The Department for Infrastructure has today confirmed that it intends to appeal Monday’s High Court judgment in relation to the planning application for the proposed arc21 Residual Waste Treatment facility.
The Department is seeking clarity on the law in this case and in relation to decision making on other Regionally Significant planning applications.
The Department is clear that it would be preferable for these decisions to be taken by Ministers, however it has a duty to process planning applications and other planning cases and failure to do so has wide ranging implications for the Northern Ireland economy and the environment. It is therefore important to have clarity on the legal position in the continued absence of ministers.
While the Appeal process is underway, the Department will not take any further decisions on Regionally Significant applications and continues to carefully consider the full implications of the judgment on other planning cases. The Department will continue to progress applications in readiness to reach a final decision.
Responding to the news the Department intends to appeal the decision, the Head of the Civil Service has said it is important, following the High Court judgment on the arc21 incinerator, that the law on what decisions Departments can and cannot take in the absence of Ministers is clarified.
David Sterling said: “Over the past 16 months, in the absence of Ministers, civil servants have been taking Departmental decisions on a number of issues so that public services can continue to be delivered as effectively as possible.
“We have been very clear that significant decisions about policy and the allocation of resources should be taken by democratically-accountable Ministers. But, in the absence of an Executive, civil servants have had to take the unusual step of taking decisions on some issues which would normally have been brought to Ministers for decision.
“We have been doing this reluctantly and only after taking legal advice. And we never expected, or wanted, to have to do this other than for a very short period of time.
“Each decision has been taken on its own merits and senior officials have acted where they believed it was lawful to do so – where it was consistent with the direction of the previous Minister or necessary in the public interest that a decision be taken at the time.
“The arc21 judgment has potentially wide-ranging implications for decision-making in the ongoing absence of Ministers. That is why it is important we obtain greater clarity on the legal position and why it is right for DfI to seek to appeal.”