THE River Faughan Anglers association is taking the Department of Environment to court, claiming it is failing to protect the river which is designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation.
The middle stretches of the river, which rises in the foothills in the Sperrins and flows to Lough Foyle, a few miles north east of Londonderry, are also designated as an Area of High Scenic Quality.
The RFA argues this affords it the protection of strict planning control, through the Derry Area Plan.
The court action is being taken despite the potential costs, which could even threaten the organisation’s existence, because the RFA says it believes it must act now to ensure the river is protected for future generations of anglers, walkers, nature lovers and residents.
In a letter to around 850 permit holders, the RFA secretary, Gerry Quinn says it was “currently judicially reviewing the DoE in the High Court over its failure to properly apply its own Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Regulations, when dealing with major developments likely to have an impact on the River Faughan...”
He says the legal challenge, set for May 23-24 at the High Court, would, if successful, have wide-ranging implications for strengthening environmental protection throughout the UK.
The RFA says there had been actions that the DoE failed to act on going back as far as 1995, and that its challenge was sparked by “ten unauthorised industrial developments representing serious and permanent threats to our river, where we believe DoE is failing to properly assess the likely environmental effects and where a number of these developments are now immune from enforcement action”.
The letter says “As the DoE has shown for many years that it is not interested in protecting the Faughan, the directors and committee of RFA believe that to stand by and allow environmental damage to continue on a monumental scale, would be failing the very river committed to protecting for RFA’s permit holders and future generations of anglers...
“As a voluntary and not for profit organisation our decision to mount this challenge was a reluctant one as there is a real danger that the expense of this judicial review could seriously risk our very existence and we had to make some very difficult decisions about the numbers of our employees and permit prices before deciding to take forward this legal challenge.”
The letter says RFA had made “futile” attempts over many years to engage with the DoE which had not addressed questions and eventually invited the RFA to seek a Judicial Review. It described its treatment by the DoE as “abysmal”.
The RFA said it viewed this as a “cynical attempt to bully” it as few organisations could afford the costs of such an action, and therefore “our organisation was left with no option” because it believes the DoE is misapplying the EIA and Habitats Regulations. The DoE was asked for its comments but at time of going to press it had not responded.