Battle lines drawn in fight over Hightown incinerator

A computer-generated image of how the arc21/Becon development at Hightown Quarry might look. INNT 14-507CON
A computer-generated image of how the arc21/Becon development at Hightown Quarry might look. INNT 14-507CON
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The battle lines have been drawn in the fight over plans to build a massive Energy from Waste plant near Mallusk after a formal planning application for the project was submitted last week.

arc21, the waste management body for Newtownabbey and 10 other council areas in the east of Northern Ireland, says the new infrastructure will enable its constituent councils to meet European landfill diversion targets and manage their black bin waste more sustainably. However, opponents of the controversial £240m project have claimed that it is “not safe and not sustainable” and have vowed to fight it at every stage, including in the courts if necessary.

If approved by the Environment Minister, the plan will see the Becon Consortium deliver a Mechanical Biological Treatment facility alongside an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant at Hightown Quarry, Boghill Road.

Similar waste disposal/electricity generation technology is already used in other countries across Europe.

It’s thought that the project could create and sustain hundreds of jobs.

Ricky Burnett, Policy and Operations Director, arc21 said: “This project represents the latest stage in our strategy to view our waste as a resource and builds on the good progress we have made over the last decade. While we will continue to pursue challenging recycling targets, there will always be residual waste remaining, which we must stop sending to landfill. There is an economic and environmental imperative to do so, to meet European landfill diversion targets, possible landfill bans and to avoid potentially heavy fines.

“The project contains a mix of technologies and facilities which will both increase recycling levels and divert residual waste from landfill. We are confident that the chosen site is well located for a development of this nature and that various relevant impact assessments confirm that to be the case. This project will help maximise the value from waste by significantly reducing our dependency on landfill and improving the security and diversity of energy production in Northern Ireland.”

Ian Smith, Project Director, Becon Consortium added: “We are very excited about this project and are delighted to have reached this important stage. Following a lot of work and community and stakeholder consultation, we believe we are proposing the best available technology solution in the most suitable location to manage arc21’s waste in a more environmentally responsible and sustainable way. If our application is successful, this project will help Northern Ireland catch up with the rest of Europe and ensure we maximise the value from our waste, while addressing the European imperative to divert our waste from landfill. Importantly it will also contribute significantly to separate renewable and sustainable energy targets.”

According to arc21, the proposed facilities will help increase overall recycling levels within the area by up to 10 per cent. It will also export 14MW of electricity to the National Grid - enough to power more than 30,000 homes.

While arc21 and Becon say the Hightown Quarry site is “the best available location”, anti-incinerator campaign group No-Arc21 and local politicians are adamant that the waste disposal plant should not be built so close to residential areas.

arc21/Becon have stressed that environmental impact assessments and an independent health impact assessment have been carried out as part of the planning process. But opponents of the scheme have raised serious concerns about the potential detrimental impact on the local area and the people who live there.

Colin Buick, chairman of No-Arc21, commented: “From the initial announcement of the arc21/Becon incinerator project in March 2013, we have expressed our outright opposition to the project. We have studied the proposal and we believe that it uses the wrong technology and is proposed in the wrong location.

“The treatment of almost 300,000 tonnes of black bin waste per year will make this the biggest plant of its kind in the whole of Ireland and will involve over 500 vehicles going in and out of the plant on a daily basis. No matter how arc21 and Becon try to package it, this project will have a detrimental impact on the entire area.”

No-Arc21 have called on opponents of the Hightown plan to submit written objections to the Planning Service’s Strategic Planning Division.

• A public meeting to discuss the arc21/Becon plan is due to take place at Academy Sports Club, Mallusk Road on April 16 at 8pm. Read more in next week’s Times.