Success for woodland campaign as planning approval revoked

Damian Martin, left, and George McLaughlin of Prehen Historical and Environmental Society. (DER3113PG004)
Damian Martin, left, and George McLaughlin of Prehen Historical and Environmental Society. (DER3113PG004)

Campaigners fighting to protect Prehen’s ancient woods have hailed a decision to revoke part of controversial development plans in the woodland.

George McLaughlin of the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society (PHES) called the decision - detailed in a letter to Mr McLaughlin last week from the north’s outgoing Environment Minister Alex Attwood - “unprecedented.”

In the letter Mr Attwood states that not only is the approval to be revoked but that he has “instructed that a 3rd party specialist is appointed to review this case.”

“This is an unprecedented decision and we are delighted that part of the approval has now been revoked,” Mr McLaughlin told the ‘Journal’ yesterday.

“At last someone has listened to us and accepted our point of view. It is vindication in that we were right in what we were saying and correct to follow it through.”

Spanning some 18 acres - only a remnant of its former size - the wood is home to a wealth of wildlife including bluebells, the protected red squirrel and long eared owls .

Approval for four houses was granted back in 2007, but has since been the subject of a vehement campaign led by PHES.

“From day one there seemed to be a presumption to approve this insensitive and unsympathetic application at this ancient woodland site, one of the last tracts of ancient woodland in the north, and home to one of the last colonies of red squirrel,” Mr McLaughlin said.

“And now we have the recognition that we were correct. “

He said the success of having the decision revoked was a result of “patience, perseverance and a little bit of divine intervention.”

Mr McLaughlin said it had often been a “long and frustrating” journey.

“But we have had such a massive volume of support and would like to thank all the groups and individuals who have helped and support us over the years,” he said.

He said the lobby group are now preparing submissions for the 3rd part review - and said the fight to protect the woods would continue.

“What we hope is that the review/investigation will be undertaken by someone who is neutral and that it will be comprehensive, open and and inclusive and that it will consider other incomprehensible decisions which have been made in the Prehen area,” he said.

Mr McLaughlin said the group are now looking forward to working with Assembly member Mark H Durkan who has replaced Mr Attwood as Stormont’s Environment Minister.