While the council may not have got resources from central government to bolster its enforcement role, Mr Justice Michael White said he hopes, in future, “a blind eye will not be turned to this degradation of the environment”.
The council was not a party to the case before him but there was “undisputed evidence” it did not follow up on planning conditions it had laid down for Keegan Quarries Ltd. Had the council taken its enforcement responsibility seriously, the breach of the water table would not have arisen, he said.
The breach, with possible consequences of polluted water leaching off the lands into water courses and either affecting other private land owners, the public water supply or the natural environment, was “of serious consequence”.
The failure by KQL to progressively restore the lands as work was proceeding was also a “most serious” breach.
The judge made the comments in a judgement on proceedings by Robert Henry Fowler, son of the late John Fowler, against KQL over operation of a quarry on lands at Clegarrow and Rahinstown, Co Meath owned by the Fowlers.
Quarrying operations began on the lands from 1997 under licences granted by the late John Fowler. Quarrying has now ceased, KQL has surrendered the license and left the property which, the judge said, includes two very deep lakes dug by KQL “with no regard to the planning permission”.
There would have to be a screening assessment to ensure no leaching from the site of pollutants which could affect the Special Area of Conservation site of the River Boyne and Blackwater, he said.
The court will appoint an expert in that regard who would also give advice about the feasibility of infilling all the water bodies on the lands and other issues. The cost of preparing the report should be borne by KQL, he directed. He has adjourned the case to allow the sides consider what specific orders should be made arising from the judgement.
Among various claims, it was alleged KQL was carrying out unauthorised development and restoration of the lands. In November 2014, the High Court directed, on consent of the sides, KQL to apply for substituted consent for certain operations.
Because Bord Pleanála refused an extension of time for the substituted consent application, the matter returned to the High Court.
In his reserved judgement, Mr Justice White rejected arguments by KQL he should refuse relief due to alleged acquiescence by the late John Fowler with planning breaches. Mr Fowler died tragically as a result of an accident in 2008, his evidence was not available and his widow had to take over matters without much prior knowledge of the contractual relationship between her late husband and KQL.
The court could not establish the deceased conscientiously acquiesced in the breach of the water table but was satisfied quarrying on lands outside the planning permission was done with consent of the late Mr Fowler. KQL should have got a revised permission, he added. While this was a private law case, there was also a strong public interest, the judge said.