Report rejects need for Hightown incinerator

A computer generated image of how the incinerator site would look
A computer generated image of how the incinerator site would look

The findings of an independent report analysing the need for the proposed Hightown waste incinerator have been welcomed by community and elected representatives.

The report, commissioned by community group NoArc21, claimed that there is not enough waste in the region to feed arc21’s proposed 300,000 ton incinerator at the Hightown Quarry.

Compiled by specialist independent waste consultants Eunomia Research and Consulting, the document states that the scale of the facility is in excess of what is required, and will result in overcapacity.

Commenting on the findings, Colin Buick, chairperson of NoArc21, said: “This report strongly confirms what our group, and many local elected representatives, have been saying for years – there is absolutely no requirement for this proposed incinerator at the Hightown Quarry.

“This analysis, carried out by widely respected waste experts, clearly outlines that existing capacity as well as the construction of the Full Circle Generation facility at Airport Road West will meet the vast majority of the waste requirements of the arc21 region.”

He added: “Continuing increases in recycling also need to be taken into account and attempts to include a significant amount of waste crime as feedstock for the arc21 incinerator cannot be justified. Export of waste to other countries, which is a rational economic and environmental response, is also likely to continue.

“Furthermore, it remains highly concerning to us that this facility appears to have made little to no progress in securing a grid connection meaning that the incinerator will contribute nothing to security of electricity supply as has been claimed.”

Calling for a meeting with the Head of the Civil Service, South Antrim DUP MP, Paul Girvan said: “I commend NoArc21 for their efforts in bringing forward this report which raises serious questions around the need for the Hightown incinerator.

“I will be seeking an urgent cross-party meeting with the Head of the Civil Service to ensure this report is raised at the highest levels of Government.”

Responding to the report, South Antrim UUP MLA Steve Aiken OBE said: “This independent analysis strikes at the heart of the case presented by arc21 that the incinerator is an essential piece of infrastructure to treat residual waste in Northern Ireland.”

South Antrim Alliance MLA David Ford commented: “This important piece of work states that the risk in developing this incinerator facility, with public funds, is that there is insufficient waste requiring treatment overall. We should not allow this level of public money to be committed towards a project with such a questionable need.”

South Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney said: “While many of us have questioned the need for the arc21 facility for some time, this report provides a clear evidential basis for that view and concludes that the region will require significantly less residual waste treatment than has been claimed by arc21.”

North Belfast SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said: “Officials within the DfI and DAERA need to scrutinise this new analsysis and carefully consider their current policy direction at a time when funding in areas such as education and health is stretched to breaking point.”

In the wake of the report being published, a spokesperson for arc21 said: “arc21’s proposals to develop modern waste infrastructure will bring Northern Ireland into line with European best practice. The project has been one of the most scrutinised infrastructure proposals in Northern Ireland’s history, aligned with local and central Government policy and statutory requirements, and assessed by professional planners in the planning authority (Department for Infrastructure) and the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC). It will help fulfil some of the key recommendations of the Mills Report regarding reducing waste crime.

“Following a hearing held in public, the PAC considered the evidence regarding all the issues including the issue of waste volumes to support arc21’s plans. It concluded that not only were the proposed facilities required, but that they would also provide economic and environmental benefits such as construction jobs, skilled jobs in operations and improved recycling.”

Campaigners are challenging a decision by the Department for Infrastructure to give the go-ahead for the controversial incinerator project without a minister being in post. In 2015 the then Environment Minister Mark H Durkan turned it down. But the consortium behind the project on behalf of local councils, Arc21, was given permission after the Planning Appeals Commission recommended approval.

In September last year the Department said it was in the public interest for the waste management system to be built, describing it as being of strategic importance for the region.

Up to 4,000 objection letters were lodged, with residents listing concerns about the visual impact, light and noise pollution and health implications.