Angry residents who live near the site where a waste incinerator is planned fear the value of their homes will plummet, a public meeting has heard.
Around 200 people gathered in Mallusk, Co Antrim, last night to vent their fury at the proposal for Hightown Waste Incinerator.
People spoke out about their real concerns over the risk to their health. They also have concerns linked to constant heavy traffic and pollution from the plant and lorries, and the potential impact on house prices in the area.
Both the politicians and members of the public present also said the project was too big and cost too much money at £240m.
Local resident Marguerite Gallagher said: "I am against it because there would be too many lorries through the development and it will bring house prices down.
"We are also concerned about our children inhaling fumes. You don't usually find out about health problems until years down the line and then it's too late."
Another opponent, Brigid McCann, called for plans for the incinerator to be nipped in the bud.
"There will be huge problems with traffic and pollution in the area. I am very concerned about the idea," she said.
"It's important this project is scrapped. I haven't talked to one person who is in favour if it."
Last month Arc21, the umbrella body dealing with waste for 11 councils in the east of Northern Ireland, submitted a planning application for the new waste management project at the Hightown Quarry site on the Boghill Road.
Arc21 did not accept an invitation to attend last night's meeting.
Former Environment Minister Alex Attwood, whose SDLP colleague Mark H Durkan is now responsible for planning, told the meeting he believed the public would win their campaign "hands down".
"The SDLP locally are opposed to this, and rightly so," Mr Attwood told this newspaper. "Of course the DoE minister may or may not have to make a decision about this planning application if it ever sees the light of day."
University of Ulster Professor Vyvyan Howard, a toxico-pathologist, told the meeting he had fought at least 12 incinerator project plans successfully since 1980.
He said it was appalling that Arc 21 had not sent a representative to the meeting.
He told the meeting incinerators were "completely unnecessary", described them as "the easy way out", and argued "recycling and reusing" was the way forward –as inhaling particles caused increased strokes and heart attacks.
UUP councillor and businessman Mark Cosgrove told the meeting residents were not 'Nimbys' – residents who simply argue 'not in my back yard' to new developments. However, he questioned why Mallusk "always has to be the dumping ground for Northern Ireland".
He said: "Not only is this unwelcome, it is also completely unnecessary."
"The currently planning proposals will be decided upon, as I understand it, before a business case for the final decision gets put to the 11 councils. Clearly if it doesn't get planning permission then the rest of the argument is irrelevant."
Colin Buick from the No Arc 21 group told the meeting the Hightown proposals "cannot live in harmony with the community".
"The incinerator will burn up to 300,000 tonnes of black bin waste per year and will require over 500 vehicles entering and leaving every day – making it the biggest facility of its kind in Ireland.
"No matter how it is spun by Arc 21, this incinerator cannot be allowed to exist in the midst of our local communities."
Sinn Fein councillor Gerard O'Reilly accused other Newtownabbey councillors of backing the incinerator in closed meetings.
Alliance Party councillor John Blair suggested those at the meeting should write to all councillors to ask them to state their position.
No Arc21 has said it will now do that.
BY DAVID WHELAN
The 300,000 ton capacity municipal waste incinerator proposed for Mallusk will be the same size as London's redeveloped Wembley Stadium, with 95-metre high chimney stacks that will be taller than any building in Belfast.
If built, it will be one of the largest incinerator plants in Ireland, dealing with the waste for 11 councils in the east of Northern Ireland and helping each of them reach their landfill targets.
Set to be located at Hightown Quarry, the incinerator has been opposed by residents in north Belfast and Newtownabbey because of the fear of lowered housing prices and higher rates.
There have also been calls for an assessment of health risks to nearby residential areas.
Despite the opposition, the investment of £240m into the project will create around 340 permanent jobs and 455 in construction, and contribute more than £24m to the economy annually.
Arc21, the umbrella waste body for 11 councils in the east of Northern Ireland, is behind the planning application in an effort to help its constituent councils to meet European landfill diversion targets and manage their waste more sustainably.
Campaign group No-Arc21 have called on opponents to submit written objections to the Planning Service's Strategic Planning Division.