Council defers decision on Hightown waste incinerator project

Members of the NoArc21 campaign group making their point at Mossley Mill ahead of Thursday evening's special council meeting. INNT 23-507CON
Members of the NoArc21 campaign group making their point at Mossley Mill ahead of Thursday evening's special council meeting. INNT 23-507CON

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has deferred making a decision on arc21’s proposed waste incinerator development near Mallusk in order to seek more information about the business case for the project.

Following a special meeting at Mossley Mill on Thursday evening (June 2) to discuss the regional waste management body’s controversial proposal to build a £240m energy from waste plant at Hightown Quarry, the local authority said it would be seeking further clarification about aspects of the scheme before deciding if it is in the best interests of local ratepayers.

A number of elected representatives on the council have previously spoken out in opposition to the arc21 project, with some claiming that the residual waste treatment plant proposal represents “a bad deal” for local ratepayers.

Thursday night’s meeting was held behind closed doors ‘in committee’ as councillors heard presentations from representatives of the NoArc21 anti-incinerator campaign group and the Becon Consortium - the group of private sector companies bidding for the Hightown EfW project.

A group of around 30 NoArc21 protesters - many wearing ‘Stop The Hightown Incinerator’ t-shirts - were joined by several prominent local politicians as they staged a demonstration outside Mossley Mill as councillors arrived for the meeting.

A statement issued by the council after the proceedings said: “The council deferred its decision regarding the Residual Waste Treatment Project in order to seek clarification about recent information received by the council in respect of the project. This will enable council members to make a more fully informed decision which will be in the best interests of its ratepayers.”

The application for the development at Hightown Quarry was refused planning permission by the Environment Minister last year. However, arc21 has since submitted an appeal in a bid to overturn that decision.

Referring to the pending appeal, the council’s statement continued: “The council also decided to remind arc21 that no hearing before the Planning Appeals Commission can proceed without the prior approval of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.

“The council further agreed that arc21 be advised that, given that the procurement process and discussion about this project have gone on for some time, much of which pre-dates the establishment of the new council, the council’s legal advice is that it is an appropriate time to determine the council’s commitment to the project. To facilitate this, the council requires arc21 to provide clarity around the following points in relation to the procurement exercise, specifically: duration of the contract, gate fee, minimum guaranteed tonnages, and also provide clarity around certain other information as part of the process. This will allow the council to make a final decision as to whether the business case is in the best interests of our ratepayers.”

Speaking after the meeting, Colin Buick, chairman of the NoArc21 campaign group, said he welcomed the opportunity to address councillors about residents’ concerns, but expressed disappointment that a decision on the matter had been deferred.

With the issue due to be considered again at the full council meeting on June 27, Mr Buick commented: “We remain confident that the council will reject the planning appeal at its next meeting at the end of the month.”

Cllr Mark Cosgrove, an outspoken opponent of the arc21 plan, added: “It was a very interesting series of presentations which threw up a significant number of questions. I remain focussed on making a decision that is in the best long-term interests of the people I was elected to represent.”

• Read more - ‘arc21 has no authority to appeal incinerator plan refusal’