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Body behind £240m incinerator bid warns of "waste crisis" if it is not built

An artist's impression of the proposed waste facility at Hightown, near Mallusk.
Ryan McAleer

THE body behind a proposed £240 million incinerator for household rubbish in Antrim and Down, has warned of a “waste crisis” if it is not built.

Arc21, the umbrella management body for six councils behind the plan, argues that the facility could significantly reduce the 400,000 tonnes of household waste sent to landfilled or exported from the north every year.

It said the incinerator will take the equivalent of 15 million black bins’ worth of rubbish every year from the six council areas.

But those opposed to Arc21’s plans have fiercely challenged its environmental and economic benefits. The original planning application from 2014 attracted more than 5,000 objections.

Opponents include UUP leader Steve Aiken, while the current Environment Minister Edwin Poots said he was “not convinced” of the incinerator’s merits when asked by the BBC in June.

Planning permission for the incinerator was refused in 2015 by former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan. That decision was successfully appealed and approved by a senior civil servant during the suspension of Stormont.

But a High Court intervention overturned that decision, resulting in the application being restarted again. Mr Durkan’s SDLP party colleague and current Infrastructure Minister will have the final say on the latest proposal.

Arc21 has been keen to play up its green credentials. The body said its proposal for the quarry site includes one of the largest recycling facilities on the island, with its plant capable of generating energy from waste.

Acting chief executive of Arc21, Tim Walker said: “Northern Ireland is drifting towards a waste crisis because we do not have enough local facilities to treat non-recyclable household waste, let alone our commercial and industrial waste.

“At present we rely on landfill and waste exports to solve the problem, but both options may be unavailable within the decade.

“Northern Ireland has already committed to a 10 per cent cap on the amount of waste we send to landfill and several export markets have already closed or imposed punitive taxes on waste.”

But campaign group NoArc21 has warned the project could become a significant burden on ratepayers for many years to come.

Group chairman Colin Buick has consistently compared the project to the RHI controversy.

He has labelled it “a glorified cash for ash incinerator”, claiming the six councils could be locked into expensive contracts for up to 35 years.

In a statement last night, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said it is continuing to progress the application in line with planning policy.

“The applicant voluntarily submitted further environmental information (FEI) to the department and this is currently being reviewed,” said a spokesperson.

“The necessary administrative processes are currently being undertaken, including advertising the FEI and requesting consultation advice from the necessary interested bodies and public authorities.”

DfI said a recommendation will only come before Nichola Mallon when all statutory processes are “satisfactorily completed”

It added: “The department cannot confirm at this stage when a recommendation will be made, and no opinion has been reached on the need for the facility.”

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