Date set for Hightown waste incinerator appeal

A computer-generated image of the proposed energy from waste plant development at Hightown Quarry.
A computer-generated image of the proposed energy from waste plant development at Hightown Quarry.

The battle over arc21’s controversial plan to build a massive waste incinerator near Mallusk is to go to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).

With the initial application for the £240m Hightown Quarry development having been refused by the Environment Minister, the regional waste management body is hoping the PAC will overturn the decision after a hearing in May.

In September last year, Mark H Durkan turned down the Boghill Road project, despite an approval recommendation from planners. He claimed there was “no need” for the proposal and warned that construction of the energy from waste plant “could discourage recycling”.

However, members of arc21’s joint committee - elected representatives from its six constituent councils - subsequently agreed to submit a notice of appeal to the PAC.

Despite considerable political and public opposition, and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council writing to the Minister claiming that arc21 had “no authority to proceed with an appeal”, it seems the matter will be heard by the Commission.

A pre-hearing meeting is scheduled to take place in Park House, Great Victoria Street on Wednesday, March 9 at 6.30pm. And a provisional date for the full hearing has been set for Tuesday, May 24.

Encouraging objectors and local political representatives to attend the pre-hearing meeting, Colin Buick, chairperson of the NoArc21 campaign group, said: “Campaigners, residents, experts and politicians have expressed complete disbelief that this proposal is still being allowed to drain funds from the public purse almost three years on from being revealed. arc21 should respect the views of ratepayers and Minister Mark H Durkan. This has only galvanised NoArc21 campaigners and given further support to our campaign against this planning application.

“NoArc21 wish to request that all those political representatives, who have stood on platforms in front of hundreds of campaigners in public forums, step forward and take up the challenge laid down by the PAC appeal process by making themselves available in front of this hearing and representing the well aired views of all residents.

“We would also urge as many objectors to attend the hearing as possible.”

The NoArc21 group claims that the Hightown project is “not safe, not sustainable and not needed” and have branded it a waste of public money. However, arc21 says the new infrastructure is needed to enable its constituent councils to meet European landfill diversion targets and manage their black bin waste more sustainably.

Meanwhile, the Becon Consortium - the group of private companies behind the arc21 plan - has welcomed the Institution of Civil Engineers’ recently published 2016 manifesto, which urges the government to deliver a publicly owned energy from waste facility by May 2021.

While political representatives and thousands of local residents have objected to the arc21 proposals for the Boghill Road site, the Becon Consortium believes the project is needed in order to help Northern Ireland deal with its municipal waste.

The Institution of Civil Engineers’ manifesto doesn’t refer specifically to the Hightown project, but does say: “Northern Ireland requires energy from waste facilities in order to meet its waste management needs. The establishment of EfW facilities would not only negate the cost of exporting our waste and paying for some of the highest energy costs in Europe, but would also contribute to the circular economy through the creation of jobs.”

A spokesman for Becon commented: “The Becon Consortium welcomes the identification of a publicly owned energy from waste (EfW) facility as one of the top infrastructure priorities for Northern Ireland as outlined in the recently published Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Manifesto.

“We note that ICE has deemed both energy and waste sectors ‘at risk’ and agree with their assertion that if we ignore these ongoing issues, ‘we risk making Northern Ireland unsafe, inefficient and ill-prepared for the future’.

“They state that the establishment of such publicly owned EfW facilities by 2021 would ‘not only negate the cost of exporting our waste and paying for some of the highest energy costs in Europe, but would also contribute to the circular economy through the creation of jobs’. This very same rationale is at the heart of the Becon project, designed to help arc21 councils manage their waste more sustainably by maximising the value of non-recyclable black bin waste while also contributing to Northern Ireland’s energy security.”

While opponents of the arc21 plan say it is not needed and point to the Bombardier/Full Circle Power EfW project in east Belfast as a “viable alternative”, Becon insists that there is scope for more than one EfW plant in Northern Ireland.

The spokesman added: “The position from ICE is consistent with our belief that the proposed private sector waste facility at Bombardier in east Belfast is entirely complementary with our proposed facilities and that there is more than enough waste for both projects. This is reinforced by Bombardier’s own planning application which clearly stated that their proposal ‘is not reliant on Local Authority collected waste’ and ‘does not seek to compete with the arc21 Becon project’.”