Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has refused planning permission for a large-scale waste treatment facility on the site of the former Hightown Quarry, Boghill Road, Newtownabbey.
The application by arc21 proposes a residual waste treatment facility (pictured) that has the ability to thermally treat 300,000 tonnes per year of municipal waste.
This is a regionally significant planning application meaning that the final decision rests with the Minister.
Arc21, the umbrella waste management group for six councils in the east of Northern Ireland, had proposed to construct the energy recovery facility and waste sorting plant on the Boghill Road, Mallusk.
Minister Mallon said: “I consider that this development for a residual waste treatment facility in the former Hightown Quarry of Boghill Road should be refused.
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.
“I have carefully considered all the information before me and I have listened to the concerns of local people and their public representatives. There have been in excess of 5,000 objections to this application.”
She added: “My priorities for this assembly mandate were to improve lives, connect communities, grow a balanced economy and tackle the climate emergency. In respect of the latter, I am committed to climate action, and promoting recycling is an important aspect in that regard.
“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.
“I am not persuaded that there is a need for this specific facility. In that context I do not consider there to be any need for this proposal.”
The decision has been met with criticism by Becon Consortium, which developed the plans to build the integrated waste management infrastructure. It said Northern Ireland does not have sufficient infrastructure to deal with its non-recyclable waste and it leaves arc21 councils ‘very exposed’ when it comes to meeting waste management, circular economy and climate change obligations.
The spokesperson said the decision goes against the ‘clear recommendation’ to approve given by the Strategic Planning Directorate.
“We will now work alongside arc21 to understand the Minister’s rationale for making the decision before considering our next steps.
The strategic need for this type of integrated waste infrastructure has long been recognised in central and local government waste management strategies and other policies.
“That means the arc21 planning application has now been recommended for approval on four separate occasions including by the independent Planning Appeals Commission. The strategic need for this type of integrated waste infrastructure has long been recognised in central and local government waste management strategies and other policies.
“New climate change and circular economy targets which place a 10% maximum cap on landfill and set an ambitious 65% recycling target by 2035 strengthen that need.
“Approximately a quarter of our household black bin waste still ends up in landfill while last year we also exported a further 235,000 tonnes of this waste overseas, much of which fuelled similar energy from waste plants there.
“Relying on such export markets is increasingly risky and expensive due to increasing import taxes being levied and growing transport costs, never mind the sustainability, environmental and reputational concerns this practice raises.”
“There is still a clear need to develop new, modern waste infrastructure for the one million people who live in the arc21 region,” said a spokesperson from arc21. “Our current reliance on exporting waste overseas and landfill is contrary to the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee and the Northern Ireland Executive’s ambitions to achieve Net Zero, Green Growth and Energy diversification.
“arc21’s facilities would boost recycling by up to 10%, reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions by 57,000 tonnes compared to landfill and generate 18MW of green electricity whilst providing financial certainty for ratepayers.
“It is essential that arc21 has an opportunity to review the planning reasons behind the Minister’s statement and we will carefully consider today’s announcement in that light over the next few days.”
Despite some criticism over decision, Joseph Doherty, managing director at Re-Gen Waste, welcomed the Infrastructure Minister’s announcement. saying that increased targets in recycling, technological innovation, capacity in the current system and changes in Government policy mean ‘there is no need for the incinerator proposed by arc21 with such a large capacity’.
He said: “Re-Gen isn’t against energy from waste facilities. On the contrary, we are proud that we can manufacture refuse derived fuel for export and will continue to sell material to effective combined heat and power plants in Norway and Sweden, until local recycling techniques are developed to recover this material. We’ve carried out extensive research on the carbon cost per tonne of transporting fuel.
The Minister’s decision creates opportunities for Northern Ireland to be a centre of excellence for products from waste. I hope that Re-Gen will be at the forefront of these development
The costs are more than offset by the very high level of energy recovered in the highly advanced plants in Scandinavia. Despite suggestions to the contrary, this solution is both environmentally responsible in terms of CO2 emissions and provides a cost-effective solution when compared with the arc21 Waste to Energy plant.
“We believe that there is greater scope for innovation by keeping the material in shorter contracts. Investing in the recycling and waste management industry – through technology and developing processes – is the future. This will enable Northern Ireland Councils to maximise the value in economic activity, job creation and carbon in the long term.
“The Minister’s decision creates opportunities for Northern Ireland to be a centre of excellence for products from waste. I hope that Re-Gen will be at the forefront of these developments.”