Mallusk residents have reiterated their vehement opposition to the controversial plan to build a massive waste incinerator at Hightown Quarry.
More than 150 people braved a bitterly cold night on Monday (December 8) as they gathered in the Academy Sports Club to show their support for the anti-incinerator campaign and make a final plea to the Environment Minister not to allow the development on their doorstep.
The meeting heard that the local community is “united” in its opposition to the plan by arc21 - the waste management body for Newtownabbey and 10 other local council areas - to construct a £240million Energy from Waste (EfW) plant at Boghill Road.
While arc21 says the new infrastructure will enable its constituent councils to meet European landfill diversion targets and manage their black bin waste more sustainably, objectors claim the plan is “not safe and not sustainable.”
With a decision on arc21’s planning application expected within a matter of weeks, the No-Arc21 campaign group organised the ‘Final Push’ meeting to reaffirm to Minister Mark H Durkan the strength of public and political opposition to the Hightown project.
Around 3,000 objections have already been registered with Planning Service, and political representatives for the area have been united in their calls for the Minister to refuse planning permission for the 300,000 tonne waste incinerator.
Monday night’s meeting heard Colin Buick and Charlie Thompson from No-Arc21 outline the campaigners’ objections to the plan, including economic, environmental and health concerns.
They stressed that the arc21 plant is “simply not required” and pointed again to what they see as “viable alternatives” in the proposed Full Circle Power waste gasification plant at Bombardier in east Belfast and a similar, smaller scale project in Lisburn.
“This is the critical time; the decision is imminent. We were told that it would be made before the turn of the year, but it probably will be moved back to January or February,” Mr Buick explained.
“The community is united against this plan and will keep on the fight and keep on knocking at Mr Durkan’s door until he makes the right decision.”
Dr William McCrea MP (DUP), Danny Kinahan MLA (UUP), Alderman John Blair (Alliance), Cllr Noreen McClelland (SDLP) and Cllr Michael Goodman (SF) all reiterated their support for the No-Arc21 campaign. Their views were echoed by several other political representatives, including Cllr Paul Michael, Cllr Mark Cosgrove and Pam Cameron MLA.
Dr McCrea stressed that the issue is “coming to a critical point” and urged all political parties to contact the Minister again to reaffirm their opposition to the arc21 plan.
“The Mallusk area has suffered long enough as the dumping area for most of the province,” he told the meeting. “The people of Mallusk have a right to say ‘It’s not in our back yard because we have suffered long enough and we are not taking 25 or 30 more years of an incinerator site at Hightown’.
“This opposition is coming from the community - it is backed by the politicians, not led by the politicians. This is something that is coming right from the very heart of the community and all the political parties are giving their support to the grouping (No-Arc21).”
He concluded: “Minister Durkan has one responsibility and that is to turn this down.”
Mr Kinahan and others expressed concerns that a loan sum of more than £50m has been earmarked in the Environment Minister’s latest budget, potentially for use by arc21.
“We have got to make sure that we lobby every single minister, particularly the Finance Minister, to make sure that that isn’t there to make it easier for arc21 to happen up here (Hightown),” the UUP man said.
Stressing that the fight against the arc21 plan is not based on nimbyism, he added: “We don’t need arc21. We don’t need it here. If it’s going to happen at all then Bombardier is the right way.”
Several representatives stressed that existing district councils, due to be replaced by new super councils in April, should not be committing to a 29-year waste disposal contract worth in excess of £1billion. They said the matter should be one for the new councils to consider.
Alderman John Blair and Cllr Noreen McClelland, who have both been involved with the No-Arc21 campaign from its inception, praised members of the protest group for their ongoing efforts.
Speaking on behalf of himself and his Alliance Party colleagues in South Antrim and North Belfast, Alderman Blair pledged: “You will have our support in all that you are doing and all that you are hoping to achieve.”
He went on to question how arc21 can continue in its current form after April 1, 2015 given that many of its 11 member councils will cease to exist due to the reorganisation of local government.
Cllr McClelland added: “I have lobbied the Minister and I have made it very clear to him that this is not the place for this proposed incinerator. I will continue to lobby the Minister and hopefully we will be successful.”
Cllr Goodman stressed that his party is “opposed to incineration full stop”, describing it as “20th century technology”.
Speaking as a resident of Hightown who has children and grandchildren living in the area, he said: “It is not a legacy that I, or anyone else I think, should leave to their children or grandchildren in the future.”
Neither arc21 nor their partners, the Becon Consortium, were represented at the meeting.
No-one spoke out in support of the proposed Hightown EfW scheme.