Senior civil servant defends decision to give planning permission for waste incinerator
THE senior civil servant at the Department for Infrastructure has defended the decision to grant planning permission for a controversial waste incinerator.
Permanent secretary Peter May said he would rather have left the decision to an elected minister had the Executive, which has been suspended since January, been functioning.
The incinerator will handle black bin rubbish from six council areas but opponents have questioned the need for the facility and the suitability of the location amid health and traffic concerns.
The department announced on Wednesday that it had granted planning permission for the £240m arc21 scheme at Hightown Quarry near Glengormley, Co Antrim.
The decision was strongly criticised by elected representatives from all main parties, while a residents' group said it was considering a legal challenge.
Mark H Durkan, who turned down planning permission when he was environment minister in 2015, also said he was "disappointed and angered".
His refusal led to an appeal by arc21 to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC), which approved the plans.
Mr May told the BBC that this week's decision was in the public interest and added that the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs had advised him that any further delay to the project would be "damaging".
He dismissed suggestions that the department had been put on notice of a possible legal challenge by developers if permission was not granted.
The permanent secretary said while campaigners had concerns, the PAC report had reached "clear conclusions" in favour of the plans.
Meanwhile, the Becon Consortium, which is understood to be the last remaining candidate to take the arc21 plans forward, said it was looking forward "to participating in the next phase in the development of this important infrastructure project".
Unless legal challenges stall the plans further, a contract is expected to be formally awarded by the end of next year.
A spokesman for the consortium said: "The independent Planning Appeal's process was the appropriate platform to consider the facts around this project and to address any concerns raised through the planning application process.
"The £240m waste infrastructure project will contribute to Northern Ireland's recycling levels and bring us into line with the rest of Europe, where such infrastructure has been operating successfully and safely for many years.
"It also represents a significant inward investment opportunity for Northern Ireland, bringing much needed jobs in both construction and operational phases, while making a significant contribution to the region's own security of energy supply."