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Campaigners say they're ‘very disappointed’ by the outcome of their judicial review against a marine licence for seven gas caverns under Larne Lough.

Former Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, gave Islandmagee Energy the greenlight to salt mine the 1,350m deep caverns and discharge up to 24,000 cubic metres of the resulting brine into the sea every day in November, 2021.

Civil servants recommended he approve the application but he was also given the option to refer it to the Executive, hold a public inquiry or delay the decision until the Department for Economy’s Energy Strategy was published.

Read more: DAERA 'accept case to answer' over gas caverns licence

Mr Poots decided to greenlight a marine licence for the 40-year gas storage project.

But Friends of the Earth NI and community Group No Gas Caverns took the case to Belfast High Court over concerns about its impact on protected species, the seabed and the marine environment as well as climate emissions.

In four days of submissions this May, their legal team argued the decision should have been taken by the NI Executive as it was significant/controversial and cut across more than one department.

They also said a community fund promised by Islandmagee Energy, a subsidiary of Harland & Wolff (formerly Infrastrata), and suggestions the caverns could be repurposed for hydrogen in future, should not have been considered.

Their case also highlighted how a Habitats Regulations Assessment on the project provided flawed data on the area of seabed that will be lost - it’s 450m2, not 120m2 - and questioned the quality of bird surveys carried out.

They also argued the impact on scallops and the “severely depleted” skate were not taken into account and that DAERA failed to assess the environmental impact of decommissioning the site after 40 years use.

Justice Michael Humphreys did not hold up any of their arguments.

When it came to Habitats Regulations, he told the court: “The court’s supervisory role is limited.

“As is well established, judicial review is not the equivalent means by which you resolve disputes between scientific experts.”

Summing up, he added: “The application for judicial review is dismissed.”

Friends of the Earth NI director, James Orr, said: “We are clearly very disappointed with the court’s decision.

“We are very disappointed for the amazing community around Islandmagee who rallied against this project. They are no objectors - they are the protectors of the area.

“It’s a very complicated judgement - we are going to have to take quite a bit of time to access the implications. One thing I do want to emphasise, is that this campaign isn’t over.

“This type of industry, this type of project is totally on the wrong side of history.”

Alliance MLAs Stewart Dickson and Danny Donnelly were at the High Court to hear Justice Humprheys set out his decision.

Mr Dickson said: “It’s particularly disappointing for residents who have fought an amazing battle. Let’s not forget they raised a lot of money to fight this. This is real people’s money to take on what they believe is a situation which will damage their environment going forward.

Alliance MLAs outside Belfast High Court following the judgement
Alliance MLAs outside Belfast High Court following the judgement

“I don’t think the judgement today will disrupt that belief.”

Mr Donnelly added: “It’s a very disappointing day.

“The people of Islandmagee have been fighting this for years. They are protecting their local environment for future generations.”

“We have to acknowledge that this is another fossil fuel infrastructure that has been added and that’s going to chain us to future fossil use for decades to come - we need to meet our targets by 2030. We have legal obligations and this doesn’t help. We need to be going in a different direction and I think we all know that.”

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