Ratepayers in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon may have to fork out legal or compensation bills after a dispute over permission to build a wind turbine close to an historic monument.
Permission had been granted to build a wind turbine at Knock Iveagh, near Rathfriland, Co Down - a Neolithic burial site dating back to 3500 BC.
However a group who wished to protect the site opposed the decision.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie described the Historical Environments Division (HED) - a section of the Department for Communities - as having ‘failed miserably in safeguarding our heritage’.
Mr Beattie explained that if the council were to apply enforcement orders on the developers on Knock Iveagh, who were given permission by the Department for Infrastructure and were not stopped by the Department for Communities, there may be ‘a massive compensation or legal cost for such action and which may be passed to the ratepayers’.
He said: "The Historical Environments Division(HED) is a section of the Department for Communities whose responsibility is to protect historical sites in Northern Ireland and therefore safeguard our heritage. In respect to Knock Iveagh on the outskirts of Rathfriland - a prehistoric burial site date back to 3500 years BC and the site where the inauguration of medieval Irish Kings took place - the HED has failed and they have failed miserably. In fact had it not been for the ‘Friends of Knock Iveagh’, a public interest group, this Neolithic site would have destroyed by development that should never have been allowed.
"Having asked written questions of both the Ministers for the Communities and Infrastructure it is clear that their failing from 2013 has led us to a situation where they have now passed the issue onto Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough council planners.
"This has put the local government planners in a difficult position. If they were to apply enforcement orders on the developers on Knock Iveagh, the ones that were given permission to develop by the Department for Infrastructure and were not stopped by the Department for the Communities, then there may be a massive compensation or legal cost for such action and that will be passed to the rate payers of the local council area.
"How can it be fair that the rate payers of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon could pick up the cost of the failings by DfC and DfI.
"It is time that both DfI and DfC - who have the powers to put Knock Iveagh back to the way it was before they mistakenly gave authority for a wind turbine development - to step up and take the financial responsibility for their mistakes. The government sponsored vandalism of a site scheduled for protection under the Historical and Archaeological Objects Order (NI) 1995 is a disgrace but allowing local council to pick up the cost compounds the damage started in 2013 and should not be acceptable."
A Department for Infrastructure (DfI) spokesman said: “Councils are responsible for the proper administration and lawful processing of their own planning and/or enforcement cases. The Department recognises the concerns and strength of feeling but, under the Transition Provisions for the transfer of the majority of planning functions to the new Councils in April 2015, responsibility for planning application/permission does now lie with the Council.
“The planning and enforcement issues in what is a highly complex case are also a matter for the Council. “
A spokesperson for ABC Council said: “The Council is currently considering a number of Planning matters in relation to the site at Knockiveagh including requests to revoke/discontinue planning permission for the wind turbine.
“All of these planning matters remain under consideration at the present time,” said the spokesperson.