14 May 2018 by Elizabeth Slow

Arc21 incinerator approval ‘unlawful’

Approving a new £240m waste incinerator on the outskirts of north Belfast without a minister being in post was unlawful, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mrs Justice Keegan backed claims that a senior civil servant did not have legal power to give the green light for the major waste disposal facility at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk following the collapse of devolution.


Impression of the Co Antrim project with MBT and energy from waste plant (produced in 2014)

She said: “I do not consider that Parliament can have intended that such decision making would continue in Northern Ireland in the absence of ministers without the protection of democratic accountability.”


The verdict represents victory for campaigners opposed to the controversial incinerator project.

In 2015 the scheme had been turned down by the then Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan.

But a consortium behind the project on behalf of six local councils, Arc21, was given permission after the Planning Appeals Commission recommended approval.

In September last year the Department for Infrastructure said it was in the public interest for the waste management system to be built, describing it as being of strategic importance for the region.

The decision came months after the Stormont Executive collapsed in January 2017.

Up to 4,000 letters objecting to the incinerator were lodged, with residents listing concerns about the visual impact, light and noise pollution and health implications.

Judicial review proceedings were issued by Colin Buick, chairperson of community group NoArc21.

His barrister argued that senior officials had no legal power to approve the incinerator.


The Department’s decision to grant planning permission lacked the direction and control of a minister required under legislation, it was contended.

Mrs Justice Keegan was told that alone was enough to “sound the death knell” for allowing the development.

Counsel for Mr Buick also claimed civil servants are in “disarray” over the extent of their powers in the absence of ministers at Stormont.

Ruling on the challenge, Mrs Justice Keegan said the case advanced by the Department “would mean civil servants in Northern Ireland could effectively take major policy decisions such as this one for an indefinite period”.

She stressed there is currently a protracted vacuum pending either the restoration of executive and legislative institutions or direct rule in Northern Ireland.

The judge acknowledged arguments about how the delay in determining the Arc21 planning application was impacting on public waste and environmental development at national, European and international level.

The entire programme for government is on hold while the political impasse continues, she pointed out.

“However, I do not consider that the exigencies of the current situation are an adequate justification for the course that has been taken,” Mrs Justice Keegan added.

“I do not consider that the exigencies of the current situation are an adequate justification for the course that has been taken.”

Mrs Justice Keegan

She confirmed: “I have decided that the decision is unlawful on the vires ground.”

Further decisions on the appropriate remedy and costs of the case will be taken at a later date.


Outside court a spokesman for Arc21 said it was disappointed with the ruling.

He added: “We will take time to consider the judgement in detail and consult with our stakeholders.”

Becon Consortium, the waste management experts involved in the incinerator, described the ruling as a frustrating setback but insisted they remain fully committed to delivering the facility.

In a statement they said it was one of the most regionally significant and strategically important infrastructure projects currently required in Northern Ireland.

“We note that the decision not to uphold this decision does not change the material facts at the heart of the planning decision, the project’s compliance with regional waste policy or indeed remove the strategic need for such infrastructure here in Northern Ireland in the future,” the statement added.

“Instead, the judge’s decision is entirely based on procedural matters in relation to the ability of the Department to make a decision in the absence of a minister in post.”


Mmh, not a great advertisement for investing in the UK is it. Sorry, we have no government at the moment and haven’t had for over a year now. Could you come back later?

Alternatively it is another way for politicians to slither out of making a testy decision. Cynical? Moi?

Posted by Billy Bin on May 16, 2018

Does no auger well for the ARC 21.

Right from the start when they were touting this programme for business in 2007 (maybe before!) they stated that they were “technology neutral” yet continued to say that the base case was incineration aloe. They knew that options existed to manage the waste where the primary production mode for the organics was to make a renewable fuel, and the options included making electricity and heat as well. From what is understood at the time the company discussions were so detailed that even then the consideration was to present a proposal with a near £Zero Gate Fee (for the first five years that meant £10-00 and less a tonne, and after 6 years that was to be £Zero a tonne thereafter and for ever. THat proposal – conveniently washed aside by Arc 21 and the Belfast Waste Manager would have been built for less than £160 Million and would not have generated any smell or noxious substances and the fuel could have been used for local use.

As we also understood the same Company would have been able to capture the plastics and convert those to further renewable fuels – such as hydrogen and methane or even Diesel.

THe chickens have come home to roost.

The People in Belfast have been kept in the dark about this for too long.

Posted by David Hamilton on May 18, 2018

I honestly must ask why an incineration plant was desired/planned upon etc. when other technologies exist such as a properly designed MBT (Mechanical- biological Waste Treatment)? Generally speaking we have found that in Germany the costs for such a MBT is generally half of that of an incineration plant with the same thoughput! I live about 300m (yes, 300 meters) from our MBT plant in Ringsheim Germany and I don’t smell it, don’t see it and don’t hear it! The plant has been running non-stop without any downtime sind mid 2006. The acceptance by the community is 100%. Walkers and families are invited and allowed to go by the plant every day. The town of Ringsheim where the MBT is located also benefits in part by the use of the district heating network which is supplied by warmth after thermally utilizing the biogas (70% -71% Methane content continuously!) to create heat and electricity. I could imagine that such a technology could be very viable for the site in north Ireland. You deserve this flexible and scalable technology, you have the right to it!

Posted by Glen Tobiason on May 18, 2018

MBT is a very expensive option when you consider that most of the output needs incinerating or land filling anyway. Councils chose to go down that route because it was more ‘politically acceptable’ and hide the fact that 75% of the output is still burned. MBT without a special case or situation such as long term need for the CLO is not economically viable in Germany or in the UK, just look at all the failures Herrhoff, Global Renewables, Shanks D&G, New Earth………

Posted by Billy Bin on May 21, 2018

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