An Islandmagee resident has claimed Gaelectric is failing to properly consult on the impact of its proposed CAES facility on marine life.
The company is proposing to build a £300 million compressed air energy storage plant in Islandmagee.
Environmentalists have raised concerns over the proposed impact of pumping brine, the plant’s waste by-product, on marine life.
The woman, who does not wish to be named, claims local residents were led to believe Gaelectric would hold a separate consultation on marine issues, but that this failed to materialise.
A leaflet posted to residents inviting them to consultation events last August stated: “Marine elements of the proposed project will be subject to a separate consenting regime and will extend off the coast of Ferris Point northwards and off the coastline of Dundressan northwards under the seafloor to respectively surface at the intake and outfall locations”.
The woman commented: “The invitation implied they wouldn’t be talking about the marine element during the events on August 12 and August 13, which put people off going.
“Six months from the start of the consultation events until the end of the objection period on March 10 is too short a period. At the meetings, you could ask verbal questions but there was no information on paper to take away and consider.”
Since 2012, Gaelectric has held seven rounds of community consultations. Whereas 12 consultation events were held over two years for Carnduff residents, there have been four events in two months since the project moved to Islandmagee. The planning application for the Islandmagee project was submitted in December, and residents have until March 10 to object.
“I don’t think Islandmagee residents have been given a fair amount of time to consider the proposal,” the resident continued.
“Five rounds of consultation were done for Carnduff and only two here. Only two events have been held in Islandmagee since the project was relocated there. I believe that this contravenes Section 27 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 which states that adequate community consultation must take place. If there is insufficient consultation it must be turned down legally. Islandmagee Community Association offered to meet with Gaelectric but they were turned down.”
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council responded to the consultation by saying it “requires a longer period for consideration and to allow our Planning Committee to properly consider at its next meeting on March 10.”
In response to a query from the Times over the consultation process in Islandmagee, a Gaelectric spokesperson commented: “The planning application and environmental statement for the project were submitted to the planning authorities on December 23, 2015.
“The project is currently being considered by these authorities and is also available to the public for consultation for a four-week period from the date of publication of the notice by the DOE, i.e. 11/02/2016. A comprehensive programme of community consultation was undertaken prior to submission over a four-year period commencing in April 2012. Seven rounds of community consultation were held on the project prior to submission, six of these rounds included consultation events on Islandmagee. This programme of consultation is detailed in a pre-application consultation report which is included with the planning application. Throughout the consultation process and meetings with local residents, the potential impacts on the marine environment were addressed. These impacts are detailed in Section 8B of the environmental statement.
“Copies of the environmental statement are available to be reviewed at Whitehead Library and at Gaelectric’s offices at Clarendon Dock in Belfast, while the planning application and the ES can be viewed in full at the offices of the DoE planning service at the Strategic Planning Division, Causeway Exchange in Belfast and on the Planning NI Web Portal via Public Access www.planningni.gov.uk.”
A DOE spokesperson stated: “With regards the consultation period, the Department is content that the requirements of the planning legislation have been met. A four-week time period for representations relating to the environmental statement is included in the Planning (EIA)Regulations (NI) 2015, however the Department will consider representations raising new material planning considerations until such time as a decision is taken on an application. A decision will be taken following consideration of the application in light of all material planning considerations including consultation replies, third party representations and relevant planning policy and the area plan.”