A leading Belfast architect and city planner has urged Arc 21 to create an iconic building with its proposed new £1bn waste treatment facility at a site on the north foreshore of Belfast Lough.
Mr Acheson, a partner with Boyd Partnership on the Ravenhill Road, said that if some vision was shown, the new structure could be Belfast’s answer to the Statue of Liberty.
The waste facility is being developed by Arc 21, a body which represents 11 councils across the province that are grappling with the problem of waste disposal.
Belfast City Council, a member of the amalgam, has gone out to public consultation as to whether it should agree to the facility being located on the north foreshore.
The councils have been warned that unless they reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, they will be hit by fines from the European Union.
The two options are a mechanical biological treatment facility and an energy from waste electricity generating plant.
Mr Acheson, who has written to Belfast City Council, urged the City Hall to set up a ‘materials auction’ at which providers of material and potential purchasers could be introduced to each other.
He said: “This could be a physical auction where materials, vendors and purchasers could be brought together at a weekly event.
“Since waste has a value and we are going to be fined for not meeting EU targets for recovery, re-use and recycling, would the council consider positive encouragement of this process by offering, say £5 for an old sofa, £2 for a chair, £1 for each 10kg of paper, £2 for each 5kg of aluminium cans, etc?”
Mr Acheson said he was disappointed by the visual images circulated by Arc 21 in connection with the proposed waste treatment plant. He added: “With some integrated thinking, such a plant could be part of the supporting structure for our new stadium to replace the failed Maze proposal.
“It could also be creatively designed with art, not industry, to the fore.
“If it was sculptural and dramatic in form, it could be a symbol of Belfast's historic and contemporary excellence.
“This facility should be historical in association with place — linking with our maritime, port and shipbuilding heritage, the water vapour emitted from the proposal being the site for giant illuminated visual projections telling the story of Belfast, of our gantries and huge ships.”
Mr Acheson called for an exemplary design and said the facility should be open to visitors.
“We should give the public an opportunity to pull the levers, push the buttons, read the dials and participate in our waste treatment, putting it on our tourist trail.
“An underground rail station and direct links to the city centre and other developments proposed for the foreshore could also be part of the brief.
“This thing could be more interactive than W5, be a welcome point for cruise liners and a gathering and access point for tour buses linked to the rest of the island.”
Mr Acheson said the finished product should be scaled and matched to the city, using urban strategist Charles Landry's concept of the “Art of City Making”.
“The new plant could be a base station for cruise liners, the golf course, the cable car to the Cave Hill and the underground,” he added.
“If tackled with a sense of vision, the new plant has the potential to be for Belfast what the Eiffel Tower is for Paris or the Statue of Liberty for New York.”
But Mr Acheson said the images which he had seen to date made the plant look like an “embarrassingly ugly” version of the old incinerator.
He added: “We must think of Belfast harbour and foreshore as Belfast's ‘front door’, one of our most visible and welcoming sights for visitors arriving into the city.
“We must integrate our city investments to achieve total value from each, rather than treating each function separately and wastefully.
“Unless Belfast starts to think ‘city’ now (we have been granted some free ‘thinking time’ courtesy of the credit crisis) we will miss an opportunity that may not come again for 50 years.”