Around 150 people packed in to the Academy Sports Club in Mallusk on Wednesday evening to voice their opposition to the plan to build a massive waste incinerator at Hightown Quarry.
The proposal from arc21 - the waste management group for Newtownabbey and 10 other local councils - and the Becon Consortium to construct a £240m Energy from Waste plant at the Boghill Road site has met with widespread opposition. And those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting expressed their determination to fight the controversial plan and ensure that it doesn’t get the go-ahead.
No representatives from arc21 or Becon attended the public meeting, which was organised by the No-Arc21 campaign group.
Colin Buick, Chairman of No-Arc21, said the turnout at the meeting showed the strength of opposition to the incinerator proposal.
“Since arc21 formally launched this project in March last year, we have studied the plans in detail and outlined numerous reasons as to why it is the wrong technology in the wrong location,” he commented.
The crowd heard from Prof Vyvyan Howard, a leading toxicopathologist from the University of Ulster, about the potential health risks associated with burning waste. And he described it as “appalling” that no one from arc21 had taken up the invitation to attend the meeting.
Local businessman and councillor Mark Cosgrove told the meeting that a viable alternative exists to the arc21 plan - the proposed Bombardier gasification plant in Belfast, planning permission for which has already been granted. He described the privately-funded Full Circle Power/Bombardier option as “a far better and far cleaner solution”, claiming that the arc21 project would be “a complete waste of public money.”
Mr Buick continued: “Quite apart from the many reasons for opposing the plant at Hightown, arguably the most important point to note is there is absolutely no need for it.
“It is common knowledge that a gasification plant proposed at Bombardier Aerospace’s Airport Road West site, which already has planning permission and will be 100 per cent privately funded, will have more than adequate capacity to treat all the municipal waste in Northern Ireland required to meet our EU landfill diversion targets.
“The Bombardier facility will be used to reduce energy costs at the plant and will protect 6,000 jobs directly and arguably 20,000 jobs indirectly.”
Urging local residents to register objections with Planning Service, Mr Buick added: “Although arc21/Becon declined our invitation to attend tonight’s meeting, we have assembled a team to oppose them and we will do everything necessary to ensure their unnecessary project does not receive planning approval.”
MLAs and councillors representing all the main political parties, including former Environment Minister Alex Attwood, spoke to assure residents of their opposition to the Hightown plan.
Mr Attwood said it was his view that those fighting the arc21 project would “win their campaign hands down.”
The meeting agreed a proposal from Alliance Alderman John Blair that No-Arc21 should write to all local councillors to ask them to state publicly where they stand on the issue.
A number of residents took the opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns about potential environmental and health implications should the plan get the green light from the Environment Minister. They also urged their political representatives to do everything in their power to put a stop to the Hightown planning application.
Towards the end of the meeting, Barry Macaulay from Mallusk Community Action Group, who chaired proceedings, asked if anyone in the room wanted to speak in support of the arc21/Becon plan. There were no takers.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, an arc21 spokesperson explained their reasons for declining No-Arc21’s invitation to attend.
“arc21 is very committed to engagement through structured dialogue which allows for the complex details pertaining to the technical proposals to be fully explored, discussed and understood. To date we have hosted no less than 10 separate public consultation sessions throughout the locality at which we made a team of specialists available to discuss issues raised.
“Additionally, we believe that engagement through the dedicated liaison committee involving local resident association/community group representatives provides for a more constructive mechanism to discuss associated operational and technical aspects of the proposed facilities rather than an event of the nature proposed. We believe this is a more useful way forward and we have always remained totally committed to this process,” he said.