The man pushing forward the plan to build a massive waste incinerator near Mallusk says he’s confident that the project will get the go-ahead from the Environment Minister.
The multi-million pound proposal put forward by arc21 - the umbrella waste management body for Newtownabbey and 10 other local council areas - and the Becon Consortium could see a Mechanical Biological Treatment facility, an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant and a visitor/education centre built at Hightown Quarry.
In an interview with the Times this week, Ricky Burnett, arc21’s policy and operations director, described the 150-acre site at Boghill Road as “an ideal location” for an Energy from Waste plant, despite its close proximity to residential areas.
He stressed that the £240million scheme would have “major environmental and economic benefits” for Northern Ireland, including diverting more residual household waste (waste that cannot be recycled) away from landfill and creating hundreds of jobs.
“We wouldn’t have put the application in if we didn’t think it had real, real merits. We believe that when the evidence and the facts are considered that it is a very compelling case for planning permission,” he said.
If the plan gets the go-ahead, arc21 are hopeful that the new facility could be operational by 2019.
Opponents of the controversial project, led by the No-Arc21 anti-incinerator campaign group, have branded it “not safe and not sustainable” and claim that it represents “the wrong technology in the wrong location.”
They have vowed to fight the plan at every stage, including in the courts if necessary, and have received widespread public and political support for their campaign.
One of their main objections is the potential health impact a waste incinerator could have on people living in the surrounding area. They point to claims by a University of Ulster academic that tiny particles emitted by EfW plants are detrimental to people’s health and that there is “no safe level of exposure.”
However, Mr Burnett says there have been “endless comprehensive studies” carried out into the potential health effects of EfW plants, with the “vast majority of medical experts and regulatory authorities” agreeing that they have “no measurable detrimental impact on health.”
Pointing to the use of Energy from Waste technology across Europe, he claimed that he would have “absolutely no concerns” if such a facility was going to be built near his home.
Responding to claims that the granting of planning permission for a waste gasification plant at Bombardier in east Belfast means the Hightown project isn’t needed, Mr Burnett said: “We don’t see the Bombardier proposals as being an alternative at all. Infrastructure needs to be built all over Northern Ireland to move us away from landfill and that is exactly what Bombardier are proposing.”
Stressing that the Bombardier plan is seeking to make use of industrial and commercial waste, he added: “We are happy to see the Bombardier proposals. It isn’t an alternative. It’s to help Northern Ireland as a whole to move away from landfill.”
Mr Burnett urged anyone with an interest in the proposals for the Hightown site to log on to www.becon.co.uk and check out the Health Impact Assessment and other information about the project.
• For part one of the Times’ video interview with Mr Burnett click here.