Local councillors have called for a meeting with the head of the Civil Service to discuss the decision to approve plans for the Hightown waste incinerator.
Elected members backed a motion proposed by Cllr Noreen McClelland (SDLP) and seconded by Cllr John Blair (Alliance), which called for an urgent meeting following the recent approval for the controversial waste facility.
Reading out the proposal at the September meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Cllr McClelland said: “This council notes with concern the decision by the Northern Ireland Civil Service in the absence of Ministerial and Executive authorisation to approve plans for the Hightown Waste Incinerator.
“The council calls for an urgent meeting with the Head of the Civil Service to clarify concerns regarding the process, rationale and timing given the way in which this decision on the Hightown Waste Incinerator was taken.”
Before councillors commented on the motion, Chief Executive of the local authority, Jacqui Dixon said: “I want to remind councillors that given that the council is part of Arc21, in a sense we are the applicant for this planning application. I want to ask you to restrict your comments tonight on the motion to the governance and the decision making process.
“The council itself, although we debated a lot of issues around this project, as a corporate body we never took a position on the planning application, so I would like you to note that this evening.
“So please restrict your comments to the governance and decision making process and not to the merits of the planning application itself.”
Various elected members spoke on the motion and on the motion being put to the meeting.
Opposing the motion, UUP representative, Cllr Mervyn Rea said: “I’m sure it’s no surprise that I inform fellow councillors that I strictly oppose this motion. First of all Arc21- I think there are people in this chamber who don’t know who Arc21 are. They are not a company, they’re not private sector, they have the same powers as this council.
“It went through the Assembly that they are the same as any council.
The waste spokesperson for NILGA continued: “I would challenge the wording of the motion. It should read ‘an energy from waste plant.’
“I have visited energy from waste plants in Belgium, Austria, Holland, Slovakia and England. Some of them in the middle of housing developments, the middle of industrial estates and there’s no problem with them.
“The benefit of such a plant is to create power to go into the grid- it will cheapen our electricity. It will be a huge ratepayer to this borough and will create employment.”
The Airport DEA representative added: “Reference has been made to a Civil Service decision. It’s not a decision. This went to Planning Appeal. It wasn’t the Civil Servants who made the decision. They were only delivering the verdict of the Planning Appeals Commission.
“Ministerial announcements should have been made, I know, but we are where we are because our political parties can’t get their heads knocked together and form an Assembly. I strongly oppose the whole reason for doing this.”
In response to Cllr Rea’s comments, Cllr Phillip Brett said: “Whilst I have a huge amount of respect for you Cllr Rea, that was one of the most ludicrous statements that I’ve ever heard at a council meeting.
“You are elected by the people of the Airport DEA, made up of Mallusk, Blackrock and Mayfield- the people whose lives will be severely impacted by events that have taken place recently.”
The DUP group leader added: “I lived and continue to live in Glengormley for 26 years and let me tell you this Cllr Rea- the people of that area do not want this incinerator in their backyard.
“They do not want hundreds of lorries driving up their roads and they do not want to have pollution spread across their homes.
“I think that this is a very dangerous decision that has been made by the Civil Service.”
The motion was declared carried after a recorded vote was held. In total, 35 members voted in favour of the motion, while four members voted against the motion.
The Times understands that the meeting has still to be arranged.