications” for the construction industry, which relies on the sand, and that the enforcement notices were “not served as required by law”.

DOE’s submission outlines the likely environmental effects that must be considered including the disturbance of sand bars, the extent to which suction dredging creates craters in the lough’s bed and the impact on fish and other species.

DOE also refers to the impact of wash from barges on wildlife and other users of the lough.