Campaigners against a new school campus at Craigavon Lakes are celebrating after the Court of Appeal ruled in their favour and overturned planning approval.
Planners had given the go-ahead for the new £45m Southern Regional College (SRC) building on the site back in 2019.
However, the proposal was opposed by Save Craigavon City Park and Lakes group, which said the green space should be preserved, and local resident Clare McCann lodged an appeal with the court to have the decision overturned.
In a Facebook post today (Tuesday), the group said the Court of Appeal had ruled in their favour, adding: “Our park is safe!”.
Senior judges in the Appeal Court found the council’s decision to grant planning permission was “unsustainable in law”, according to the BBC.
Two of the successful grounds related to the Craigavon Area Plan 2010, with judges concluding the proposed development was “significantly contrary” to the planning policy.
They also found the decision to grant planning permission was unsustainable in law as it breached parts of the Habitats Regulations and that there had been “disregard of material relating to the presence of otters” on the site.
The fourth successful ground of challenge related to the council failing to notify the Department for Infrastructure of the application.
He said: “I welcome today’s decision by the Court of Appeal to overturn the planning approval for a Southern Regional College campus within Craigavon Lakes.
“The decision by councillors on the planning committee of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council to approve this application in 2019 was unwise in the extreme.
“I must place on record my tribute to the tireless efforts of campaigners and local residents who have worked hard to ensure the views of local citizens were heard and that the local environment and wildlife within this much loved park was protected.
“SRC and council must now recognise and accept the large public opposition to the building of a campus at Craigavon Lakes and urgently turn their attention to finding an alternate suitable site within the area.”
Also welcoming the decision, Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie said the campaign had long contended that the decision to build a new college on six acres of land at the lakes “would destroy huge swathes of wildlife and park used by those living in central Craigavon and the surrounding area”.
“Not only was the felling of hundreds of trees against the ABC Council current policy but there is vacant land available throughout central Craigavon which could be used,” he said.
“I am delighted that the Court of Appeal has ruled to overturn the planning approval granted to SRC which was agreed in early 2019. I would now urge both the SRC and the local authority to look at a different place to build the SRC within central Craigavon using the land that is available.
“In the meantime, I wish to congratulate all those who stood firm and refused to accept what was clearly a flawed planning decision. This is their victory and they should be proud of their steadfastness and working in the interests of the people of central Craigavon and the wider community.”
A spokesperson for the council said: “Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council acknowledges the ruling of the Court of Appeal today, Tuesday, October 25.
“The council will now take time to review the judgement and consider its options.”
On its website, SRC describes the plans as as “flagship 21st century campus for Craigavon”.
It adds: “This low-rise building will replace and unify campuses at Lurgan and Portadown and is designed to integrate within the woodland area at South Lakes.”
The college was contacted for comment.