Hightown waste incinerator plan: Campaigners disappointed as arc21 progresses 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.

Campaigners fighting plans for a £240m waste incinerator near Mallusk have expressed disappointment that a planning appeal is to go ahead.

Last September, in the face of significant public and political opposition to the controversial Hightown Quarry scheme, Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan rejected a planning approval recommendation for the project. The SDLP man claimed that the building of the energy from waste plant “could discourage recycling”.

Regional waste management body arc21, which is working in conjunction with the Becon Consortium on the Boghill Road project, has since lodged an appeal against the Minister’s decision.

This week, arc21 confirmed that the Department of the Environment has “forwarded the appropriate files to the Planning Appeals Commission.”

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council recently wrote to the Environment Minister questioning the validity of arc21’s move to appeal his decision, claiming it had “no authority” to do so.

However, a spokesman for arc21 stressed that it is continuing to follow “the appropriate democratic decision-making process with its constituent councils.”

While no date has yet been set for the appeal hearing, it is unlikely to take place for several months.

Community group NoArc21, which was set up to oppose the Hightown waste incinerator proposal, has expressed disappointment that the Planning Appeals Commissions (PAC) has been instructed to conduct a hearing into the Environment Minister’s decision to reject arc21’s planning application.

Colin Buick, chairperson of NoArc21, said: “With this arc21 appeal comes further expense to the public purse, a public which has shown in its thousands objections to the proposed Hightown incinerator.

“Councils are no longer in a position where this is their only option for waste management, these options should be fully explored in the interest of public safety, health and purse.”

Mr Buick claimed that Mr Durkan had “acted in the best interests of the taxpaying public” by refusing the planning application and called on arc21 to withdraw its PAC appeal.

South Antrim MLA David Ford, one of several prominent local politicians who have publicly opposed the incinerator plan, has called for the PAC to discard the arc21 appeal.

“I do not understand why arc21 has lodged this appeal. The people of Mallusk have made it clear that they do not support the proposal.

“I urge anyone who will be affected, or knows someone who will be, to object to this appeal,” the Alliance leader commented.

Welcoming the move by arc21 to appeal the Minister’s decision, a spokesperson for the Becon Consortium said: “We welcome the news that the Department of the Environment has forwarded the appropriate files to the Planning Appeals Commission and await the details about the future appeal process.

“This important £240m waste infrastructure project represents a significant inward investment in Northern Ireland and not only brings much needed jobs to the local community during the construction and commissioning phases, but also offers a sustainable and economically advantageous solution to help manage Northern Ireland’s waste. Importantly, it will also significantly contribute to Northern Ireland’s own security of energy supply and bring us into line with the rest of Europe where such infrastructure has been operating successfully and safely for many years.”

He added: “We hope that the appeals process will provide a transparent and equitable opportunity to explore the details of the application and the facts around the technology solution proposed. For our part we will continue to play an active role in informing the decision-making process underpinned by our vast experience of numerous similar projects across Europe.”

While opponents of the Hightown proposal say that it isn’t needed due to the building of an energy from waste plant at Bombardier in east Belfast, arc21 and Becon insist that there is “more than enough waste for both projects.”

• Read related stories - Durkan explains Hightown incinerator rejection and ‘arc21 has no authority to appeal incinerator plan refusal’