Resident’s Woodburn drill project High Court challenge dismissed

The oil drilling operation at Woodburn last year. Court heard the site has been fully restored to pre-development condition.
The oil drilling operation at Woodburn last year. Court heard the site has been fully restored to pre-development condition.

A Co. Antrim resident has lost his High Court challenge to a controversial oil exploration project close to his home.

With drilling at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus having ended without any fuel being found, a judge ruled that proceedings were now academic.

Mr Justice Colton also held there was no good public interest reason for determining the case brought by Richard Irwin.

He said: “The factual position now is that there is no development taking place at this site. It had been fully restored to its pre-development condition. As such he is therefore no longer potentially affected or impacted by a development near his home.”

Mr Irwin was seeking to judicially review Mid and East Antrim Borough’s decision to permit development rights for the exploratory borehole.

Drilling was carried out amid sustained protests from environmentalists in May and June last year. But the firm behind the project, InfraStrata, finished operations and returned the site to its previous state after failing to strike oil.

Mr Irwin, who lives less than a mile for the drill location, challenged the legality of the decision to give the go-ahead for the exploration. His lawyers argued that InfraStrata should have gone through a full planning application because of the scale of work involved.

Although he was previously granted leave to apply for a judicial review, the judge had to decide whether there was any point in the case continuing. Emphasising that the development under challenge no longer exists, Mr Justice Colton backed submissions that the proceedings will have no practical consequence for Mr Irwin.

“I have therefore come to the conclusion that the dispute is indeed academic between the parties,” he said.

Despite this finding, he also had to decide if it would be in the public interest to hear further arguments. The court heard that it is the only case of its type to result in a legal challenge.

The Department for Infrastructure is also carrying out public consultation on proposals to remove development rights for any similar mineral exploration projects, the judge noted. If accepted, it would mean future exploration of the type carried out by InfraStrata would require a full planning application.

“I am not persuaded that there is a large number of similar cases either in existence or which are anticipated which will require the court to resolve the issues in the near future,” Mr Justice Colton said. Dismissing the challenge, he added: “This is not a case in which the court should exercise its discretion to hear the application because of a good reason in the public interest for doing so.”