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 black bin waste per annum – that’s the waste that cannot be economically or sustainably recycled. In addition, other commercial and industrial residual waste must also be treated. A recent market report from the UK’s leading waste experts Tolvik Consulting has calculated that even if we achieve an ambitious recycling target of 65% by 2035, NI will still produce over 500,000 tonnes of residual waste per annum which can’t be recycled but should be treated in a sustainable manner.

In 2019/20 over 240,000 tonnes of NI household waste was sent to landfill.
In 2019/20 Northern Ireland exported over 235,000 tonnes of its household waste overseas, much of which fuelled Energy from Waste facilities there.

We are in a climate emergency and continuing to use landfill for this waste is not an option, – a point regularly emphasised by the UK Climate Change Committee and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Over a 20-year period, the methane gases released from landfill are an 84 times more potent Greenhouse Gas than Carbon Dioxide. Recognising the harmful nature of this there is now a maximum landfill cap of 10% coming by 2035 as part of the agreed Circular Economy targets. This coincides with an existing local landfill capacity issue which only further highlights the need for a local, robust and sustainable solution to treat this residual waste.

Equally, increasing our export of this waste abroad for others to extract its value 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.

In the absence of a sustainable solution ratepayers across the six arc21 councils are already paying for this residual waste to be landfilled or exported abroad as short-term solutions. This project will redirect this spend to deliver a robust long-term and sustainable local solution which will give Councils more financial control and which will result in a council owned asset.

Recycling will continue to be a major focus of Northern Ireland’s and arc21’s waste management strategy with a target of 65% for household recycling by 2035 as per the new Circular Economy Targets. It has taken over 20 years for NI to achieve a recycling rate of 50% and it is recognised that reaching 65% is not going to be easy. The integrated infrastructure proposed by Becon will directly contribute to this ambitious target and maximise the value from the remaining non-recyclable waste.

It is vital that we develop alternative solutions and the necessary integrated infrastructure to deal with our waste and maximise its value locally, just as it is done across the rest of the UK and Europe. Using all our waste efficiently and effectively and treating it as a valuable resource will help meet these targets and support a ‘green recovery’ as well as the transition to a Circular Economy.  The project can also play an important part in enabling other exciting decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen production, district and industrial heating and energy storage.

While looking at the best ways of dealing with waste as we transition to a circular economy, 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. The Becon Project supports both these goals. The project will generate 18 MW of energy from an indigenous fuel supply, over 50% of which will be renewable. 

The area that arc21 covers encompasses 59% of 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, resilient, 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.

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 stringent planning and environmental permitting requirements. This project has been in the NI planning system for over seven years now and in that time has been recommended for approval by three sets of professional planning teams including by an independent Planning Appeals Commission review. The main project milestones so far are as follows:

Environmental Statement Scoping Exercise

May 2010 – November 2010

Pre-Application Discussion (PAD) Process and Submission

March 2013 – July 2013

Public Consultation Phase

March 2013 – May 2013

Formal Application Submission

March 2014

Strategic Planning Division Development Management Report recommending approval

June 2015

Notice of Opinion to refuse planning issued by the then Minister for the Environment Mark H Durkan

September 2015

Applicant request to be heard in front of Planning Appeals Commission (PAC)

October 2015

Pre-hearing meeting held in PAC

March 2016

Formal Independent PAC hearing

October 2016

Collapse of NI Assembly

January 2017

PAC report of recommendation to approve planning application issued to Department for Infrastructure (DfI)

March 2017

Planning permission granted by DfI Permanent Secretary in absence of Minister due to collapse of NI Assembly

September 2017

Decision quashed following legal challenge relating to lawfulness of the Department’s ability to issue a decision in the absence of a Minister / the Executive

High Court judgement May 2018 / Court of Appeal judgement July 2018

Further Environmental Information (FEI) submission to review and update EIA baseline surveys/methodologies and respond to objections

March 2019

FEI submission to address queries from statutory consultees

August 2019

FEI submission to respond to objections and provide further information in relation to 'the need' for the proposal

October 2020

FEI submission to maintain validity of environmental information

December 2020

FEI submission with updated Market Assessment

May 2021

Planning permission refused by DfI Minister despite DfI Planners recommendation to approve

April, 2022

Leave granted for Judicial Review of Ministerial decision

February 2023

High Court quashes Ministerial decision to refuse planning on grounds of rationality

May, 2023

Further Environmental Information (FEI) submiitted with updated Environmental Statement Addendum to aid fresh planning decision

September 2023

During this long running planning process, the project has received no objections from over 70 statutory consultee responses including the NI Environment Agency, Public Health Agency and Roads Service.  

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.