A civil servant's decision to allow a £240m waste incinerator for Co Antrim has been blasted as a "disgrace" and "fundamentally flawed".
Arc21, the umbrella waste management group for 11 councils in the east of Northern Ireland, wants to construct the incinerator and waste sorting plant at Hightown Quarry on Newtownabbey's Boghill Road.
The scheme was subject to more than 4,000 letters of objection.
However, it was given the green light by the Department for Infrastructure following a Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) hearing last October.
In 2015 Stormont's then Environment Minister Mark H Durkan refused the application following residents' complaints.
Yesterday he tweeted: "Disappointed and angered at the approval of Hightown incinerator. I listened to local people and refused it as SDLP/DoE minister."
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said the decision should not have been taken by "an unelected, unaccountable civil servant" due to a lack of devolved government.
"It is outrageous that such a decision has been made at this time. Why was this regionally significant decision made now, rather than wait for either a devolved or direct rule minister to take the decision?" he asked.
DUP MLA Pam Cameron said the decision was "a devastating blow to the greater Mallusk community and the thousands of people who lodged formal objections to the plans".
And North Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly also hit out at the green light being given.
"The decision by the Department for Infrastructure to grant planning permission for an incinerator at Hightown in Glengormley is a disgrace and has serious environmental, health and safety issues for the area," he said.
The department received 4,021 letters of objection and one petition of objection with 836 signatures.
The incinerator will deal with "waste from a significant portion of the population", according to the department. It said it had "carefully considered and agreed with the independent report and recommendations". "The planning conditions attached to the permission also take account of the PAC's considerations," it added.
"The department considers that it is in the public interest to take this decision, without further delay, given the strategic importance of the project for the region."
It said that the PAC report "includes full consideration of the planning issues and recommends that permission is granted".
"Importantly, the report endorses the strategic need for the facility, its compliance with regional policy and the significant environmental benefit in terms of meeting waste management/treatment targets and assisting in the battle against waste crime," it said.