Campaigners fighting plans for a massive waste incinerator near Mallusk claim doubts have been raised about the future of the body behind the project.
The No-Arc 21 campaign group believes that a comment by the Environment Minister concerning arc21 - the waste management group for Newtownabbey and 10 other local council areas - raises serious questions about the future of the organisation, which is seeking permission to build a £240m Energy from Waste plant at Hightown Quarry.
Responding to an Assembly question tabled by South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan, Minister Mark Durkan confirmed that he is “not in a position to specify what the future status of arc21 will be” after April 2015, when the newly formed super councils replace existing local councils.
He also outlined that his department is consulting with council chief executives, seeking their preferred option for the delivery of waste management services under the new super councils.
Chair of the No-Arc21 group, Colin Buick, said the Minister’s response represents “a blow” to the arc21 plan and has called for the Hightown incinerator proposal to be withdrawn.
“The Environment Minister’s comments show there is a real possibility that arc21 will cease to exist in a few months time,” he commented.
“Add to this the fact that the group’s planning application for the Hightown incinerator proposal faces over 3,000 public objections and full cross-party political opposition and it’s very difficult to see how it can progress any further.
“With planning permission granted for a new energy from waste facility at Bombardier in Belfast, local councils are no longer in a position where arc21’s proposal is their only option for waste management.”
A spokesman for arc21 responded: “arc21’s plans have been progressed in compliance with various Northern Ireland Executive policies, including the DOE’s regional waste strategy. There is a clear need to develop a number of new waste facilities - including Mechanical Biological Treatment and Energy from Waste - to bring the region into line with European best practice, reduce our over-dependence on landfill and further improve recycling rates.
“The underlying need to develop new waste facilities remains unchanged and arc21 continues to support councils to implement their statutory waste management plans.”
Meanwhile, the No-Arc21 campaigners are due to meet with Community Places - the organisation which has provided support and advice to residents opposed to plans for the redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast.
It’s understood the ‘Not in Hightown’ campaigners are hoping to discuss the court ruling in the Casement Park case and look specifically at any points which might be relevant to the arc21 plan.
The Environment Minister is expected to make a decision on the arc21 planning application within the next couple of months.