Councillors hoping for lignite area planning relaxation

BALLYMONEY councillors are pushing for a relaxation of planning rules in the ‘lignite protection’ area near the town and they have claimed a precedent could be set as it is understood a bungalow is on the verge of receiving the go-ahead in the disputed region.

There has been a ban on new builds in a huge swathe of land near the town because the area has been ‘protected’ by planners in case it is developed as a huge open cast lignite mine in the future.

The ban on building has had an impact on dozens of local families for a number of years.

The matter was discussed at a meeting between planners and Ballymoney Council last week when a case was up for refusal because it is in the protected lignite area.

But Ballymoney Mayor, Ulster Unionist Bill Kennedy, made reference to a separate case of a bungalow he said is set to be passed in the lignite zone which he believes will set a vital precedent.

The comments came as planners were of the opinion to refuse permission for a new one and a half storey dwelling with detached double garage on a farm because the area is protected as a possible future lignite resource.

Mr David Ramsey is the applicant and the location is a site approximately 50 metres to the west of 8 Culramoney Road, Ballymoney.

DUP councillor John Finlay said although the location is in the lignite area he thought the planners had exceptions for agricultural reasons.

A planning officer said that had not been fully exhausted yet.

Cllr Finlay called for an office meeting which was seconded by Mayor Kennedy.

DUP councilor Frank Campbell said: “This is a hard working young man and to improve the farm he has to keep the family on the farm.”

Speaking to the Times after the meeting, Mayor Kennedy said the “unfair” ban on new building in the lignite protection zone has plagued local people.

“If there is a change brought about it will put the people in the lignite area on the same playing field as people in the rest of Northern Ireland.

“There are at least 50 farms affected in this lignite protection zone along with Bushvale Church and businesses. People have found they cannot even get an extension to a house and even bids to increase the size of farm yards have been restricted and in the past businesses have moved out,” said Cllr Kennedy.

He said it is important that there is a breakthrough on the issue.

Meanwhile, one local resident said: “This ban on new building in the area should be lifted. Why should people be stopped from building new houses or developing their existing home or farms because of something that may or may not happen in 100 years time? What is wrong with letting people build new property and if a mine does come the properties could then be bought out. In the mean time people are in limbo.”

A Planning Service spokesperson told the Times: “The Department will not grant planning permission to any new construction other than structures related to and necessary for businesses already established there, and improvements, extensions and replacements of occupied dwellings.

“The Plan safeguards this resource, to ensure the reserves remain exploitable if and when the need arises. There are no plans to change it in advance of the DNAP Public Inquiry.

“Only structures related to and necessary for businesses already established there, and improvements, extensions and replacements of occupied dwellings will be allowed.”

“DETI officials are not convinced that a change to the current policy is justified but will continue their discussions with DOE colleagues,” said the spokesperson.