Community consultation around proposals to build a major gold mine in Co Tyrone was substantially flawed, the High Court heard last Tuesday, December 4.
Lawyers for a residents group claimed the pre-application process around the largest project of its kind in Northern Ireland had failed to meet the required legal standard.
Canadian firm Dalradian wants planning permission to operate a mine in the Sperrins area. Up to £3bn worth of gold is said to be deposited at the site near Greencastle.
If approved, the 25-year scheme could reportedly support 350 jobs, with the company predicting a boost to the economy.
But the Greencastle, Rouskey, Gortin (GRG) Community is challenging the Department for Infrastructure’s handling of preliminary consultation.
Mr Justice McCloskey was told the regionally-significant proposals comprise 997 hectares - 144 hectares of which involve surface infrastructure - at a sensitive location within an area of outstanding natural beauty.
With concerns over the use of cyanide in the extraction process, counsel for GRG stressed the scheme is significant and controversial.
The mine would include the largest processing plant and waste storage facilities in Northern Ireland, the court heard.
According to the residents group the Department failed to ensure the pre-application community consultation was robust and meaningful.
They argue that it should have declined to consider the application.
Gregory Jones QC contended: “There are significant and substantive flaws in what was done, and what was effectively approved by the impugned decision in respect of the pre-application consultation process.
“We say the Department erred in concluding that the requirements had been met, and then proceeding to process and consider the planning application which is ongoing.”
With the submitted application running to 10,000 pages, counsel insisted it was both major and complex.
The residents group claim they were not given enough information before it was submitted.
On that basis, they argue, the Department has failed in its legal duty to ensure the pre-application community consultation was robust and meaningful.
Before the hearing got underway, Martin Conway of GRG said they had been left with no choice other than to bring proceedings.
“This Judicial Review is ground breaking on many levels,” he said.
“However, first and foremost it is on the basis that we believe significant flaws exist within Dalradian’s community consultation from start to finish, causing confusion to the local community.
“Our group believes that the Department for Infrastructure has fundamental questions to answer regarding their scrutiny of this consultation process, especially given that this is one of the most significant planning applications to have been submitted here, and the various conservation designations and considerations assigned to the proposed site.”
The hearing continues. ends