Newtownabbey incinerator: Head of arc21 says ‘we cannot stand still’
The acting CEO of the group behind the controversial incinerator proposal at the Hightown Quarry site in Mallusk has warned against “standing still” over Northern Ireland’s waste treatment problems.
Tim Walker, who has been in post with arc21 since last autumn, was speaking to this newspaper following a Zoom meeting earlier this summer by opponents of the project and Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots (read more here).
Speaking in June, Minister Poots said: “I will take full consideration of the matter in the context of the ongoing planning process for the Hightown facility and of the strategic and long-term needs for waste management and the circular economy in Northern Ireland. While I am currently not convinced, I am convincible.”
Picking up on that comment, Mr Walker said: “I’m keen to keep talking and trust that they will be open-minded like the Environment Minister, who has said he is ‘convincible’ about the project’s merit.
“We cannot stand still. In waste terms, we’re either moving forwards, or moving backwards. For too long, we’ve been doing the latter which has created space for criminal activity We can’t afford – environmentally, financially or even from a public health basis – to risk not developing new infrastructure as that would leave us in a precarious position, relying on export and landfill to dispose of our rubbish.”
The proposals for the Boghill Road development have faced opposition from residents and political representatives since they were first mooted in 2013.
Community group NoArc21 was established to highlight residents’ concerns.
This newspaper asked Mr Walker if he recognises the level of opposition to the project.
He explained: “As a lifelong environmentalist, some have asked why I took on the job of leading arc21, a local government body that wants to develop an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant. The simple answer is that it’s the best environmental solution to a pressing problem. There is no better, proven alternative to deal with the flood of non-recyclable household rubbish which we produce until we make the significant changes required to become a zero-waste society.
“I have met some who are opposed to the project to answer queries and to offer visits to similar plants. I have also heard of some local people who are supportive.
“Unless we want to ignore what the rest of Britain and Ireland are doing, jeopardise our environment and expand landfill sites such as Cottonmount in Mallusk, we need new, modern waste infrastructure.
“Ultimately, it’s not arc21’s decision. It is for the planning system to assess the facts and then for arc21’s councils to assess its value for money. I’m confident, however, that what is proposed will be an asset, not just for Northern Ireland, but for Antrim and Newtownabbey in particular.”
Asked if an alternative location had been considered for the incinerator, Mr Walker. who spent almost 25-years managing household waste in Belfast, said: “Following an extensive site selection process Hightown Quarry, near one of Northern Ireland’s largest logistics hubs at Mallusk, was selected.
“The scheme has been approved by three sets of professional planners and no objections have been raised by any of the statutory consultees regarding matters such as public health, need or transport.
“The facilities, owned by the councils, will address what to do with our rubbish, create jobs, help meet climate change targets, safeguard ratepayers and provide a boost in industrial rates for Antrim and Newtownabbey Council while it is operational.
“The site at Hightown provides good access to the motorway network, Mallusk is a busy commercial area which could benefit from the energy produced and the associated traffic levels will be less than for the site’s current permitted use as a quarry.
“The operations will support some 340 direct and indirect jobs and generate millions in wages for the local economy, as well as providing a better environmental solution for our waste.”
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