Appeal against Carlingford Lough ferry terminal rejected

editorial image

An environmental campaigner has failed in legal challenges to a new ferry terminal project linking the Mournes and Cooley mountain regions.

Christine Gibson issued proceedings against the granting of planning permission and a marine licence for the Greencastle to Greenore facilities.

Amid concerns for the impact on wildlife on Carlingford Lough, she claimed environmental assessments were deficient and a consultation process flawed.

But a judge at the High Court in Belfast dismissed her cases against Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Despite acknowledging Ms Gibson’s role as a committed environmentalist, Mr Justice Colton stressed he was not adjudicating on the merits of the scheme but examining the lawfulness of the public bodies who made the disputed decisions.

He said: “She is implacably opposed to the project and will remain so.

“There is simply no expert evidence which begins to challenge the conclusions of the various environmental impact assessments which were carried out throughout the entire process.”

Located on a border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, the lough’s two coastlines and surrounding islands contain a range of wildlife including birds, seals, eels, flora and fauna.

In June 2015 the council granted planning permission to Frazer Ferries Ltd for the construction of ferry terminal facilities at Pier Road in Greencastle, Co Down.

Ms Gibson, who lives close to the site and appeared as a self-litigant, only lodged her challenge to the planning decision in May this year.

The court heard how another ferry company involved in the project has now spent more than €1.5m.

Based on the 11-month delay in issuing proceedings, the judge refused to grant leave to continue with that part of the case.

“Permission to proceed would be prejudicial to the interests of the ferry company in this matter and would not therefore be in the interests of good administration,” he said.

He also rejected Ms Gibson’s challenge to the department’s decision-making process in granting a marine licence in June this year.

She had attacked the adequacy of the environmental statements.

The court heard parts of Carlingford Lough’s coastline and surrounding islands on either side of the peninsula have protected status.

But although Ms Gibson argued that marine mammals in the area including harbour and grey seals were species requiring special areas of conservation (SAC), she accepted no such designation applied in that area.

Northern Ireland has two SACs where harbour seals are qualifying features: Strangford Lough and Murlough Bay.

Emphasising Carlingford Lough has no such designation, Mr Justice Colton held that the potential effects of the development on identified species did not require an appropriate assessment or consent to be refused unless adverse effects can be excluded.

He described Ms Gibson’s challenge to the failure to carry out such an exercise as “misplaced as a matter of law”.

Dismissing the application for leave to seek a judicial review, he ruled that an expert report into seal populations in the area failed to advance her case.

The judge added: “The mere fact that seals are breeding in this area does not mean that it must be designated as an SAC.”