‘Significant issues’ over power grid link for Mallusk incinerator, claim

NIE Networks has expressed concern over the proposed location of a £240m residual waste incinerator at Boghill Road, Mallusk, in Newtownabbey.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 2:29 pm

NIE has been asked to submit a comment ahead of a decision on the controversial long-running planning application by arc21 which is made up of six constituent local authorities in Northern Ireland.

Following the collapse of the Assembly, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) announced in September 2017 that full planning permission had been granted for the waste disposal facility at the Hightown Quarry site. However, the Court of Appeal subsequently ruled that Stormont officials did not have the legal authority to grant such permission.

The proposed incinerator is designed to deal with waste from a significant portion of the population and includes mechanical and biological treatment, energy from waste thermal treatment and incinerator bottom ash treatment facilities, plus a refuse derived fuel bale storage building and an administration/visitor centre.

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An artist's impression of the proposed waste treatment facility.

A letter to the Department for Infrastructure’s Strategic Planning Division from NIE Networks has stated: “The lands affected by the proposal are traversed by our 275kV overhead electric lines and associated equipment. This being the case, NIE Networks is concerned that the proposal may (either during the course of construction and/or following completion of the proposed development) infringe on the safety clearances that are required to be maintained between its equipment and any building or structure.

“Furthermore, we are concerned as to the impact the proposal might have on NIE Networks’ ability to access its equipment post construction.

“NIE Networks has little option but to object to this planning application at this stage.”

However, NIE Networks says that it may discuss the proposal with the applicant further “with a view to finding a possible resolution”.

Colin Buick, chairman of No-Arc21, a community group, claims that the proposed arc21 incinerator is now facing “significant and perhaps unsurmountable issues in relation to the electricity grid”.

He has suggested that this “casts huge doubt on their ability to generate renewable electricity from the facility” saying that a grid connection offer may now have expired.

In August, the consortium behind the proposal announced an electricity grid connection had been secured for the site.

Mr Buick added: “Our message to arc21 is clear – stop wasting your time and effort on this project. It lurches from one disaster to the next and the opposition remains steadfast against it.”

A spokesperson for NIE Networks said: “Our priority is to provide safe and reliable connection to the electricity network where it is feasible to do so and we work closely with customers throughout the application process to explore options. We do not comment on individual customer matters.”

Meanwhile, the DUP has been challenged to give an explanation for an apparent U-turn over support for the waste incinerator proposal.

Last month, South Antrim DUP MLA Trevor Clarke and his party colleague Paul Girvan MP delivered what they say was in excess of 160 letters of support for the project to the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Infrastructure.

A statement  issued by Mr Girvan at the time said: “I want the minister (Nichola Mallon) to make a decision on this application as soon as possible, but also want to see the local community benefit from the existence of new facilities, should such a scheme be given approval.

“I, therefore, call for the minister to ensure that if approved, a planning condition is added to ensure a local community fund is set up by the operator of the facility.”

The controversial application has been met with widespread opposition in the area including local elected representatives with No-Arc21 reporting concerns over air quality, traffic congestion and “outdated technology”.

South Antrim Alliance MLA John Blair has challenged the DUP to explain its apparent U-turn on the proposed residual waste treatment facility.

In a statement, Mr Blair said that DUP South Antrim MP Paul Girvan, whom he claimed had “vocally opposed the controversial plans” was said to have been “revealed to be calling for the project to now be approved, in a letter to the Infrastructure Minister, signed by DUP MPs”.

The Alliance MLA said Mr Girvan must now explain this “about-turn, when he had previously on a number of occasions shared platforms with other politicians to voice opposition to the plans”.

“Local representatives and residents, who have stood together in opposition to this plan, will have many questions to ask if the local MP has steered, in any way, from his publicly stated position, declared from platforms which he and I shared,” said Mr Blair.

Last August, Mr Girvan said: “Local concerns to the Hightown proposal remain firmly in place, I would pay tribute to the work and determination of local residents who have campaigned hard for many years to place these concerns firmly on the agenda. As we move forward I have no doubt this work will continue in earnest to ensure the voices of local residents are heard.”

Ulster Unionist Party Leader Steve Aiken OBE MLA and party representative Councillor Robert Foster, have called on the DUP to provide clarity as to where it now stands on the arc21 incinerator proposal, after DUP MPs signed a letter endorsing it.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Councillor Robert Foster said:“Many councillors and residents across the Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough have opposed the arc21 scheme.

“The unexplained U-turn by the local MP, has quite understandably caused a great deal of bemusement and anger amongst many local constituents – especially from the Hightown and Mallusk areas – who remember him standing at many platforms expressing his full for support for our campaign in opposition to the incinerator.

“While we probably can’t expect any detailed explanation from Mr Girvan, we should at least be able to expect the rest of the local DUP representatives to clarify their position and either disassociate themselves from their MP and party colleague, or come out and back his support for arc21.”

Meanwhile, South Antrim DUP MLA Pam Cameron has reiterated her long-standing support for the “resident led campaign against the arc21 Hightown Incinerator proposal”.

In a statement, Mrs Cameron said: “The serious concerns of thousands of residents who have objected to the arc21 project at Mallusk cannot be ignored. I along with South Antrim and North Belfast representatives of every major political party have stood on many platforms and promised our support to the local community for many years. We won’t be backing down.

“Nothing that has been published to date has alleviated the fears of many on issues such as public health, the insufficient local infrastructure, potential harm to the environment, the impact on house prices, potential displacement of existing jobs in the circular economy and the multi-million pounds cost to taxpayers who would be subject to a long contractual agreement with this business.

“The current levels of recycling and increasing future estimates make the arc21 business case more and more outdated as time goes on. Based on the present evidence it is clear that this project should not be given planning approval.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure said: “The minister is keen to being a resolution to this long-standing application for all involved but if a sound decision is to be reached, it is important the planning process is completed correctly. Consultation with the relevant interested bodies abd public authorities is ongoing.

“Departmental officials continue to work at pace and in line with planning policy on this application and when all statutory processes are complete, a recommendation will be brought forward to the minister for her consideration. However, the Department cannot confirm at this stage when a recommendation will be made.”

Mr Girvan has not responded to a request for a comment.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

Click here to read: Anti-incinerator campaigners meet with arc21

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