The department also confirmed a marine construction licence has been granted to Islandmagee Energy for the controversial project.
It was responding to a claim that the decision - announced earlier this week by the company - was a “devastating blow” for the Larne Lough area, where there has been strong opposition to the proposals.
Speaking after the marine construction licence was granted, East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said “This move, which Minister Poots seems to have slipped out overnight, is a devastating blow for the area and all those who have kept this campaign at the forefront of people’s minds. The reverberations for the environment and wildlife could be considerable and yet it seems neither this, or the lack of local support for the issue has been taken into consideration.
“It is now time for local campaigners to regroup, to assess what can be done next and to come together to ensure our voice against this plan is strong. This decision is only part one of the many hurdles those behind the scheme need to overcome before it can go ahead.”
Mr Dickson added that the decision will be appealed and there is “still no certainty that this project will ever go ahead”.
In a statement, the department said Minister Poots approved the DAERA consents on September 27, 2021 and the relevant documentation was issued to Islandmagee Energy Ltd on October 12.
“People who responded to the consultation were advised on 13 October and the information is available from our website https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/application-marine-licence-islandmagee-gas-storage-project-notice-environmental-consent-decision. Public notices will appear in the press during the week commencing 18 October 2021.”
The DAERA statement continued: “The minister has approved the DAERA consents for the Islandmagee gas storage project because he is satisfied that all material considerations have been assessed and adequate mitigation has been identified to minimise the impacts of the project. The mitigation identified has been incorporated into the marine licence, discharge consent and abstraction licence and will augment the existing mitigation in the planning permission.
“An environmental statement was provided by the applicant, as required by legislation, this document was subject to a full consultation with both the public and the statutory authorities. A detailed habitats regulations assessment was completed by DAERA which seeks to address the potential impacts of the project as a whole on designated sites in the vicinity.
“The outcome of this assessment is that the project does not have a significant negative impact on the selection features of the identified designated sites. The habitats regulations assessment was also reviewed by an independent third party. The consent decision was informed by the environmental statement, the consultation responses and the habitats regulations assessment.
“The potential for impact on the marine life was a key consideration in the licensing process and the authorisations have appropriate controls in place to mitigate any environmental impacts and these will be sufficient to address the legitimate concerns raised during the consultations.”
Islandmagee Energy, which is subsidiary of Harland & Wolff Group Holdings and formally known as InfraStrata, says the licence gives it the green light to proceed towards construction of seven gas storage caverns, which will hold around 500 million cubic metres of natural gas.
During construction of the facility, the company pointed out, 400 direct jobs will be created, as well as between 800 and 1,200 indirect jobs with a further 60 expected when the site is operational.
John Wood, Group CEO, said “This is good news for consumers and businesses in the UK who are currently experiencing distressing hikes in energy prices and fears of potential blackouts as gas and power grids face peak demand stresses during the winter months.”
However, Stop Islandmagee Energy campaigners warn the project has the potential “to change our whole coastline” while the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force - which includes RSPB NI, Ulster Wildlife, National Trust and Friends of the Earth - last year claimed the health of the marine environment, its protected habitats and species found off Islandmagee would be under considerable threat if a marine licence application for the project was granted by DAERA.
Meanwhile, East Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has today (Friday) written to the minister asking him to reconsider the decision.
Mr Beggs said: “Larne Lough and Islandmagee area are sensitive environmental areas and this has been recognised by the designation of the Larne Lough Special Protection Area (SPA), Larne Lough RAMSAR site and a number of ASSIs (Areas of Special Scientific Interest). It is an important wintering stop for wild geese and has supported rare birds such as the roseate, common and sandwich terns. The Mill Bay area of the lough is the home of an expanding shellfish farm and is one of NI’s Shellfish Water Protected Areas.
“The project will also bring disruption and risk to the local residents. There will be increased industrial traffic which will add strain on the ill-equipped road network on Islandmagee. Of particular concern is the sheer amount of concentrated brine that is to be pumped into the local sea. I therefore urge you to reconsider this draft decision by your department to grant a discharge and marine construction licence.”
Click here to read: ‘Green light’ for Islandmagee gas storage caverns construction, says energy firm
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