Peat companies appeal turf cutting exemption decision

Bringing in the turf for winter Williamstown Bog Co. Westmeath. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Bringing in the turf for winter Williamstown Bog Co. Westmeath. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Tim Healy

Two companies have asked the High Court for permission to appeal the rejection of their challenges to decisions of An Bord Pleanála that their activities are no longer exempt development.

The cases have "far-reaching implications for the peat harvesting industry", the court heard. 

The Board's decisions arose after Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) queried the development status of the companies' operations. 

In a judgment last February, Mr Justice Charles Meenan dismissed two separate challenges, one by Bulrush Horticulture Ltd and the other by Westland Horticulture Ltd, Westmeath Peat Ltd and Cavan Peat Ltd, over decisions by the Board in April 2013 their activities were not exempt development after September 20, 2012. 

The ruling means that from September 2012 all commercial peat harvesting in Ireland is unauthorised unless it has planning permission.

This week lawyers for both companies asked the court for permission to have their cases heard by the Court of Appeal on grounds including that the action raises points of exceptional public importance. 

Rory Mulcahy SC,  for Westland, said the judgment would have a detrimental effect on his client's and other firms in the industry.

Counsel said the questions which arise from the judgment include is an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) required in respect of a peat extraction development other than one involving s new or extended area of 30 hectares or more. 

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The second question asked is whether EU directives on EIAs and Habitats apply to peat extraction which lawfully commenced as exempt developments prior to 2012.

The state was to introduce regulations for the peat harvesting industry, but had failed to do so, counsel said. 

In her submissions to the court, Suzanne Murray Bl, for Bulrush, told the court that the judgment has "far-reaching implications for the peat extraction industry" .

An Bord Plenala opposes the two firm's applications. 

Following submissions from the parties, Mr Justice Meenan said he was reserving his decision on the applications for permission to bring an appeal before the Court of Appeal. 

Bulrush, of Magherafelt, Co Derry, has since 2003 operated a milled peat production facility at Camagh Bog near Castlepollard, Westmeath, 80 hectares of which is subject to peat extraction. 

Westland has carried out commercial peat extraction operations since 1993 on lands at Coole, Mayne, Ballinealloe and, since 1999, on lands at Clonsura, respectively leased from Westmeath Peat and Cavan Peat.

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