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A North Belfast MLA has called on the community to "unite and oppose" plans for an incineration plant in Hightown.

Speaking at a public meeting in St Enda's GAC last week Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly called for a united front from residents, community organisations and political representatives to stop the £250m waste incineration plant planned for the Boghill Road in Newtownabbey.

Residents had previously voiced their concerns over the fall in property values in the area because of the proposed planning application due to be submitted in September.

The site was identified by Arc21, one of the three waste management groups set up recently in Northern Ireland in response to European directives on waste management.

The residents' umbrella group named the NoArc21 group have since launched a campaign calling for all council representatives on Arc21, made up of 11 of Northern Ireland's 26 councils, to abandon the group.

The campaigners believe that the Hightown Quarry site is inappropriate for the size of the plant planned and suggested the Belfast harbour area as a more compatible venue.

However, Mr Kelly called for the proposal to be stopped. "I'm very pleased that the voices of local people spoke unanimously against the Becon plant here tonight at St Enda's GAC public meeting," he said. "This is not the way forward and that's based on sound international environmental evidence. I'm calling for a united front of residents, community organisations and political representatives to stop the Hightown incinerator. Tonight's public meeting was the latest step in the campaign but much remains to be done if we are to be successful in stopping this proposal as we did in recent years in Glengormley and at the Belfast Lough Shore.

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"Clearly there are huge concerns relating to the environmental impact of the incinerator, its potential to block community development and also its viability, including the long term cost to the public purse.

"Expanding areas in Glengormley and Ligoniel which surround the proposed site require investment in community facilities and homes all of which would be limited by siting an incinerator at this location," he added.

A spokesperson for Arc21 said that the site had been chosen after a long, robust and in-depth site seletion process. "This brownfield site, previously a thriving quarry, is located on the periphery of Mallusk and offers many benefits. It is in close proximity to a primary road network and the national electricity grid.

"The topography of the site will help minimise visual impact, and it is also of sufficient size to comfortably host all of the new facilities plus a bespoke visitor centre.

"Arc21 and the Becon Consortium have liaised closely with the local community and remain open to continuing such engagement to help inform the planning application," they added.

"It will enable local Councils to comply with EU directives, generate renewable electricity and provide opportunities for the local economy."

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