BACKGROUND TO THE PROJECT
The Becon Consortium plans to build integrated waste treatment infrastructure including a Visitor Centre at the Hightown Quarry site on the Boghill Road, Mallusk. This will enable arc21 councils meet the latest Circular Economy, landfill diversion and net zero carbon targets and manage its waste more sustainably.
This project represents a major investment for Northern Ireland – approximately £240 million in development and construction alone. 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 337 permanent direct and indirect jobs when the plants are operational.
THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE PROJECT
arc21 is an umbrella waste management group in Northern Ireland representing 6 local councils on the eastern coast and is the procuring authority for this project. It delivers important waste management services to over 1.1 million people living in these councils.
arc21 works on behalf of its partner councils to guide, support and help them deliver their statutory waste management obligations, drive forward innovative waste management programmes, including developing infrastructure, and address greater circularity of resources.
The Becon Consortium was formed to pursue the opportunity created by arc21’s public procurement for its residual waste treatment project.
The company behind the Becon Consortium is Indaver (NI) Ltd (previously known as EEW Energy from Waste UK Limited).
Indaver has for over 25 years been providing integrated waste management services to public authorities. Each year, across 6 European countries Indaver manages more than 5 million tonnes of waste, the majority of which is either recovered as energy or recycled. For further details visit www.indaver.co.uk
In 2011 Indaver completed the construction of the first municipal Energy from Waste (EfW) plant on the island of Ireland. The plant located at Duleek, Co. Meath provides a thermal treatment and recovery solution for 230,000 tonnes of household and commercial and industrial waste annually while generating renewable electricity to power 20,000 homes.
Elsewhere in the UK, Indaver is building a £400 million integrated waste management facility in Essex (operational 2025) and is the operator of an EfW in Aberdeen (operational 2022) which will provide a sustainable waste treatment solution to three local Authorities in the North East of Scotland.
WHY ARE THE FACILITIES NEEDED ?
The proposed facilities will help Northern Ireland to meet its landfill reduction and recycling targets, as well as contributing to our greenhouse gas reduction targets and renewable energy targets through producing sustainable energy.
Under the latest Circular Economy Targets there will be a cap on landfill of 10% by 2035, alongside an ambitious recycling target of 65% in the same period. This project will divert up to 250,000 tonnes of municipal waste from landfill per year and contribute to increased recycling levels. This project will increase arc21’s constituent Councils’ overall recycling rates by up to 10%. It will also do away with the need to export huge volumes of our residual waste abroad every year at significant cost, where its value is extracted there in similar Energy from Waste plants as the one proposed here.
We also have targets to reach net zero carbon by 2050 to tackle climate change. Using all our waste efficiently and effectively and treating it as a valuable resource will help meet these targets. The Becon Project will contribute over 50,000 MWh per year to Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets and reduce C0₂ Equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 tonnes per year relative to sending waste to landfill. It can also help enable other exciting decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen fuel production, energy storage and industrial and district heating schemes.
Yes, reusing and recycling are an important part of managing the region’s waste. The Becon Consortium will work with arc21 to encourage people to minimise waste and to increase reuse and recycling. However, currently not all waste can be dealt with in this way and the proposed facility is urgently needed to reduce the amount of residual waste – the waste that cannot be recycled – being sent to landfill or being exported abroad to fuel Energy from Waste facilities there. Both these practices are environmentally and economically unsustainable.
A recent market report from the leading UK waste experts Tolvik Consulting has estimated that even if Northern Ireland achieves the ambitious 65% recycling targets, we will still produce over 500,000 tonnes of residual waste every year by 2035 that will need treated in a sustainable manner.
Northern Ireland is obliged to reduce waste going to landfill as it is considered the worst option of dealing with our residual (black bin) waste especially at a time of climate crisis. This waste creates harmful greenhouse gases, which are seen to contribute to global warming. Under the agreed new Circular Economy Targets there will be a cap on landfill of 10% by 2035 alongside an ambitious recycling target of 65%.
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 tonnage doesn’t include our additional commercial and industrial residual waste which also has to be treated somehow. Our current practices are both economically and environmentally unsustainable.
Locating new modern waste infrastructure facilities in the arc21 area is entirely consistent with the environmental principles of proximity and self-sufficiency. The proximity principle advocates that waste should be disposed of (or otherwise managed) close to the point at which it is generated, thus aiming to achieve responsible self-sufficiency within a region. The Becon project will do away with the need to export our waste abroad for others to realist its value there and divert up to 250,000 tonnes of municipal waste from landfill.
The proposed facilities will help the 6 Councils to not only meet their landfill reduction targets but will also help increase overall recycling levels within the arc21 area by up to 10%. The project will also export 14MW electricity to the National Grid, enough to power more than 30,000 homes, contributing to Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to using landfill. It can also enable additional decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen fuel production, industrial and district heating schemes and energy storage.
We must reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels and become more self-sufficient in terms of renewable energy generation. This is crucial if we are to prosper economically, attract new investment and create jobs for future generations. This project will also contribute to Northern Ireland’s renewable energy target and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
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 and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
It is the worst and last option in the agreed waste hierarchy. 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 (black bin) waste.
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 and indicates a reluctance to take responsibility for our own waste. In 2019/20 we sent over 235,000 tonnes of our waste out of Northern Ireland at significant financial and environmental costs to counties across four continents.
It’s also entirely at odds with the ambitions of the NI Waste Management Plan (developed by DAERA in 2019 – NIWMP). Its aim is to work towards a “sustainable and circular economy” with the waste hierarchy as the guiding principle. It also promotes the “proximity principle” which aims to treat waste as close as practicable to where it is created. Sending waste overseas does not align with the “proximity principle”.
The increasing financial, environmental and reputational costs of doing so makes this practice entirely illogical, particularly when at the same time we continue to import fossil fuels to meet our local energy needs. The international markets for exported waste are also becoming more costly with some countries banning imports all together or introducing an import tax to prioritise their own local waste.
PROJECT DETAILS AND SITE
The total inward investment in these facilities will be £240 million. This will ultimately leave an important infrastructure project in public ownership.
The EfW facility will be operational 24 hours per day seven days a week however it is foreseen that waste will be delivered from 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 2pm Saturdays.
There are a number of benefits in co-locating facilities on the same site in Hightown Quarry, Mallusk:
- Significant reduction in transport of waste between facilities (resulting in decreased transport costs and fewer vehicle emissions)
- Robust traceability and auditability of waste
- Anticipated reduction in overall environmental impact
- Common management
- Workforce efficiencies
- Reduction in need for equipment
- Shared infrastructure
- Improved value for money solution for arc21 councils and their ratepayers
The proposed site is situated at the Hightown Quarry premises on the Boghill Road, which is in the townland of Ballyutoag near Mallusk.
The exact site address is:
40a Boghill Road,
Co. Antrim BT36 4QS
The Hightown site comprises over 60 hectares, although not all of this will be required for the construction of the plants and their associated facilities.
Following a comprehensive site selection process the Hightown Quarry site, Mallusk was chosen because:
- The site is well located to waste arisings in the arc21 region
- 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
- The topography of the quarry site lends itself well to visual screening and noise shielding
- It is a site which has unrestricted planning permission for quarrying operations and which has a construction waste/recycling planning history
- It is a suitable size and shape for the proposed facilities
- The proposed development is consistent with planning policy
- It is well placed in relation to the road network and the national electricity grid
- It is near to existing waste landfill facilities, enabling current waste traffic to be easily redirected to the quarry site
- Building integrated infrastructure 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 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
Treatment building – 14 m
EFW building – 52 m
EFW Stack – 80 m
Our Traffic Assessment shows that operational traffic (HGV and cars) for the proposed Becon site is largely concentrated on accessing and using the motorway network and will involve the diversion of much of the waste traffic currently making its way to Cottonmount Landfill (It is anticipated that over 82% of site vehicles (HGVs and cars) will access the site from the Sandyknowles/ M2 junction with over 67% originating from the M2 itself. On entering the Mallusk area we are proposing that this traffic will turn left towards the Hightown Road and then turn right onto the Hightown Road. At the top of the Hightown Road it will turn right onto HydePark Road and then immediate left on the Boghill Road, where it will make its way to the site.
It is anticipated that around 17.5 % of the vehicles will continue to use the Mallusk Road and then follow the same route above to access the Boghill Road site entrance.
Much of the traffic that will be going to the site is currently already in the local area going to landfill sites nearby. Traffic studies have concluded that the local infrastructure is more than adequate to cope with traffic for this site and subsequent statutory consultations have confirmed no concerns have been raised on this issue.
Subject to final approval, vehicles are expected to travel to the facility between the hours of 7am to 6pm from Monday to Friday and 8am to 2pm on Saturday. Vehicles travelling to the facility will be fully covered and cleaned regularly. There is a wheel wash system located next to the exit which will be used by all outgoing vehicles.
Detailed traffic studies and planning has indicated that on average there will be a total of 224 vehicles arriving and 224 vehicles departing the site per day. The vehicle mix is made up of 143 HGV movements and 81 car movements.
The average vehicle flow will total 20 vehicles arriving (13 HGV trips & 7 car trips) and 20 vehicles departing (13 HGV trips & 7 car trips) when the site is operational.
In heat energy terms the EfW has an thermal capacity of 68MW. The facility will be able to export approximately 18MW of electricity to the grid, enough to power over 30,000 homes.
The heat produced in the EfW will be used primarily to generate electricity and will also be used to supply a number of heat requirements on and off the site. As well as electricity export, heat/steam can be exported to be used to support a variety of local industrial/commercial or residential uses. Elsewhere EfW facilities are increasingly enabling other decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen fuel production, energy storage and district heating schemes.
The site has been designed to accept and treat up to 300,000 tonnes of waste in any given year.
An integrated waste management system is a strategic and sustainable approach to managing the waste we produce. It covers all aspects of the waste hierarchy in an integrated manner, such as waste prevention, source segregation, composting/anaerobic generation/recycling (often collectively referred to as ‘recycling’), energy recovery and disposal with an emphasis on maximizing resource use efficiency.
The proposed project will include a waste education and visitor centre, a waste pre-treatment facility which will process the black bin waste to extract recyclate materials such as plastic and metals, an Energy from Waste facility and an ash processing facility which will further recycle waste materials finally creating a product for the construction industry.
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 with many more at the construction/commissioning stage or in planning.
The UK policy think tank, Policy Connect UK published a cross-party Parliamentary report called ‘No Time to Waste’ in July 2020. In the report they acknowledged that “EfW has an important role to play in the transition ahead of us: both as the lowest carbon solution for managing residual waste, but also by providing low carbon heat and supporting other sectors’ decarbonisation efforts”
There are two kinds of residue produced following the thermal treatment process., Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA) and Air Pollution Control residue (APCr).
IBA is the residue remaining on the grate following incineration, this will be cooled before being transported to the IBA Processing Facility where it will be processed on site to recover metals and to produce a material which can be used as an aggregate in the construction industry. A practice which reduces the need to extract virgin aggregate from the earth and which is becoming more commonly used across the UK and Europe in a variety of applications.
The exhaust gas produced during incineration will pass through a Flue Gas Treatment plant prior to being discharged to the atmosphere through the stack. This treatment includes chemical processes to absorb the pollutants and remove them from the gas. As a consequence of this chemical treatment APCr will be generated which will be classified as hazardous waste. This residue will be stored in an enclosed silo on-site before being transported via sealed tankers to a suitably licensed facility for recovery such as a salt mine where the material is used safely in backfilling mines.
No. The proposed plant will not emit smoke, with any visible plume being colourless steam which will be invisible, except in cold and dry weather conditions when some condensation vapour may be visible. All emissions from the facility will be tightly controlled and monitored 24 hours a day and will go through a state of the art cleaning process using the Best Available Techniques.
A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) and an Air Quality Impact Assessment has been submitted and updated as part of the planning application. Both the Public Health Agency and the NI Environment Agency (NIEA) have been consulted by the Department for Infrastructure and have made no objection. The NIEA issued a draft operational permit for the facility in 2015 determining that the proposal will not have a detrimental impact on the environment. This will be updated and finalised before operations commence.
The technology is proven, reliable and strictly regulated. Once operational the proposed plants will be regulated by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and will comply with strict emission limits currently set under the Environmental Permit and the Industrial Emissions Directive (Directive 2010/75/EU). A draft permit has already been issued by the NIEA and this will be updated in advance of operations commencing.
The emissions from the EfW will be constantly monitored to ensure that the plant always operates within the limits set out in the Environmental Permit.
This project delivers a range of economic and environmental benefits for ratepayers across the six councils that make up arc21.
Firstly, it delivers the necessary solution for waste management within the overall arc21 area which will divert residual (black bin) waste from landfill and from export. This will help NI and the local councils achieve their environmental obligations and in the process, help avoid landfill tax and potential fines for failing to meet various climate change targets.
Economically, this project gives the local Council’s a robust and sustainable solution for their waste at a time when public finances are under severe pressure. Currently the costs of both landfill and waste export of residual waste are paid for through local rates and this project will redirect those current costs to deliver a more sustainable solution with many local economic and environmental benefits. It will also deliver a revenue share opportunity for arc21’s councils from the sale of energy and recycled material generated by the project.
This project will also bring investment into Northern Ireland at a time when it is much needed. It represents £240m of inward investment in necessary public infrastructure and will result in a Council owned asset.
The Consortium proposes to deliver a long-term sustainable solution designed to maximise the value from waste and the intent is that the Project will therefore become an integral part of the local community.
As well as the wider benefits to all arc21 member councils the local host community area should also see significant benefits. At a local council level, it will contribute a significance rates income for the host council and deliver significant local road improvements.
The local area will benefit from 455 construction jobs at the peak of the on-site construction activities and create/sustain approximately 340 direct and indirect jobs annually during operation. Wherever possible the suppliers and sub-contractors under consideration for contract awards will be drawn from the locality of the Hightown Quarry site in the first instance and Northern Ireland in general in accordance with the Project’s commitment to equality and sustainable development. There will also be opportunities for young people from the local area to take part in apprentice training schemes.
The Consortium aims to source substantial quantities of construction materials such as concrete, steel and metal cladding from local suppliers.
The Consortium will be fully committed to playing its part in supporting the local community and to establishing a ‘community gain fund’ working with local stakeholders to support projects in the host community – similar to projects undertaken near Indaver’s plant in Meath since 2009.
As an example of this commitment to the local community, the facilities will include a state-of-the-art Visitor Centre which will not only be made available to the local community, but which will add to the local tourist/visitor offering, attracting an estimated 3,000 visitors per annum. It will showcase best practice in waste minimisation, reuse and recycling, as well as promote and inform visitors about the development of a circular economy and how we can all play our part in contributing to climate change targets.
Over the 41-month construction phase it is estimated that 2,701 direct job years of employment will be created or sustained of which 2,220 job years will directly relate to construction activities. At the peak of the construction activities, it is estimated that upwards of 455 construction workers will be engaged on the site.
Once fully operational it is estimated that 94 full time permanent jobs will be created at the new waste processing facilities at the Hightown Quarry site. An additional 243 indirect and / or induced jobs will also be created or sustained in the wider Northern Ireland economy as a result of the on-going operations at the Hightown Quarry site.
Significant infrastructural improvements will include widening of the Boghill Road along a 1.2km stretch from the junction of Hydepark Road/Boghill Rd to the access road to the site. The road will be widened to a 6.7m carriageway with a 2m footpath on its northern side – a substantial improvement from its current condition, which at its narrowest is only 4m wide. The junction of Hydepark Road/Boghill Road will also be enhanced to improve sightlines.
The design of the facility will minimise noise impacts and any equipment with the potential to be noisy will be located within acoustically insulated buildings.
A noise impact assessment has been undertaken as part of the Environmental Statement with no objection from the statutory consultees and demonstrates that the site will operate to satisfactory levels.
One of the permit requirements will be that there is no noticeable odour and frequent checks will be carried out to ensure this is strictly enforced. A number of measures will be employed to ensure that odours are contained within the facilities, including ventilation, negative air pressure and bio-filter systems. All waste will be handled inside fully contained buildings and all vehicles bringing waste to site will be covered to prevent odours escaping.
Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities are among the most tightly regulated industrial processes. Dioxins are a family of chemicals which are present in the environment and are a natural by-product of any combustion process. A modern EfW facility will take 100 years of constant operation to produce more dioxins than that emitted during 15 minutes worth of fireworks in London to celebrate the millennium.
The NI Public Health Agency in a consultation response referred to Public Health England’s (PHE) position statement on air emissions to health from municipal waste incinerators at that time insofar as modern, well managed incinerators make only a small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants and that if these additions exist, are likely to have a very small and not detectable impact upon human health.
This will depend on exactly where you live, but the appearance of the proposed plants will be an important factor in their design to minimise impact on the local area. A detailed Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment has been prepared as part of the Environmental Statement and is available to view on the website in the “Downloads” section.
The EfW will be housed in a purpose-designed modern, streamlined building. The intention of the design is to use the tiered quarry platforms of the site to minimise the visual impact of the development. The topography of the quarry site means that many of the buildings on the site will not be visible from various locations. The new enclosed facilities will be in keeping with the surrounding area and a landscaping and planting programme will be undertaken to minimise visual impact further and to increase the diversity of local wildlife habitats.
The higher EfW building and stack will be seen in longer views although rendered photomontages demonstrate that this impact will be relatively modest. The height of the stack, 80 metres, is determined by the need to be elevated above the quarry face for dispersal of steam emissions.
House prices are influenced by a wide variety of factors including economic change, supply and demand and interest rates.
With over 30 years’ experience of delivering and operating 19 similar facilities across Europe we are not aware of any evidence that the development or presence of well managed integrated waste facilities such as those proposed has any measurable or lasting impact on house prices. Some evidence suggests that in many cases their presence gives a benefit to the local community in terms of local investment and jobs and providing affordable district heating systems and electricity.
There have been a number of independent studies carried out across the UK and Ireland which have assessed the potential impact of similar facilities on house prices, and which draw on European experience. You may find them useful if you have any concerns about the potential impact on property prices in the area.
One independent UK study by Cranfield University published in 2014 suggests that EfW facilities do not lead to decreased property values. Research before and after the construction of three EfW’s in the UK, found that in all cases, there was no significant negative effect on property prices at any distance within 5 km from the plant, indicating that the perceived negative impact of these plants on local property values is, in fact, negligible. You can find details of the report “here“:
Independent research was also carried out into the potential impact of the Poolbeg Thermal Treatment Plant in Dublin on local property values. This study also focused on available evidence elsewhere across Europe where these facilities exist in many urban areas near local housing. The research carried out indicated that ‘there appears to have been no impact on house prices or the volume of properties being offered for sale in the vicinity of Poolbeg since it was announced in 2001.’
A recent economic impact report about was carried out by Grant Thornton in June 2020. They concluded that the arc21 residual waste project is an essential element of Northern Ireland’s waste management plans and a significant economic enabler funded by foreign direct investment at a time when public finances are severely limited. You can read their analysis in more detail in the downloads section “here”
Before the planning application was submitted, the Becon Consortium carried out an extensive pre-application consultation programme on the proposals. This included:
- Meetings with key local stakeholders
- Project Brochure circulated to local residents within a 2 mile radius of the site
- A series of Public Drop In Exhibition Events at local venues
- Establishment of a number of community contact points, including a telephone number, email address and project website, with all PAD documents submitted to DoE uploaded for public review
Feedback facilities for the local community were made available via newsletters and Drop In exhibition events to allow people to provide their comments on the proposals. There was also an online feedback facility on the website.
Later in the process, the consortium will hold an Open Day for local businesses so they can meet the Project Team and discuss potential opportunities for working on the development.
After planning permission is achieved the procurement process will begin again in earnest and member councils of the arc21 area will weigh up the business case and establish whether they think the bid meets their strategic need and represents value for money for their ratepayers.
The project is subject to planning permission and the successful conclusion of the procurement process, so it is difficult to say at this stage when construction will commence. What we can say is that from receipt of planning permission we would aim to have the site constructed and in full operation within four years.
The scale of the project marks it out as one of regional significance and as such its planning will be managed by the Department for Infrastructure’s ‘Strategic Planning Division’ with a final decision taken by the Minister for Infrastructure.