Campaigners call for change in legislation after drill site granted second extension

The site at Woodburn Forest pictured in July.  INCT 33-730-CON
The site at Woodburn Forest pictured in July. INCT 33-730-CON

Campaigners have called for a change in legislation after the firm behind the Woodburn Forest drilling project was granted another extension to restore the site.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council this week gave oil and gas exploration firm InfraStrata a revised deadline of September 16 to complete works at the rural spot.

It follows an initial extension of two weeks which should have seen the company pull out of the site on August 22.

Stop the Drill campaigners, who consistently opposed the controversial project, had raised concerns that InfraStrata missed their initial deadline of August 8.

The drilling operation was abandoned in June after no trace of hydrocarbons were found.

And on Monday, the local government authority confirmed that a second extension had been agreed.

“Due to wet weather conditions, an extension has been granted for the completion of site restoration works until Friday, September 16 2016,” a spokesperson for the local authority said.

The development was criticised by anti-drill campaigners, with some taking to social media to describe the decision as a “farce”.

Meanwhile, Stop the Drill called on Minister for Infrastructure Chris Hazzard to progress his earlier proposals to remove permitted development rights (PDR) for oil and gas exploration.

“According to the legislation, any extension to the 28 day window for permitted development is required to be agreed before the grant of PDR,” a statement from the campaign group read.

“Otherwise, the legislation is open to abuse, where PDR could be deliberately employed as a guise to avoid applying for planning permission, negating public consultation, expensive fees and so on in the knowledge that the condition of 28 days could never have been complied with and in the hope that it will be sorted retrospectively.

“Indeed the planners in making an EA Determination, upon which the grant of PDR was predicated, explicitly stated that the development was of short duration; a 10 week site preparation, one month drilling period and one month restoration.

“We have argued from the outset that the Woodburn exploration should not have been granted PDR for numerous very obvious reasons; this blatant breach of the 28 day rule further vindicates our strenuous effort over the past two years to have the decision overturned.

“Stop the Drill is calling for Minister Hazzard to commence the process for legislative change now.”