Opponents of the controversial plan to build a massive waste incinerator near Mallusk have been urged to “look at the evidence objectively.”
arc21, the waste management body for Newtownabbey and 10 other local council areas, is hoping to secure planning permission for a £240m energy from waste plant at Hightown Quarry. But many local residents are vehemently opposed to the project.
Anti-incinerator campaigners, led by the No-Arc21 lobby group, claim that the arc21/Becon Consortium plan is “not safe and not sustainable” and have vowed to fight it at every turn.
They have voiced concerns about the potential impact the facility could have on people’s health, the local environment, traffic levels and house prices in the area.
Branding it “the wrong technology in the wrong place”, they have pointed to the Full Circle plan for a waste gasification plant at Bombardier in east Belfast as “an alternative” to the Hightown plant.
The planning application has already met with around 1,800 individual objections, as well as opposition from community organisations and political representatives.
Accepting that people have genuine concerns about the proposal, Ricky Burnett, arc21’s policy and operations director, has urged them to look at the dispute over Ireland’s first municipal waste incinerator - the Indaver waste-to-energy plant at Duleek in Co Meath - and how initial scepticism and opposition there has given way to general acceptance of the new technology.
Indaver, which is planning to build a second waste-to-energy plant near Cork, is one of the companies “supporting” the Becon Consortium bid for the plant at Hightown Quarry.
The Meath incinerator, built on agricultural land beside a cement works at cost of 146m euro, began operating in autumn 2011. It is capable of processing 220,000 tonnes of waste per year and produces 18 MW of electricity - enough to power around 22,000 homes.
Speaking to the Times during a visit to the facility last week, Mr Burnett said that while the situation in Duleek isn’t exactly the same as that in Hightown, there are “a lot of similarities in terms of the size and the technology employed.”
He believes that lessons can be learned from what happened in Co Meath, where residents fought for over a decade against the planned waste facility, citing similar fears to those being voiced over the Hightown application.
“People had concerns beforehand. They have looked at the evidence, the place is up and running and people no longer have those concerns. They are going about their daily lives and they don’t even know that this facility is operating,” he commented.
Jane Hennessy, communications manager for Indaver Ireland, added: “There were genuine concerns from local residents because this was new technology for Ireland so we spent a lot of time explaining the process, bringing people to our facilities in Europe and explaining to people that there are hundreds of these in operation in cities and rural areas and hopefully we allayed some of those concerns.”
She stressed that the plant operates within strict licence and planning conditions and encouraged anyone with concerns about energy from waste technology to get the “facts and figures” and discuss their concerns with the agencies responsible for protecting the environment and public health.
Echoing that point, Mr Burnett urged people to “look at the evidence objectively, weigh up the evidence and come to a judgement based on the facts.”
He said that people can access the relevant information about the Hightown project by checking out the Becon website - www.becon.co.uk, clicking on the Planning Service web portal or by contacting arc21.
arc21 is hoping that the Department of the Environment will submit a report on the Hightown application to the Environment Minister in September, and that a decision will be taken by Mark H Durkan shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, the No-Arc21 group this week called on arc21 to clarify the membership of the consortium behind the Hightown project, claiming that energy firm E.ON had withdrawn from the process and been replaced by Indaver.
A spokesman for arc21 denied the claim, stressing that EEW Energy from Waste and E.ON are still very much involved in the project.