The notice to reject proposals for a “one of a kind” 140,000 tonne energy-from-waste (EfW) facility near Belfast has been withdrawn, after a review of major planning applications identified “serious procedural errors”.
The review of so-called ‘Article 31’ applications found that the receipt of further environmental information relating to Veridis Energy’s application for its incinerator on Ballyutoag Road, near Belfast, was not advertised. It also found that the consultation was not carried out in accordance with requirements.
The Planning Appeals Commission has also raised questions about whether details of representations received in relation to the application were complete.
Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Attwood, who commissioned the review, described the findings as “unacceptable” and has instructed that the notice of opinion to refuse the Veridis planning application be withdrawn and the application reprocessed. This will also stop the planning appeal Veridis has submitted to the Planning Appeals Commission.
Attwood said: “The identification of these cases validates the need for the review of Article 31 applications. Nevertheless it is not good enough for this to happen and I have told planning officials bluntly of my views and what now needs to happen.
“I have spoken to the chair of the environment committee, to explain how this situation arose, what is now being done to review important planning applications to ensure all processing requirements have been fulfilled, to identify where they might have lapsed and to rectify any and all weaknesses, failures or other inadequacies in the planning process. I have reassured the committee chair that all actions that are required to be taken will be.”
Veridis Energy head strategic of operations and public affairs Edward Hanna told MRW: “This has never happened before in Northern Ireland, where the minister of the environment has called for a review and challenged an Article 31 decision, which has resulted in the refusal notice being taken away; it may not have even happened in the UK before.
“Our understanding is that it’s very much back to where we were pre-submission of the application. Our hope that the planning and environment departments and the minister will work with us to look over where procedures haven’t been followed or things need to be put in that haven’t been looked at.
“We’re certainly overjoyed to get a second bite of the cherry with this, because it is a strategically important project for Northern Ireland, it is one of its kind.”
Former environment minister Edwin Poots gave notice of opinion to refuse planning permission for the facility in July 2010, over objections to the facility’s shape and size, its proximity to an airport and the department’s view that the proposal did not adhere to the “best practicable environmental option”.
In the case of Article 31 applications, plans are submitted to the planning service within the Department of the Environment, which makes recommendations about whether to accept or reject the application. A decision is then made by the environment minister.