A judge has thrown out a £240m energy-from-waste project in Northern Ireland because the civil service has no power to approve the project.
The judicial review ruling on the ACR 21 scheme, promoted by the Becon Consortium, unusually concerned neither environmental nor planning issues but the status of Northern Ireland’s government.
Mrs Justice Keegan ruled that Peter May, permanent secretary at the Department for Infrastructure, had not had the power to approve the project as only a minister could do that.
Northern Ireland has though had no ministers since the power sharing executive collapsed last year amid political disagreements.
The incinerator would have been built to treat up to 300,000 tonnes of waste for ARC21, which comprises six councils in the province’s east.
Its tortuous history saw it rejected in 2015 by then environment minister Mark H Durkan but later approved by Northern Ireland’s Planning Appeals Commission, a decision endorsed by May last September.
Campaign group NO ARC 21 crowdfunded its judicial review case. It argued that the proposed Hightown incinerator would “destroy, pollute and detrimentally impact on the community and environment of the Newtownabbey and north Belfast area for the next 30 years and beyond”.
Becon Consortium, owned by Indaver (NI), said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the outcome of the judicial review process for what we believe is one of the most regionally significant and strategically important infrastructure projects currently required here in Northern Ireland.”
It added: “We note that the decision not to uphold this decision does not change the material facts at the heart of the planning decision, the project’s compliance with regional waste policy or indeed remove the strategic need for such infrastructure here in Northern Ireland in the future.
“Instead, the judge’s decision is entirely based on procedural matters in relation to the ability of the Department to make a decision in the absence of a Minister in post.”
Becon and ARC 21 both said they would consider the judgment and any further steps.
The Department for Infrastructure said it was “considering today’s judgement”.