Campaigners hail rejection of Newtownabbey waste-burning plant plan

A computer-generated image of the proposed energy plant at Hightown Quarry
A computer-generated image of the proposed energy plant at Hightown Quarry

A campaign group has hailed the decision to turn down permission for a waste-to-energy plant as a triumph for “common sense”.

The Co Antrim plant was supposed to provide enough power for 30,000 homes, and was expected to employ 94 people directly.

The rejection of the facility at Boghill Road, to the north-west of Newtownabbey, could potentially have financial ramifications for councils due to the costs involved in sending rubbish to landfill.

The TUV, DUP, UUP, Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein all issued statements hailing the refusal of the plans.

A campaign group set up to fight against construction of the site, called NoArc21, said the decision was a triumph for “common sense”.

Citing its “inappropriate location”, it said the plant would have had “a hugely negative impact on surrounding families”.

The group had objected on a number of grounds, including anxiety in the area about “air quality, traffic levels, house prices” and more.

The News Letter reported that blueprints had been lodged for the site at Hightown Quarry on March 28, 2014.

By May 1, there had been over 1,000 objections.

Ultimately, this number soared to more than 3,500 – in addition to a petition of 836 names opposing the plans.

SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “I have carefully considered all the information before me.

“I’ve listened to the concerns of local people and their public representatives...

“I am committed to a policy of zero waste and have worked hard with councils to increase recycling rates. I want this to continue.

“This development could result in an increased market for waste disposal and to maintain a facility such as this, in addition to the other approved waste facilities, could discourage recycling. In that context I don’t consider there to be any need for this proposal.”

The site was described as being able to process 300,000 tonnes of waste every year. In 2013/14, councils across the whole Province landfilled 449,000 tons of waste.

It was to be developed by arc21 – an umbrella body representing six councils along the east of the Province, from Mid and East Antrim District Council to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council – which said it would have helped with “significantly reducing our dependency on landfill”.

In addition, it also included a facility for sorting waste to remove recyclable items.

The current rate of landfill tax is £82.60 per tonne.

Belfast Green Party councillor Ross Brown said the plant could “potentially” have saved on this bill, but added: “The best thing you can do is actually recycle it. [The cost] really all depends where the waste is going to end up.”

In a statement, arc21 said it was “very disappointed” by the decision (which it could now decide to appeal).

It added: “Given the importance and complexity of the issues involved arc21 will take time to consider the notification in detail before making further comment.”

Officially, the site is called a “residual waste treatment facility”, including an “energy-from-waste thermal treatment” unit.

It is widely referred to as an incinerator.

Declan Allison of campaign group Friends of the Earth, opposes both landfilling and the energy plant.

He agreed that turning it down could “potentially” have cost implications for the councils.

But he added: “The difficulty we would see is that they’ve become obsessed with this idea of a magic box that’s going to make their waste disappear.”

He said the key is simply to slash the amount of waste being produced in the first place, as well as recycling and reusing products to a greater degree.

He said the rejection of the plant may now “refocus their minds” on these solutions.