The legal challenge to a controversial road through a protected area in Northern Ireland has received a boost following the resounding rejection of changes to the EU’s Nature directives.
Last month ornithologist Chris Murphy won High Court permission to challenge a planned road through the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg special protected area. The €190 million stretch of the A6 Belfast to Derry road, green lit earlier this year, intends to provide much-needed improvements to the transport corridor connecting Belfast to Derry.
Murphy has been granted leave to seek a judicial review of the transport plan over an alleged breach of an EU directive in the specially protected area with the judge saying there was still uncertainty surrounding the potential disturbance to wildlife on Lough Neagh and Lough Beg. Murphy’s challenge will proceed to a full hearing early next year.
And now European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has been forced to abandon planned changes to the EU’s Bird and Habitats directives – the very same directives Murphy had cited in objection to the road. Juncker’s desire to make the Habitats Directive more ‘business-friendly’ has been comprehensively rejected. On Wednesday the current laws were declared “fit for purpose” following the outcome of an online consultation which saw 550,000 respondents take part and 94% of people (520,000) calling for the laws to be left alone.
And while the EU directive ruling doesn’t change the essential underpinnings of Murphy’s challenge to the planned road, it reaffirms the validity of the case, no doubt provides a morale boost and also sends a clear message that people will mobilize and make their voices heard when it comes to the environment. Pave paradise at your peril!
The landscape around the top of Lough Neagh, made famous by poet Seamus Heaney, is a vital winter feeding ground for migratory birds. Over 100,000 wintering birds fly in each year from Canada, Iceland, Greenland and the Russian Arctic and the area is especially important for the majestic whooper swan which flies in from Iceland.