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A 21st Century Solution to Manage Our Waste and Maximise its Value

In response to the requirements identified by arc21 , the waste management group representing 6 Councils to the east of Northern Ireland, the Becon Consortium has developed plans to co-locate a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant, an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant and a Visitor Centre at the Hightown Quarry site on the Boghill Road, Mallusk.

The Challenge and Opportunity

Northern Ireland must manage its waste in a more environmentally responsible and sustainable way. Despite our notable success at achieving over 50% recycling after decades of effort and investment, we are currently landfilling or exporting over 400,000 tonnes of residual NI household waste per annum – that’s the waste that cannot be economically or sustainably recycled. This doesn’t even include our additional commercial and industrial residual waste and together this waste has to be treated somehow.

Continuing to use landfill as the primary method for this residual waste disposal should not be contemplated, especially in a climate emergency – a point regularly emphasised by the UK Climate Change Committee. With a landfill cap of 10% coming by 2035 alongside an existing local landfill capacity issue we clearly need a local, robust and sustainable solution to treat this residual waste another way.

Equally, increasing our export of this waste abroad for others to extract its value there through renewable energy recovery in similar facilities is not a viable long-term solution either. The increasing financial, environmental and reputational costs of doing so make it entirely illogical, particularly when at the same time we continue to import fossil fuels to meet our local energy needs.

Recycling will continue to be a major focus of Northern Ireland’s waste management strategy with a target of 65% for household recycling by 2035 as per the new Circular Economy Targets. While looking at the best ways of dealing with waste, Northern Ireland also has targets to produce more electricity from renewable sources  and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – with the target of net-zero carbon by 2050.

It’s vital that we develop alternative solutions and the necessary infrastructure to deal with our waste  and maximse its value locally. Using all our waste efficiently and effectively and treating it as a valuable resource will help meet these targets and support a 'green recovery'. . 

The new waste management infrastructure proposed by Becon will operate alongside existing and new recycling programmes and help divert residual municipal waste from landfill through the extraction of valuable materials for recycling and  the generation of sustainable energy – processes that are common practice across the rest of Europe.It can also play an important part in enabling other exciting decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen production, district and industrial heating and energy storage. 

This website outlines proposals to develop an integrated waste management facility to serve the arc21 area – the waste management group which represents 6 Councils in the eastern region of Northern Ireland. The area that arc21 covers encompasses over half the population and accounts for nearly 60% of Northern Ireland’s municipal waste. Delivering these plans will bring us into line with other European countries and contribute to a more sustainable and self-sufficient society. It will signify a positive step forward for waste management in Northern Ireland, help improve recycling rates, contribute to meeting our circular economy, renewable energy and net zero carbon emissions targets and benefit our economy and the environment.

Our proposal

Our Proposal

In response to the requirements identified by arc21, the Becon Consortium has developed plans to co-locate a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant and an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant using an incinerator with energy recovery process at the Hightown Quarry site on the Boghill Road, Mallusk. A Visitor Centre will also be constructed as part of the development.

This project represents a major inward investment for Northern Ireland – approximately £240 million in development and construction alone and will result in the delivery of Council owned assets. In the construction of the new waste facilities, local contractors will be used wherever possible, thereby maximising opportunities for employment and benefiting the wider local economy. An independent economic assessment estimates it will support around 340 permanent direct and indirect jobs when the plants are operational.


Project Timeline

A project of this scale requires a great deal of preparation and effort to ensure that all necessary studies and assessments have been carried out to satisfy both planning and environmental permitting requirements. The scale of the project marks it out as one of regional significance and as such, its planning is currently managed by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI).  It was previously managed by Department of the Environment (DoE) Planning’s ‘Strategic Projects’ team. Major projects are known as ‘Article 31’ projects as they trigger that part of the Planning Order.

The Department encourages active and early pre-application discussion (PAD) to assist it and its consultees in advising planning applicants on the information they require to enable them to determine planning applications. For this project, an Environmental Impact Assessment is a mandatory requirement, requiring site survey and assessment work across a wide range of environmental areas. That exchange of information took place at the end of February 2013, when draft environmental information was submitted to the Department for them to seek their consultees’ feedback. At the same time, we made all draft documents submitted to the Department available for members of the public on our website.

In parallel with the PAD process, an extensive public consultation program was undertaken between March and November 2013 to allow members of the community to gain a full understanding of what is proposed and to provide opportunities for them to give their feedback.

The public were consulted through; ten information sessions held across the Belfast, Mallusk, Newtownabbey and Antrim areas; a detailed campaign website offering email and telephone feedback mechanisms; extensive direct mailing and face to face meetings with local resident groups. Feedback showed that people found the exhibition, information materials and professional team both informative and helpful in answering questions and addressing any concerns they may have had regarding the project.

The project team has equally found this feedback very helpful and have reflected on all the submissions received in finalising the planning application documentation. This process has now been completed.

Meanwhile arc21 has been engaged in consultation with each of its eleven constituent councils during the months of January, February and March 2014 to secure their formal endorsement to move the procurement process forward.  All eleven Councils have voted to progress the procurement and project.  One outcome of this democratic cycle is that the arc21 Joint Committee agreed to proceed to the formal planning application submission stage. 

A formal submission was subsequently made to DoE Planning on 27th March 2014, thereby moving the project into the formal determination stage of the planning process.

The full planning application documentation has been uploaded to the Downloads Section of our website here.  In the period since the PAD documentation submission in March 2013, some aspects have been developed further and the related supporting information is now included to support the application. We have also prepared a summary document highlighting the most significant changes or additions to the scheme following Pre-application Discussion and Community Consultation which can also be found in the Downloads Section.

In September 2015, Minister Mark H Durkan issued a Notice of Opinion to refuse planning permission for this project.  arc21 appealed this notice to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).  A public hearing was held with the PAC in October 2016 and this provided an opportunity for all interested parties to put forward their views.  Following consideration of all the issues raised the PAC issued a report to DfI which recommended the project be granted planning permission subject to conditions.  

In the absence of a Minister, the Permanent Secretary in DfI granted planning permission in September 2017 believing it was in the public interest. That decision was later quashed following the outcome of the Buick judicial review which questioned the legal basis for senior civil servants to make such a decision in the absence of a Minister, due to the ongoing absence of a local NI Executive or Assembly.

Following the introduction of The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 and associated guidance on decision-making for Northern Ireland Department’s published by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the merits of the planning application itself and the PAC recommendation to approve remain to be redetermined by the DfI Strategic Planning Division.

Given the time lapse since the original Environmental Statement submission in March 2014, a new Environmental Statement Addendum, which includes updated information has been voluntarily prepared and provided to the DfI Strategic Planning Division on 19th March 2019. This Addendum will enable them to fully consider arc21’s planning application with the latest available information, having reviewed and refreshed the necessary EIA baseline surveys and methodologies utilised as part of the original assessments undertaken. This updates an ES Addendum in September 2014 and Further Environmental Information (FEI) submitted as part of the Statement of Case (August 2016) in advance of the PAC hearing. A further ES Addendum was submitted in August 2019 and most recenlty again in October 2020- copies of which are available in the Downloads section below.

This latest Addendum can be found in the downloads section LINK and through the normal planning portal. A copy is also available for public inspection at Glengormley Library, 40 Carnmoney Road. Newtownabbey, BT36 6HP.

DfI will advertise the availability of this new information and consult with statutory consultees before considering a new planning decision. 

It is estimated that the residual waste treatment facility will be constructed and in full operation within four years of securing all necessary consents. The first stage in construction activity will involve upgrading and improving the Boghill Road.


The Technology

Two types of technology will be used: Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) and Energy from Waste (EfW)

Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) A Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant is a type of waste processing facility that combines an automated mechanical pre-sorting facility and a form of biological treatment. The mechanical treatment component of the plant typically resembles a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and separates different materials to allow for efficient management of the waste. The biological treatment can include composting, bio-drying or anaerobic digestion. The type of waste treatment being proposed in the MBT plant is widely used in Great Britain and Europe. In early 2017, Europe had a total of about 570 active MBT plants with a treatment capacity of 55 million tonnes and many more in different stages of development. 

The proposed MBT will have the capacity to accept and treat up to 300,000 tonnes of waste. However, based on the assumed waste composition and projected waste tonnages, the plant is expected to treat approximately 245,000 tonnes per year. Materials such as metals, plastics and other recyclable products will be extracted from the waste at the mechanical treatment stage using automated separation equipment and manual hand picking. The organic rich material of the waste remaining after recyclate extraction will be treated in the Bio-drying Tunnels to reduce its mass and improve its calorific value. Following the MBT process, any material which cannot be recycled will be conveyed to the EfW plant as a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) for recovery. All stages of the MBT operations are undertaken in purpose-designed, fully enclosed buildings, thus preventing noise, dust and smells from escaping.

Energy from Waste (EfW)

Energy from Waste (EfW) technology involves the thermal treatment of waste to release energy that is then used to generate steam and electricity.

Thermal waste treatment is a tried and tested technology that ensures the safe and environmentally responsible treatment of waste. EfW plants have operated throughout continental Europe for decades, with over 500 plants in operation today. Many of these are located in countries with long established ‘green’ credentials such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany. In Germany alone, some 24 million tonnes of waste a year are processed in EfW plants. In the UK, there are currently over 50 EfW plants in operation and many more being constructred/commissioned or in planning.

The proposed EfW plant will use an incinerator with energy recovery process with a thermal capacity of 68MWTH and, based on assumed waste composition, is expected to accept and treat approximately 211,000 tonnes of waste per annum. The Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) generated in the MBT will be conveyed directly to the EfW bunker where it will be mixed with commercial and industrial waste to produce a homogenised fuel. The heat produced from the combustion of the fuel will be used primarily to generate electricity of which approximately 18MW will be exported to the grid. The plant will incorporate the latest emissions technologies used extensively throughout Europe. The ash generated in the EfW from the incineration process will be processed on site to produce a material which can be used as an aggregate in the construction industry. In addition to electricity export, up to 10MW of the heat produced in the EfW may also be used to supply potential heat off-take, which could be used to support a variety of local industrial/commercial or residential uses.

Main Points at a glance

  • £240m initial capital investment
  • Diverting up to 250,000 tonnes of waste from landfill per year
  • Supplying 18MW of electricity to National grid – enough to supply over 30,000 homes.

MBT Plant


The MBT process will firstly extract valuable materials such as metals, plastics and other recyclable products. The organic rich material remaining after recyclate extraction will be treated in Bio-drying tunnels to improve its calorific value as a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF).

Similar facilities in Europe

Similiar facilities
Similiar facilities
Similiar facilities

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How this process takes place


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Project Benefits

The project offers a wide range of environmental, economic and social benefits.

  • It will provide a sustainable, long term solution for the management of residual municipal waste in the arc21 area.
  • Create approximately 455 direct jobs at peak construction and support a significant number of additional jobs in the supply chain.
  • Increase arc21’s constituent councils’ overall recycling rates by up to 10% through the extraction of plastics, metals, aggregates and other valuable materials.
  • Represent a total investment in Northern Ireland infrastructure of £240 million which will result in a publicly owned asset.
  • Boost the local economy during the construction phase by the creation and sustainment of direct and indirect jobs generating £122 million in total wages and £215 million of Gross Value Added (GVA) to the Northern Ireland economy.
  • Divert up to 250,000 tonnes of municipal waste from landfill per year, helping to meet government and EU targets and avoiding impending fines should targets not be met * Create / sustain 337 direct and indirect jobs annually during the operational phase – generating £7.7m in total wages and contributing £24.7m of GVA to the Northern Ireland economy.
  • Contribute over 50,000 MWh per year to Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets.
  • Help Northern Ireland to become less reliant on imported fossil fuels and combat climate change.
  • Contribute to Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions targets by the reduction of approximately 57,500 tonnes CO2 Equivalent per year relative to sending waste to landfill.
  • Contribute to the green recovery by enabling other decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen fuel production, district heating, energy storage etc. 
  • Enhance Northern Ireland’s security of supply and increase diversity of energy production.
  • Export 18MW electricity to the National Grid – enough to power in excess of 30,000 homes.
  • Provide improvements to the road network in the immediate vicinity of the site
  • Offer potential to export up to 10MW heat to future commercial, industrial or residential users nearby.
  • Include a Visitor Centre that will feature an exhibition area, lecture theatre and viewing facilities for educational and community use.

Heat Off – Take

The heat produced in the EfW will be used primarily to generate electricity but will also be used to supply a number of heat requirements on the site such as the MBT biological treatment.

Up to 10MWTH of heat, in addition to electricity export, could be available for potential heat off-take which can be used to support a variety of local industrial/commercial or residential uses.

In Germany and the Netherlands, excess heat is used in a variety of ways:


Knapsack , Germany – the plant is located on an industrial park and provides electricity and steam to a number of chemical companies located in the area.


Goppingen, Germany – provides district heating to local homes as well as energy to a nearby police training academy and a hospital.

Hannover, Germany – the plant’s excess heat off take capability is reserved for future municipal use.

Delfzjil, the Netherlands – the plant provides energy to five chemical companies located in the area.

Indaver’s Meath EfW, operational since 2011.




Why this site?

Following a comprehensive site selection process the Hightown Quarry, Mallusk site was chosen because:

  • It is well placed in relation to the road network and the national electricity grid
  • It is a brownfield site and available for development
  • It is home to an operational quarry which provides opportunities to integrate new buildings within the varying quarry landform in a sensitive manner
  • It is near to existing waste landfill facilities, enabling current waste traffic to be easily redirected to the quarry site
  • The topography of the quarry site lends itself well to visual screening and noise shielding
  • Co-locating an MBT and EfW on the quarry site reduces transport of waste between sites, increases efficiencies and improves value for money to the benefit of the arc21 councils and their ratepayers
  • It is a site which has unrestricted planning permission for quarrying operations and which has a construction waste/recycling planning history
  • It offers future potential for businesses/communities to avail of heat produced by the new facilities – supporting future commercial or domestic developments in the local area
  • It is a suitable size and shape for the proposed facilities
  • The proposed development is consistent with planning policy



We intend to use the best available technology to generate maximum value from residual waste. This approach will help to create a cleaner and brighter future for everyone.

Before submitting our formal planning application we undertook an extensive programme of public consultation. This was so we could explain our proposals in greater detail, listen to your views and answer any questions you may have. These views have been considered and helped inform the final planning submission.

Now that the planning application is being considered by the Department for Infrastructure, subsequent comments or queries should be directed to the department's Strategic Planning Division in the first instance.

Visitor Centre

Visitor Centre

As part of the project, there will be a visitor centre which will showcase best practice in waste management and sustainability and also be made available as a community resource. The Visitor Centre will provide a gateway to arc21’s new waste management facilities, showcasing best practice in waste management and sustainability.

It will be designed to promote an understanding of how we can best manage our waste for future generations and show how everyone has a role to play. We will deliver a high quality, exciting experience for visitors of all ages and backgrounds while providing a state of the art facility that can also be used by the local community.



Here you can find all relevant planning documents and submissions relating to the Becon project – including the original Environmental Statement and relevant supporting documents. FEI (Further Environmental Information) documents have been submitted at various stages and we have made these documents available for download, as we did with the original ES documents. The latest FEI information available is from October 2020.

In the period since the PAD documentation submission in March 2013, some aspects of the project were developed further and the related information was included to support the application. We have also prepared a summary document highlighting the most significant changes or additions to the scheme following Pre-application Discussion and Community Consultation and this too is available for download below.

Now that the planning application is being considered by the Department for Infrastructure, subsequent comments or queries should be directed to the department’s Strategic Planning Division in the first instance.

Due to the large file size of these documents it is recommended that you view them in Firefox or Chrome browsers, or alternatively right-click on each link and download the required documents.

  • May 2021 Click to expand

  • October 2020 Click to expand

  • June 2020 – Grant Thornton Report on arc21 Project

    June 2020 – Grant Thornton Report (Exec Summary) on arc21 Project

  • August 2019 Click to expand

  • March 2019 Click to expand

  • FEI Contents
  • FEI Doc List
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Geology, Soils and Agriculture
  • 3. The Water Environment Click to expand
  • 4. Land Quality Click to expand
  • 5. Ecology Click to expand
  • 6. Landscape and Visual Impact Click to expand
  • Landscape and Visual Impact
  • Appendix 6.1 Illustrative Material Click to expand

  • 7. Cultural Heritage Click to expand

  • 8. TransportClick to expand
  • 9.Noise Click to expand
  • 10. Air Quality Click to expand
  • 11. Climatic Factors Click to expand
  • 12. Population Socio-Economic Impacts Click to expand
  • 13. Material Assets
  • 14. Summary and Conclusion
  • Application drawings Click to expand
  • Design Statement (March 2019)
  • Statement of Consistency

  • September 2013 – 2014 Click to expand

  • EIA Addendum September 2014
  • EIA Addendum Click to expand
  • Summary of Updates Brochure
  • Non Technical Summary
  • Planning Supporting Statement web
  • Design Statement
  • LBMS + Landscape Proposals (organised by chapters) Click to expand

  • Statement of Community Involvement
  • Environmental Statement sections (organised by chapters) Click to expand
  • 2. Description of the Site
  • 3. Description of the Project Click to expand
  • 4. Assessment of Main Alternatives Click to expand
  • 5. Consultations and PAD Programme Click to expand
  • 6. Geology, Soils and Agriculture Click to expand
  • 7. The Water Environment Click to expand
  • 8. Land Quality Click to expand
  • 9. Ecology Click to expand
  • 10. Landscape and Visual Click to expand
  • 11. Cultural Heritage Click to expand
  • 12. Transport Click to expand
  • 13. Noise Click to expand
  • 14. Air Quality
  • 15. Climatic Factors Click to expand
  • 16. Population and Socio-Economic Impacts Click to expand
  • 17. Material Assets Click to expand
  • 18. Significance of Effects and Impact Interactions
  • 19. Summary and Conclusions.pdf
  • PPC Permit Application Click to expand