Opponents of the controversial plan to construct a massive waste incinerator near Mallusk have vowed to continue their fight against the project.
Around 30 No Arc 21 supporters held a demonstration at Mossley Mill on Wednesday evening as councillors gathered for a special meeting to discuss the arc21 waste management group’s plan for a multi-million pound Energy from Waste (EfW) plant at Hightown Quarry.
Despite calls from some councillors for the matter to be debated in public, members voted for a proposal from Cllr Victor Robinson that the discussion be held ‘in committee’, meaning press and members of the public had to leave the chamber.
Chief executive Jacqui Dixon had stressed that members were being asked to consider commercially sensitive information, and warned of potential legal implications if the issue was discussed in an open forum.
Alderman John Blair, who stressed that he would be “opposed to an incinerator rebutting a residential area, whether it be Ballyclare, Monkstown, Macedon, Jordanstown or wherever”, proposed an amendment that the council should avoid debating any potentially sensitive issues by agreeing “no advancement of discussion around the provision of an arc21 incinerator in Mallusk.”
He claimed that such a move would “draw a line under the issue once and for all.”
His suggestion was seconded by Cllr Mark Cosgrove. However, Mayor Fraser Agnew ruled that the amendment was “a direct negative” and didn’t constitute an amendment to the proposal. He therefore refused to put it to the meeting.
No Arc 21 campaigners described the decision as “a disgrace”, but said the move to discuss the incinerator contract behind closed doors “wasn’t unexpected.”
Some protesters were incensed that the chief executive of arc21 was permitted to remain in the ‘closed’ council meeting while the issue was being debated, with one man claiming that there was “a lack of openness and transparency about the whole thing.”
However, a council source said that arc21 boss John Quinn had been permitted to remain in the meeting in order to address any questions or issues raised by members.
Members eventually voted 11 - 9 in favour of proceeding to the next stage of the process at a shared risk of around £1million across arc21’s 11 partner councils. It’s understood that Newtownabbey’s share of that risk would amount to just under £90,000.
Councillors Fraser Agnew, Billy DeCourcy, Dineen Walker, Pat McCudden, Pamela Barr, Victor Robinson, Robert Hill, Mandy Girvan, Timothy Girvan, Lynn Frazer and Jackie Mann voted for, with Audrey Ball, Billy Ball, John Blair, Phillip Brett, Mark Cosgrove, Gerry O’Reilly, Marie Mackessey, Noreen McClelland and Billy Webb voting against.
Colin Buick, chairman of No Arc 21, expressed his disappointment at the outcome of Wednesday night’s meeting, but stressed that their campaign is “far from over”.
“The vote was a lot closer than we thought it would have been when we started out on this. We are quite encouraged that there was cross-party support for our campaign and we will continue to fight against this plan,” he said.
“We will oppose this project by way of numerous formal objections from when it enters the planning system, to, if necessary, a challenge to its legality in the High Court.”
Opponents of the Hightown project claim that Bombardier Aerospace’s proposed £85m gasification plant in Belfast, planning permission for which has been granted, is a realistic commercial alternative for dealing with household waste in the arc21 area.
Speaking to the Times earlier this year, a spokesman for the Becon Consortium - the company working with arc21 on the £240 million Hightown project - insisted that the Bombardier gasification plant is “nothing whatsoever to do with the municipal black bin waste within the arc21 area.” But the No Arc 21 campaigners, and some local politicians, believe it is “a realistic alternative” to the Hightown EfW plant.
“We have been in contact with Bombardier and they have confirmed to us that its gasification plant can treat municipal waste. Surely our councils should be engaging with Bombardier to discuss this possibility before making any commitment to arc21,” Mr Buick said.
Cllr Mark Cosgrove, who stressed that no final decision had been taken by the council on the arc21 project, added: “Last night’s vote should actually encourage those of us who see a better way forward than the arc21 proposals. The closeness of the vote and the lack of information about possible alternatives have continued to provide real hope that when members know fully about the Bombardier proposals that they will recognise that there is no need to spend hundreds of millions pounds of public money and close down the waste market for a generation.
“I fully respect that the details of Bombardier’s proposal are not in the public domain and I will be urging that consortium to rectify that urgently.”
A spokesperson for arc21 commented: “As a society we need to change the way we manage our waste for a range of environmental, economic and EU compliance reasons. arc21’s councils believe that developing modern new waste infrastructure which treats residual waste as a resource - similar to best practice in Europe - is the way forward.
“We are continuing in dialogue with the bidder, which includes progressing towards the invitation to final tender phase, and the consideration of the submission of a planning application to develop the new facilities in Hightown Quarry near Mallusk. These include an Energy from Waste plant and a Mechanical Biological Treatment facility as detailed in last year’s extensive public consultation exercise.”