Arc21 residual waste project ‘essential’ to Northern Ireland, says report

The arc21 residual waste project is an ‘essential’ part of Northern Ireland’s waste management plans, according to a report by consultancy Grant Thornton.

The report published yesterday (30 June) stated that the £240-million privately-funded project was a strategic necessity for Northern Ireland, due to ‘severely limited’ public finances, reduced landfill capacity and a worsening economic situation provoked by the Covid-19 crisis.

An artist's impression of the proposed facility at Mallusk
An artist's impression of the Becon project at Mallusk, Country Antrim
Known as the Becon project, the arc21 waste management group of six councils in the east of Northern Ireland hopes to build a 120,000-tonne capacity EfW plant at Mallusk in County Antrim.

The report, commissioned by private sector investor Indaver, which hopes to build the Mallusk EfW for arc21, claims that the project will alleviate a sizable financial burden from local authorities dealing with their residual waste.

Grant Thornton currently estimates local authorities in the country fork out £16 million per year to export an average of 138,183 tonnes of residual waste to energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities in Europe. Grant Thornton estimates that the cost of exporting waste is only going to increase, with countries like the Netherlands introducing import taxes on residual waste for EfW facilities.

On top of this, landfill capacity is expected to be further restricted as Northern Ireland adopts the target of the EU’s Circular Economy Package, including a 65 per cent recycling target and a limit of no more than 10 per cent of all municipal waste generated sent to landfill by 2035. Grant Thornton estimates the costs of sending waste to landfill for Northern Irish councils to be around £30 million a year.

Northern Ireland has recently reached a 50 per cent recycling rate, meeting the EU’s 2020 target of 50 per cent, and has opened a public consultation on its future recycling strategy, but the report expects that the country will still need to find a way to dispose of 25-50 per cent of its waste.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Andrew Webb, Chief Economist at Grant Thornton, said: “Northern Ireland faces a significant challenge to manage its waste in a more environmentally and economically sustainable way and in doing so help address the critical climate change agenda. The current approach of both landfilling and exporting our waste for the value to be extracted elsewhere is not a legitimate or sustainable long-term solution. The new Circular Economy targets mean that we need to develop a local self-sufficient solution which maximises the value from our waste. The arc21 residual waste project offers a compelling solution which is in line with modern international best practice for environmental protection and climate change mitigation. The fact that this public infrastructure will be delivered through foreign direct investment at a time when public finances are severely limited is also significant.”

The report predicts the economic benefits of the project to be significant, with the £240-million investment to create 340 permanent direct and indirect jobs and £215 million of gross value added to the economy, while also generating enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

John Ahern, Business Development Director at Indaver UK and Ireland, said: “The environmental and economic imperatives for this project combine to make it a must do, otherwise Northern Ireland risks failing to meet its key targets on landfill diversion, recycling, renewable energy, and wider climate change targets. The Becon project delivers a 21st century solution to manage NI residual waste in a responsible manner in line with the best practice across Europe. It ensures we maximise the value from that waste and contribute to critical climate change targets.”

The Becon project is still awaiting planning permission from the Northern Ireland Executive – the Northern Irish devolved government – and the consortium behind the project will hope for no further setbacks.

In May 2018, a High Court ruling blocked the development of the project after concerted efforts from campaigners.

The project had been given planning permission back in September 2017 by Peter May, the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Infrastructure (DFI), in the absence of a minister in charge of the Department at a time when the power-sharing agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein was in tatters.

Mrs Justice Keegan, however, announced that May did not have the appropriate lawful authority to issue the planning consent in the absence of a minister, and as such ruled that the development should not proceed.

The ruling came after environmental consultants Eunomia Research and Consulting had released a report commissioned by campaigners that found the EfW facility would not have enough waste to feed it, predicting residual waste tonnages to fall to 58,000 tonnes by 2020/21, far below the facility’s predicted capacity.

You can find the report in full on the Becon website.

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