An application for the redevelopment of Cloghan Point oil terminal outside Whitehead was given the go-ahead at a meeting on Thursday morning despite 400 letters of objection.
Paul Duffy, the council’s head of planning. told the committee the proposal is for the redevelopment of an existing oil terminal at Cloghan Point which currently stores oil reserves for the Republic of Ireland.
The application seeks to provide an import, storage and distribution facility for petrol, dual purpose kerosene, gas oil and diesel as well as the import, storage and blending of bio fuels.
It will also involve the demolition of existing buildings and chimney stack as well as jetty modifications, vapour recovery unit, four new storage tanks and operations building.
The committee heard the terminal was constructed more than 40 years ago to facilitate distribution of heavy fuel oil to Kilroot Power Station and Ballylumford Power Station in Islandmagee.
Members were told the site “must be maintained in a safe, operational condition”. Mr Duffy went on to say an environmental statement includes an assessment of alternative sites which he said have been “discounted for various reasons”.
He noted the proposed redevelopment of an existing site meets policy requirements and would have “no significant impact on the rural character” adding that re-location of the terminal would not be possible.
He indicated a £30m redevelopment of the site would make a “significant contribution to the local economy” leading to the creation of 30 full-time jobs. He said 300 vehicle movements daily is anticipated at the site which would be operational 24 hours but would be expected mostly between 6am and 10pm.
“We are of the view that the development would not result in capacity issues at the junction of the A2 at Quay Lane. Traffic generation would have an insignificant effect on the surrounding highway network. The development will not have an unacceptable impact on tourism.”
He noted 400 letters of objection to the proposal with concerns about climate change, local roads, marine environment of Belfast Lough as well as “encouraging further dependency on fossil fuels”.
However, Mr Duffy suggested transition to a renewable source of energy will “take time”. “In the meantime, we will need a reliable source of fuels. Northern Ireland depends on the import of fuels such as gas and oil,” he commented.
He also noted there were concerns raised about potential environmental impact. He reported the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has advised it is content that this has been “adequately assessed” and has concluded the project will “not have an adverse impact”. He went on to say health and safety is regulated by the Health and Safety Executive.
East Antrim Alliance MLA Danny Donnelly said the proposed development would have a “very significant impact” on the area with the arrival of tankers transporting fuel from the United States and Middle East.
“The application deviates significantly from previous use which has been a static site with little activity.”
He also suggested there would be a “high impact” on the A2 with vehicles from the site travelling through Eden, Carrickfergus and Whiteabbey past primary schools along the route.
He emphasised the need to move away from fossil fuels saying that this requires a “transition period”. “I believe it will be detrimental to the area,” he stated.
Professor Geraint Ellis, who represented the ‘No to Cloghan Point’ campaign group, said that there was “lack of evidence of public interest benefit”.
The Queen’s University planning professor suggested the recommendation to approve was “based on presumption”. “Its emphasis is on existing use which has a long history of storage. Distribution is a completely new activity.” He asked for conditions limiting hours of operation at the site, if the application is approved.
Planning agent Tom Stokes told the committee the Cookstown-based LCC Group bought the terminal which opened at Cloghan Point in 1980 from AES Kilroot.
He noted 68 per cent of homes in Northern Ireland depend on oil for heating. He stressed the environmental impact assessment was “robust” and all statutory consultees were “satisfied”.
He indicated the development plan “seeks to redevelop and use local infrastructure”. “This proposal will result in sustainable reuse of an existing facility.”
He also said if approved, it would provide 250 construction jobs and yield rates estimated at £25m over 20 years.
Coast Road DUP Councillor Angela Smyth asked for an assurance that Translink which had concerns previously about the proposal is now satisfied. Mr Stokes stated that discussions have taken place with Translink which he said has “no objection to the proposal”.
In response to a query about road safety by Carrickfergus Castle DUP Cllr Cheryl Brownlee, Mr Stokes said this has been assessed by Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Roads and “improved visibility splays will be delivered”.
Braid Ulster Unionist Cllr Alan Barr, a firefighter, asked if similar sites have been involved in fire emergencies. He was informed this occurs “not very often” and that the biggest cause of fire at oil terminals is lightning.
A proposal to approve the application was made by Bannside DUP Cllr Tyler Hoey seconded by Cllr Barr and approved by the committee unanimously.
Commenting on social media after the decision to grant permission, Prof Ellis said: “Our focus is now on Dept of Infrastructure to ask them to call it in so it can be assessed more thoroughly.”
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter