ENVIRONMENT Minister Alex Attwood has told the Sentinel that if a Campsie Sand and Gravel Ltd. extraction operation along the River Faughan were to be proposed now, he would like to think the development would be refused.
He was referring to development by the company on the Mobuoy Road, which has provoked the ire of the Faughan Valley Angling Association.
The anglers have accused the planning service of systemic failure in protecting the river.
Paul Doherty Director of Campsie Sand and Gravel told the Sentinel the company has submitted a number of planning applications to the Department of the Environment (DoE) planning service, some of which have yet to reach final determination.
However, in relation to the anglers’ concerns he stated: “It is noted that the Faughan Valley Anglers have directed their comments towards DoE planning service, it would therefore be improper for the Company to make any further comment as the comments are not directed at the Company.”
In a statement issued to the Sentinel, the DoE said Mr Attwood would not be supportive of such a development now if it were to come before the planners.
“The Minister has made it clear that if this development were to be proposed now, he would like to think development would be refused, given the character and quality of the river and the river setting,” a spokesperson stated.
“The Minister cannot revisit the lawful development that exists - but he can assess the unauthorised developments. In that regard the Minister finds the current situation unsatisfactory.
“In other cases where there have been unauthorised developments, he has instructed the service of enforcement and stop notices. He has asked for full briefing on all the live cases, to assess if enforcement action should be escalated,” the spokesperson added.
The anglers also accused the DoE “of persistent neglect and complicity in allowing environmentally damaging unauthorised developments to become immune from enforcement action along this iconic river valley.”
They complain of an “endemic culture of retrospective regularisation of unauthorised development encouraged by Planning Service through its failure to enforce against breaches of planning control.”
But this is denied by the Department, which stated: “DoE Planning and NIEA have monitored water quality and other issues on the river. To date, scientific evidence does not confirm that the developments have had an adverse impact on the integrity of the designations applicable to the River Faughan.
“These designations include Special Area of Conservation and an Area of Special Scientific Interest.
The DoE says seven retrospective planning applications along the Mobuoy Road are being considered.
“The Department can confirm that they are currently considering seven retrospective planning applications dealing with sand and gravel extraction along the Mobuoy Road.
“There are enforcement cases associated with each of these sites.
“An Enforcement Notice has been served in relation to the most serious breach of Planning Control, where the offender has failed to comply and will now proceed with summons action. Two further cases are under investigation,” a spokesperson stated.
Campsie Sand and Gravel is not the only local employer to have sparked anglers’ concerns.
The anglers have also complained that the WJ Chambers concrete plant at Bessy’s Dam has been allowed to expand despite a number of planning commission refusals.
In July the Sentinel reported how the DoE had investigated a number of alleged pollution incidents at the WJ Chambers concrete production yard in Drumahoe and was working to resolve the matter to fully protect the Faughan river.
The Minister pointed out then that settlement lagoons at the Londonderry employer’s site were not in breach of Habitat Directives and were in place before the river was designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest. He also said the company wanted to move them.
WJ Chambers declined to comment on the Faughan anglers’ concerns when contacted by the Sentinel.