After almost five years, controversial plans for a massive £100m chicken waste incinerator on the shores of Lough Neagh have finally been rejected.
The company behind it, Rose Energy, also proposed a water abstraction facility and pipeline to pump 160 cubic metres of water an hour from Lough Neagh with waste water then being treated, cooled and pumped into the Glenavy River.
Public opinion was sharply divided. The Department of the Environment received more than 13,000 representations — believed to be the largest ever in the province — with around 6,400 in support and 6,800 objections.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood came in for severe criticism for turning down the project near Glenavy, designed to power 25,000 homes by burning chicken waste and bone meal.
But he argued that concerns over the potential environmental impact outweighed the economic benefits “on balance”.
The chair of the Assembly’s agriculture committee, Paul Frew, warned the verdict was a “huge blow” to local industry.
And he claimed the SDLP minister had released the news on the last working day before the Christmas break to avoid scrutiny.
“That is not the way which Government decisions should be taken. The necessity to deal with poultry waste has not gone away and the Rose Energy proposal has been the only viable option on the table to date. This decision is hard to understand,” the DUP MLA argued.
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said he had tabled questions in Stormont which had demonstrated that the supposed alternatives to the Rose Energy project are “untested, unviable and unaffordable’’.
“Successive ministers have dragged their heels on this application and now finally Mr Attwood has kicked the poultry sector in the face,” he said.
But the decision was welcomed as “brave” by local campaign group, Communities Against the Lough Neagh Incinerator (CALNI), whose president Danny Moore said: “It’s a victory for the rights of the community and ordinary everyday people.’’
There was a welcome also from Sinn Fein, whose south Antrim MLA Mitchel McLaughlin argued: “The lough is not a suitable site for an incineration plant and the proposal to abstract water would have damaged the world renowned wetland ecosystem.’’
Mr Attwood said he fully accepted the poultry industry’s importance to the local economy.
But he added: “In my view, a facility of this scale should not be located in a sensitive rural location.
“I am also concerned by the negative impact on the amenity of surrounding dwellings, and the wider community as well as a general increase of heavy traffic on rural roads.’’