“selected for its earth science features and is considered to be of national importance..”

I wonder what the geologists think of this. David Gordon has the story in the Belfast Telegraph. At what seems to have been the last possible minute, Northern Ireland Environment Minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, has rescinded the Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) designation for Lisnaragh, near Strabane. According to the DOE spokesman in the report, rescinding the designation is supposedly to provide time “to discuss the [Assembly’s Environment] committee’s concerns with the Minister” – the deadline to either confirm or rescind the notification was 31 Oct. The committee, meanwhile, have been lobbied by “a local group” from the Lisnaragh / Dunamanagh area, and on 11 September invited representatives to brief them – that took place on 16 October. Interestingly, a Strabane Weekly report on 9 Oct identified some of the lobbying groups – “among them Strabane District Council, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and Quarry Products Association NI.” The report also states that Planning Service is considering an application to extract sand and gravel at the site. As David Gordon notes, rescinding the ASSI designation is against the advice of the Council for Nature Conservation and Countryside (CNCC), and the newly formed, if not fully independent, Northern Ireland Environment Agency – whose Director of Natural Resources recommended confirming the designation in an internal memo on 19 September [pdf file].

Lisnaragh ASSI was declared on 31 March 2008 following a recommendation from CNCC in September 2007 in support of its designation. The site was selected for its earth science features and is considered to be of national importance.

More details from the internal memo. [pdf file] which seems to undermine the DOE spokeman’s reference to “The Environment Committee wrote to the Minister on October 23 recommending that the ASSI at Lisnaragh should not be confirmed because of what it considered were inadequacies in NIEA’s consultation with some of the landowners.”

3.2 To ensure full disclosure of the NIEA intention to designate an ASSI to the wider public, notices are also published in at least two newspapers circulating in the area and relevant ASSI documentation is also placed on display in selected buildings with public access. In addition to this statutory requirement, NIEA would inform and seek comment from other various interested parties. Although not required by the Order, NIEA also endeavour to visit all owners, occupiers and interested parties affected by an ASSI to advise them in advance of the declaration and to address any queries they may have at that time.

3.3 NIEA respond to requests for meetings with owners and occupiers in relation to ASSIs, and the Lisnaragh declaration was discussed at three meetings held in the locality between February and April 2008. It was evident from these meetings that some landowners/occupiers attending were objecting to the declaration as they thought it would restrict the potential for exploiting sand and gravel deposits they might have on their lands. A planning application has been received by Planning Service (PS) for the extraction of sand and gravel from lands within the ASSI and this is presently under consideration. [added emphasis]

3.4 Thirteen representations were received through the consultation process; ten from landowners, all of whom were attendees at NIEA meetings concerning the designation. Three representations from interested parties; Strabane District Council, Ulster Farmers Union and Quarry Products Association NI. Key comments made relate to the NIEA scientific evidence for the designation, the potential restrictions on the exploitation of the sand and gravel deposits found within the ASSI and the consultation process applied. NIEA is satisfied that its public consultation process was appropriate and that it was conducted in accordance with the Order.

3.5 The Order does not provide for matters of a socio-economic nature to be taken into consideration in relation to the selection or designation of an ASSI. Any new development, such as the exploitation of sand and gravel would, however, require planning approval, and PS does have regard to economic matters as part of the material considerations when planning applications are being processed. NIEA is routinely consulted by PS in relation to applications that may affect an ASSI or proposed ASSI.

The Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 [Part IV Areas of special scientific interest] can be found here.