Residents consider legal action after planning permission for waste incinerator granted
RESIDENTS living near the site of a planned £240m waste incinerator have consulted those behind a legal challenge to the Casement Park project with a view to taking similar action.
The Department for Infrastructure yesterday announced that it had granted planning permission for the massive arc21 scheme at Hightown Quarry near Glengormley, outside north Belfast.
The decision was made in the absence of a minister and has been strongly criticised by a residents' group and MLAs.
The incinerator will handle black bin rubbish from six council areas and arc21 has said it would significantly reduce waste going to landfill, increase recycling rates and boost the economy.
However, opponents have questioned the need for the facility and the suitability of the location amid health and traffic concerns.
The procurement process first began a decade ago and an application for planning permission was turned down in 2015 by then environment minister Mark H Durkan.
arc21 appealed to the Planning Appeals Commission, which approved the plans.
The Department for Infrastructure has now said it also supports the project and "it is in the public interest to take this decision, without further delay, given the strategic importance of the project for the region".
It confirmed it had received more than 4,000 objection letters and a petition containing over 800 signatures but said it agreed with the independent report.
Colin Buick, chairman of residents' group NoArc21, said he only found out about the decision when approached by journalists.
"It is an absolute disgrace how this has been communicated and handled. If this is the way that departments are going to operate if we have direct rule then they need to look at themselves."
Mr Buick said the absence of a functioning assembly "further harms our cause" but added that a judicial review challenge was being explored.
"We don't believe there is any need for this facility, and 26% of waste going there will end up in landfill anyway," he said.
"It is amazing that police officers and prison officers cannot get a pay increase - supposedly because no minister is in place - but they can agree this.
"We are looking at going down the judicial review route and we have taken a bit of instruction from the people involved in the Casement challenge. This is not over yet."
Planning approval for the redevelopment of Casement Park GAA stadium in west Belfast was overturned in the High Court in 2014 after a judicial review by residents.
The Hightown decision was also condemned by the five main assembly parties, with former environment minister Mark H Durkan tweeting: "Disappointed and angered at approval of Hightown incinerator. I listened to local people and refused it as DoE minister."
DUP South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron said it was "devastating news", adding: "Not safe, not sustainable and not needed."
Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly also claimed the decision "has serious environmental, health and safety issues for the area".
UUP MLA Steve Aiken said: "How can civil servant make this decision - will they be personally responsible for enormous cost implications to @niexecutive."
Green Party leader Steven Agnew also said he was "appalled" by the decision.
It is expected to be the end of next year before the contract for the project is formally awarded.
A spokesman for arc21 said: "The proposed facilities will help bring the region into line with European best practice, significantly reduce our over-reliance on landfill, enhance recycling rates and help tackle illegality in the waste sector.
"Representing an investment of circa £240m, it is one of Northern Ireland’s largest infrastructure projects with considerable economic benefits."