The European Court of Justice has ruled that it is lawful, in principle, for Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment (DOE) to consult with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) when preparing environmental assessments of its own plans and programmes.
This long-running case relates to a 2007 High Court judgment over the validity of the draft Northern and draft Magherafelt Area Plans prepared by DOE Planning.
The legal proceedings were brought by a number of parties, including Seaport (NI) Ltd, Magherafelt District Council and FP McCann who argued that NIEA, as an agency of DOE, could not give independent assessment of these plans and fulfill the requirements of the European Union’s directive on strategic environmental assessment (SEA).
When the DOE subsequently appealed this judgment the Court of Appeal decided to seek a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice. Environment Minister Alex Attwood welcomed the clarification provided by the court.
“The court’s decision is quite clear and is a vindication of the Department’s decision to appeal the judgment made by the High Court in 2007. The Department will now be asking the Appeal Court to provide its final ruling in light of the European Court’s findings,” he said.
He added: “Thankfully this legal case has not prevented the Department progressing a number of plans, including the Magherafelt, Northern and Belfast Metropolitan Area Plans towards adoption.”
27 October 2011