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Saturday 23 June 2018

Cross-border electricity inter-connector in Ireland gets go-ahead from Stormont

The proposed North-South interconnector from Tyrone to Meath will require approximately 400 pylons say campaigners opposed to the project
The proposed North-South interconnector from Tyrone to Meath will require approximately 400 pylons say campaigners opposed to the project
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

A new £200m electricity inter-connector between Northern Ireland and the Republic has been given the green light.

The north-south inter-connector, which would go through Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan, Monaghan and into Meath, is proposed by electricity system operator System Operator Northern Ireland (SONI) and its owner EirGrid in the Republic.

Today, the Northern Ireland element of the development was awarded approval, following a review by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).

Approval was granted by the Department for Infrastructure.

This afternoon, SONI welcomed the planning approval for the scheme.

Robin McCormick, general manager of SONI, said "we very much welcome this positive outcome from the Department for Infrastructure. The North South Interconnector is undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today and will deliver very real benefits to domestic and commercial consumers.

“It has received strong support from businesses and employers because of the positive impact it will have on the economy, and from consumer groups as it will help reduce the cost of electricity.

“While we recognise this project is to the benefit of everyone, we will continue to work to ensure that it is delivered at the least possible impact to the communities and landowners who are hosting it.

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“In the coming months we will hand over the project to NIE Networks who will construct the interconnector, in the meantime we will be on the ground engaging with landowners and the community, ensuring they remain up-to-date on progress and timelines.”

High Court

In the South a High Court judge this month dismissed a second legal challenge to the planned 138 kilometre north-south electricity interconnector.

Mr Justice Max Barrett also refused leave to appeal his rejection of an earlier separate challenge to the project. 

Eirgrid's interconnector project comprises a 400kV overhead line circuit linking an existing substation in Woodland, Co Meath, with a planned substation in Turleenan, Co Tyrone.

The project is planned to provide a second high-capacity all-Ireland interconnector alongside the existing 275kV double circuit overhead line between Co Louth and Co Armagh.

Last August, Mr Justice Barrett rejected a challenge to An Bord Pleanála's grant of permission brought by the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign Ltd (NEPPC) and a local resident, Maura Sheehy. 

The applicants then sought the necessary certificates to appeal that decision but, on Thursday, Mr Justice Barrett ruled no substantial grounds of appeal had been raised. 

He also, in a separate judgment, dismissed the second challenge to the project, brought by Val Martin, a farmer and environmental campaigner.

The judge held Mr Martin, representing himself, was not entitled to be granted leave for judicial review of the Board's December 2016 permission for the project.  Even if he was entitled to leave, the court would have rejected his case on all grounds, he added.

There were, he said, "significant" deficiencies in Mr Martin's pleadings and they did not meet the criteria required by the relevant court rules. 

The Board, for example, had no function to review government policy on renewable energy. Nor was it the Board's function to review decisions of the European Commission and European Parliament relating to projects of common interest. (PCI)

Despite Mr Martin's arguments to the contrary, there was clearly material before the Board to support the conclusions it reached in granting permission, he said.

In his judgment refusing leave to the NEPPC and Ms Sheehy for an appeal against his earlier rejection of their case, the judge reiterated his concern that applications for leave to appeal are made to the same judge who dismissed the cases. However, none of the parties had objected to his hearing the applications, he said.

He said the relevant provision of the Planning and Development Act 2000 requires, for an appeal to be taken, the applicants must show the judgment at issue involves (1) a point of law of exceptional public importance and (2) that it is desirable in the public interest an appeal should be taken.

Those criteria had not been met in either case, he held.

The NEPPC and Ms Sheehy had raised issues arising from his finding the Board was a competent authority to hear the appeal against approval but the points they sought to have determined were "abstract" and had "no real world consequence". Other points concerning the Habitats Directive and other measures were "utterly unclear" in their terms and intended consequences.

The public interest in having the interconnector proceed outweighs any possible element of public interest claimed by the applicants in respect of an appeal, he also held.

The judge also warned of potential costs consequences, in appropriate planning cases, where appeals are sought on ground of alleged "abundant" points of law of exceptional public importance "where no such points present (often patently so)".


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