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Mallusk incinerator controversy: Released documents show disagreement within Department for Infrastructure as legal challenge launched by Arc21


Incinerator plans for Hightown belfast

Incinerator plans for Hightown belfast

Incinerator plans for Hightown belfast

Emails between former Infrastructure Minister Nicholla Mallon and the previous permanent secretary in the department have revealed disagreement over a planning decision about a north Belfast waste treatment facility.

In March, then Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon refused permission for the Arc21 incinerator and waste management plant at Mallusk.

A legal challenge has now been announced and the Department has confirmed on Tuesday they are in “receipt of a pre action protocol letter in relation to the Arc21 decision and this is currently being considered.”

The plan by Arc21, an umbrella waste management group made up of several councils in the east of Northern Ireland, would have seen the construction of a facility capable of thermally treating 300,000 tonnes of waste per year.

However, the proposal had not been without opposition, with the Department for Infrastructure receiving over 5,000 letters objecting to the planned facility.

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In March, Ms Mallon said she refused permission for the Hightown Quarry site after claiming she was “not persuaded that there is a need for this specific facility”.

Documents, including emails now released on the Department’s website dated March 26, show former permanent secretary Katrina Godfrey – who moved to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in April – requested that Ms Mallon’s private secretary “triple” check with the minister over her decision.

Ms Godfrey said she was “not sure” the reasons given by Ms Mallon were “considered a robust planning reason” and warned of the “very real risks of legal challenge that might be exceptionally difficult for the department to defend”.

When Ms Mallon’s private secretary Dr Kathryn McFerran returned back to the permanent secretary with Ms Mallon’s response, Ms Godfrey responded: “As the Minister's principal adviser, I have registered my serious concerns and the Minister has been able to consider these.

"The Minister has decided to depart from the advice provided by officials in relation to this application.”

In a statement, Belgian company Indaver, who were part of the project, claimed they were taking the legal challenge as the decision went against the “clear recommendation” from the DfI Strategic Planning Directorate to approve the application.

“Together with Arc21 we are taking this legal challenge as we believe the Minister erred in law by refusing this application and this has been borne out by advice from her own DfI officials which was contained in correspondence revealed following an Environmental Information Regulations request,” said commercial director Jackie Keaney.

“Our proposals represent a quarter of a billion pounds investment in much needed public infrastructure. This need was clearly identified in the Strategic Planning Directorates report to the Minister.

"This council owned asset will deliver a local, resilient solution for arc21’s black bin waste and will directly contribute to NI’s energy resilience and security of supply through the generation of sufficient electricity to supply 30,000 homes.

"We await the Department’s response to our PAP letter before considering the next steps in the development of this critical piece of public infrastructure.”

On the emails showing disagreement between Ms Mallon’s office and the permanent secretary, Indaver added:  “The Minister’s most senior advisors in the Department alerted her to the very real risks of legal challenge, highlighting that such a challenge might be exceptionally difficult for the Department to defend, as well as raising the associated costs and reputational risks of doing so.

"The Minister chose to ignore this advice issuing her decision on the final day before the pre-election ‘purdah’ period.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of campaigning group No-Arc21 Colin Buick said it was “hard to believe” Arc21 would take the decision to challenge the refusal.

“‘We are shocked and disgusted that arc21 is seeking to squander more public money on this doomed project, by attempting to legally challenge a completely legitimate planning decision by a Stormont government minister,” he said.

“We have no doubt that millions of pounds of rate-payers money have already been wasted on this unwanted project.

‘’It should be remembered that this planning application was refused by a previous Environment Minister Mark Durkan, and successfully challenged in the courts by NoArc21.

“There is comprehensive and widespread political opposition to the project from all political parties in south Antrim.

‘‘It is hard to believe that in a time of rising inflation and pressure on household ratepayer incomes, without even asking for permission from its member councils, Arc21 has decided to launch this legal action which could cost £500,000 – money which Arc21 will need ratepayers to provide, via their councils.

“No-Arc21 is calling on all six constituent Arc21 councils, to withhold consent for the judicial review and to refuse to fund it.

“The refusal of planning permission by former DFI Minister Nichola Mallon, is a perfectly legitimate and democratically accountable decision. It must be allowed to stand.’’

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