The man pushing forward the plan to build a massive waste incinerator near Mallusk has urged people to “look at the facts” before making judgement on the project.
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.
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 political support for their campaign.
The lobby group, which handed in more than 500 letters of objection to Planning Service last week, says that the total number of objections to the arc21 application is already over 1,100.
One of the campaigners’ 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.
arc21 chose not to send a representative to the recent public meeting organised by No-Arc21, which was attended by more than 150 local residents. But Mr Burnett stressed that they are keen to continue discussions with No-Arc21 and local residents’ groups directly.
He 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.
• Read more in this week’s Times (on sale from May 15).
• In the second part of the interview (online 15/5/14), Mr Burnett discusses financial aspects of the plan and responds to claims put forward by opponents of the arc21/Becon project that the proposed Bombardier gasification plant offers an alternative to building an EfW plant at Hightown.