arc21 Highlights Value of Modern Waste Infrastructure
19 April 2021
arc21 has responded to the Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government (PfG) framework consultation, highlighting that its proposals for modern waste infrastructure will support multiple policy objectives.
arc21 also argued that Green Growth should be “a golden thread” throughout Government strategy if NI is to meet its environmental commitments. In relation to waste management, the submission noted that the current pandemic had thrown into stark relief some of the weaknesses within NI’s current system, including the highly exposed position which many councils within arc21 now find themselves in regarding the treatment and disposal of non-recyclable rubbish. The pressure caused by COVID-19 has emphasised the risks associated with the present reliance on either landfilling, or exporting non-recyclable rubbish to overseas Energy from Waste (EfW) plants for incineration. With a lack of resilience in local infrastructure, and with landfills predicted to reach capacity by 2030, councils are grappling with a significant dilemma on future options for dealing with this residual waste. In line with statutory requirements, over more than a decade arc21 and its constituent councils have produced a series of Waste Management Plans to develop a suite of waste management facilities (including EfW) at Hightown Quarry, Mallusk. Although the planning application was submitted over seven years ago – and approval has been recommended by three sets of professional planners – a final decision is still outstanding. This places arc21 councils in a “position of jeopardy” with increased financial and operational risk and raises a real spectre of considerable reputational risk if the current arrangements fail. This lack of progress also risks compromising NI’s commitments to a Circular Economy and of missing Net Zero targets, as well as undermining Green Growth ambitions and undermining NI’s reputation as a region which is open for business and welcomes foreign direct investment. The PfG’s ambition to create economic opportunity through tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions closely aligns with arc21's priorities and proposals to deliver new infrastructure which will reduce the environmental impact of waste and enable its use as a resource for other Circular Economy activity. arc21, however, reiterated its concerns that in the absence of new waste infrastructure, NI’s current reliance on landfill and waste export for incineration is unsustainable, leaving us stumbling towards a waste crisis. arc21 also welcomed the importance of the Natural Environment in the Outcomes, but highlighted that sustainable waste management practices are critical to ensuring human, plant and animal health. Waste crime and illegal dumping are significant problems in NI and the region has previously had the dubious honour of being home to one of Europe's largest illegal dumps, at Mobouy, Co Londonderry. As the Department of the Environment commissioned Mills Report (2013) concluded, the provision of new infrastructure, such as that proposed by arc21, would reduce the space in which illegal waste crime operates. Despite being viewed as a “Cinderella service”, arc21’s submission concluded that developing modern waste management infrastructure can support multiple policy areas and PfG Outcomes from the Green Economy through to competitiveness, decarbonisation, protecting our natural environment and reducing criminality. Instead of viewing waste as a problem to be managed it should be regarded as an opportunity for NI to harness positively to deliver Green Growth. The consultation closed on 22nd March 2021. The next step will be the publication of an analysis of responses which will be published on the Northern Ireland Executive website.