THE arc21 Residual Waste Treatment Project proposals for a new strategic waste facility to serve the needs of six local councils at Hightown, Mallusk have been around for many years now.
Many will know that it has sparked a lot of interest from objectors for a whole raft of reasons, ranging across environmental and traffic concerns, questioning the need and also a fair proportion of ‘NIMBYism’ - not to mention competing commercial interests in some cases.
I want to put forward the case, as an elected representative for supportive members of the local community, those whose voices have not been heard to date, in fact, drowned out by the rhetoric and noise from the objectors.
The arc21 project is a huge proposal, with the potential to deliver vast benefits both environmental and economic.
An inward investment of £240 million will be needed to deliver the facility which is designed to meet a public need within the arc21 region.
That money will be spent in the local economy, sustaining jobs and businesses and will, once complete, support over the long-term, some 300 jobs.
It will also deliver significant additional rates income and result in a council owned asset.
Every year, Northern Ireland’s councils collect approximately one million tonnes of household waste, with approximately half of it being sent for recycling or reuse.
However, NI is still land-filling almost 30 per cent of local council waste and exporting a further 15 per cent to Europe and much further afield, to fuel Energy from Waste plants creating green energy and helping those other countries address their Climate Change requirements.
This ‘send it away for others to sort out’ approach no longer makes any environmental or economic sense and is highly irresponsible.
A recent independent expert report makes it clear that even with the arc21 project on top of existing thermal treatment facilities here, NI will still have a significant residual waste treatment capacity gap of 124,000 tonnes by 2035. The need is clear.
The proposed facility at Hightown will be a combination of a Mechanical and Biological Treatment plant and an EfW plant, meaning that the pre-treatment of our residual waste allows councils to benefit from increased recycling rates by up to 10 per cent.
In addition, the EfW plant means we do not need to pay to export the nearly 250,000 tonnes (DAERA Figures from 2020/2021) of waste overseas, only for the true value to be extracted there.
Those opposing the project also ignore the major benefit local ratepayers will receive from the Renewable Energy the plant will produce, while the MBT means that we can recycle/reuse even more of our council waste, that would be otherwise land-filled or exported.
Targets set for the future reduction of Greenhouse Gases, mean that by 2035, we have to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, with a 10 per cent cap on landfill by 2035 now required.
At the present time, most of the arc21 landfill waste goes to either Mullaghglass Landfill on White Mountain or Cottonmount Landfill at Mallusk, but that could soon change unless current significant environmental issues at Mullaghglass are resolved.
If no solution is possible, there is a likelihood that all arc21 waste could be redirected towards Cottonmount.
This could have hugely adverse impacts on Mallusk, particularly in traffic and environmental terms and I know this is concerning many local residents who are already plagued with the landfill there as it is.
In all of these considerations, we cannot ignore the unseen impacts of the pandemic.
As NI hopefully starts to move towards economic recovery, post COVID, an important consideration of the recovery strategy must be the encouragement of major private sector investment, particularly in much needed strategic infrastructure.
Such additional investment will allow the Executive to focus the limited available government capital spending, on its other strategically important projects, that would otherwise face further delay or cancellation through lack of funds.
NI needs to signal to potential global investors, that we are ‘open for business’ and will do all that we can to welcome investors who want to create jobs, while also meeting a clearly identified public need.
This scheme will hopefully arrive on the desk of the Minister for Infrastructure soon.
It has been through the planning system three times previously and approved by planners on each occasion including by an independent Planning Appeals Commission review, only to be knocked back for political reasons.
This scheme needs to be approved and allowed to deliver the wealth of benefits it will inevitably release.