The Department of the Environment has said the Mid Ulster Council’s planning department was not obliged to maintain a previous recommendation by the department with regards to digestion plants.
The comments, which were made last week at the Northern Ireland Assembly, refer to the council’s controversial decision to give planning approval to a 500KW digestion plant at Ballynakelly, Coalisland.
Minister Mark H Durkan said the council’s planning department was free to consider the application afresh before arriving at their decision, based on their assessment of all material considerations.
He also stated that the council were responsible for the decision, and that the DOE would not be liable for any health and safety problems emerging from the installation of a major new facility.
Residents have lodged hundreds of objections to the £3m plant, which will take up to 10,950 tonnes of silage, and 1,450 tonnes of slurry to produce power.
DUP MLA Maurice Morrow had asked the Minister of the Environment Mark H Durkan to detail what liability his department had if residents’ worst health and safety fears were realised. He said he was disappointed and perturbed by the minister’s response.
“He has effectively permitted his own policy on CAD’s to be abused and has chosen to ignore the voices of residents who will be detrimentally impacted upon”, he said.
In a written response to the assembly, minister Durkan said: “Upon the transfer of the majority of planning powers to the new councils on 1 April 2015, Mid Ulster District Council assumed full responsibility for the assessment and determination of the planning application for a Centralised Anaerobic Digestion at Ballynakelly Road, Coalisland.”
“The council determining this application, would have had regard to the local development plan and to all other relevant material considerations which can include planning policy, representations received from the public and advice from consultees.
“A recommendation on a planning application is not a planning decision. Where responsibility for processing a live planning application transferred from the DoE to a council as part of the transfer of planning functions, that council is not obliged to maintain a previous recommendation of the DOE. Rather they were free toconsider the application afresh before arriving at their decision, based on their assessment of all material considerations. It is on this basis that I am satisfied that Mid-Ulster Council is responsible for this decision.”