Campaigners granted leave to seek judicial review over cross-border electricity line

A group of landowners have cleared the first stage in their High Court bid to block a major cross-border electricity line.

By Alan Erwin
Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 12:25 pm
Nichola Mallon has approved the North-South interconnector
Nichola Mallon has approved the North-South interconnector

Members of Safe Electricity Armagh and Tyrone (SEAT) were granted leave to seek a judicial review of Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon’s decision to approve the North-South Interconnector.

In September last year she granted planning permission for the 400kv overhead electricity line which is to stretch from Co Tyrone to Co Meath.

The scheme got the go-ahead after previous consent given in the absence of a minister was quashed.

But opponents have branded it a “vanity project”.

SEAT’s challenge to the fresh decision taken by Mrs Mallon is based on Northern Ireland’s constitutional arrangements.

The case centres on legislation which enabled the Infrastructure Minister to give the green light to the planning application without taking it to her Executive colleagues.

Passed last year, the Executive Committee (Functions) Act gives ministers more power to make autonomous decisions.

Lawyers for SEAT claim the proposed Interconnector is a significant or controversial, cross-cutting issue which should have been referred to the Stormont cabinet.

At court today it was confirmed that the group’s application for leave to apply for judicial review was not being opposed.

Mr Justice Scoffield agreed to progress the case to a full hearing in May, on the basis that arguable points require further investigation.

Outside court a solicitor representing SEAT said the group was pleased to overcome the preliminary stage.

Paul Farrell of McIvor Farrell added: “The issues raised are of great significance to the decision-making powers of an individual minister, as was in this case.”

A spokesperson for SONI, the operator of Northern Ireland’s electricity transmission system, stressed that planning permission was granted after an “exhaustive” process lasting more than a decade, which included extensive consultation and two public inquiries.

Natasha Sayee said: “The North-South Interconnector is undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today, and will deliver very real benefits to domestic and commercial consumers.”

According to Ms Sayee the project will also be key to enabling economic growth as Northern Ireland emerges from the pandemic.

“It will create local construction jobs through its delivery programme; will help reduce the cost of electricity and will provide a route to market for renewable energy at a time when the green collar sector needs it most,” she added.

“The North-South Interconnector is the safeguard Northern Ireland needs against any changes to surplus or deficit of power generation; providing local business and foreign investors certainty that Northern Ireland offers them a clean, efficient and reliable electricity supply.”