Mallusk incinerator: refusal of planning permission for project quashed

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A refusal of planning permission for a multi-million pound incinerator project on the outskirts of north Belfast is to be quashed, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Humphreys made the order following a request from the Stormont department facing a legal challenge for blocking the planned waste treatment facilities at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk.

The controversial development proposal by a consortium of six local councils is now expected to come under fresh consideration.

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In March last year former Infrastructure Minister Nicola Mallon refused planning permission to the Arc21 umbrella waste management group.

An artist's impression of the proposed Hightown Quarry facility.An artist's impression of the proposed Hightown Quarry facility.
An artist's impression of the proposed Hightown Quarry facility.

Arc21 and private firm Indaver were both seeking a judicial review of her decision at a hearing listed for next week. But in court today (Wednesday) it emerged that officials running the Department of Infrastructure in the absence of an Executive are not contesting the legal challenge.

Tony McGleenan KC, for the Department, disclosed: “We are going to invite the court to quash the decision (of the former Minister) by consent.” The planning refusal “was not accompanied by sufficient rational reasons”, counsel indicated.

With all sides in agreement, Mr Justice Humphreys confirmed the outcome to the proceedings. “I will quash the decision to refuse the planning application,” he stated.

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It represents the latest stage in an ongoing battle over the plans for an incinerator at the location. The £240m scheme was originally turned down in 2015 by the then Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan.

Arc21, set up on behalf of councils in Belfast, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ards and North Down, Lisburn and Castlereagh, Mid and East Antrim, and Newry, Mourne and Down, then secured approval from the Planning Appeals Commission.

Civil servants then agreed to give the plant the go ahead following a collapse in the Stormont Executive. But the High Court subsequently ruled there was no power to approve the incinerator without a minister being in place.

In refusing the renewed planning application for a site that could thermally treat 300,000 tonnes of waste each year, Mrs Mallon cited the 5,000 objections. She said the facility could result in an increased market for waste disposal and discourage recycling.

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The lawfulness of that decision, initially maintained by the Department after Mrs Mallon left office, was under joint challenge from Arc21 and Indaver. They claimed it went against a recommendation from officials to approve the project.

Lawyers for the umbrella group and waste firm were also expected to argue that the former minister’s decision was irrational and in breach of planning permission.

With the current legal action now ended, Mr Justice Humphreys added: “I congratulate the parties on reaching a consensual resolution. It’s a difficult case with a long history. Clearly the next steps in the process are not for the court but for others to take.”

Indaver’s commercial director Jackie Keaney welcomed the ruling to quash the refusal of planning permission for the project on the grounds of rationality.

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Mr Keaney said: “This is an important step which ensures that this necessary public infrastructure project which has been in the planning system for over nine years now will once again be considered for a robust, evidence-based planning decision.”