Belfast City Council defenestrates incinerator despite £100,000 consultation…

Last year when we launched the Slugger Awards, we included a category for best public consultation. Surprise, surprise, we got one maybe two nominations. Last night Belfast City Council sat in plenary to vote on whether to approve of a large modern waste incinerator to built on the northern foreshore of the Belfast Lough. The incinerator was to built to modern specifications allowing for much lower emission of toxic waste into the local environment. Despite a running public survey (details of the findings below the fold), at a cost to the public purse of some £150,000 £100,000, which gave high public approval ratings, the council voted it down:The findings are as follows:

o A large majority of all respondents (93%) supported either proposal, ie making the land at the North Foreshore available for either an MBT or an EfW facility.

o Almost 9 out of ten of all respondents (88%) expressed the view that the Council should make the land available for an EfW incinerator.

o Just over three quarters (77%) felt that the land should be made available for an MBT plant.

o The level of support for the proposals, although still a significant majority, was lower in North Belfast (BT14 and BT15) – 67% supporting making the land available for MBT and 76% for EfW.

So far as we can discern the survey was one for the whole of Belfast, and there were some interesting differentials in its return rate. It elicited 8,000 responses overall, but in one postcode, Slugger understands there were as few as 35 responses. And, Slugger, also understands, the disaggregated disapproval figure for BT15, where the incinerator is to be built stand at something between 30/40%. Factoring in a differential in response rates which correlates directly to the distance from the proposed site, some local councillors took the view that, since the area extends as far as the North Circular Road, the objection rate would likely increase exponentially the closer you get to the Shore Road.

There were three prime reasons why the motion fell. One, Sinn Fein is opposed nationally to the use of such incinerators on the basis of their long term as opposed to their short term effects. The SDLP was convinced by local feeling in the Whitewell area that the incinerator would not go down well with the people there. And some of the DUP’s North Belfast councillors took a similar view that the opinions of the people close to the shoreline should be weighted most heavily, and consequently voted against it.

The report also contains costs that cannot be verified because they are commercially sensitive. But one that is beyond dispute is there penalties under the NILAS scheme (which the report pegs at approximately £3.7M) if the Council, along with 11 others, which are trying to buy into the Arc 21 scheme, continues to breach allowances. Other councils are seeking to ameliorate their dependency by aggressively pursuing recycling policies.

It’s the individual view of some local councillors that this breach of Belfast’s landfill allowance could continue to be paid for out of further efficiencies to be found in the council’s administration. The advantage of the incinerator is that it would allow Belfast to easily push under current target, and generate energy at the same time. Although there is no toxic waste disposal in Northern Ireland, so whilst in normal service the facility should be clean enough, the highly toxic ash would have to be exported elsewhere.

At the heel of the hunt though, you’d have to ask: was this is a failure of this political leadership that’s been the talk of the media over the last few days, presaging a corporate collapse into NIMBYism? Or is it a case of council officials profoundly misreading the sentiment amongst its councillors and in the process foisting a flawed consultation on a democratically elected body that had little intention of going down that route in the first place?

  • Mark McGregor

    Mick,

    It might also be worth noting that despite large scale local objection from residents in Glenavy/Crumlin to another EfW (Energy from Waste) plant, in this case using poultry waste, and 100% support from their direct elected reps some Unionists from outside the area will endorse the views of the business involved over the community.

  • Belfas Dissenter

    The failure to pursue this incinerator is a big mistake on the part of the Council. Something need to be done and this is a worthwhile project for avoiding landfill and making use of the stuff that cannot be readily recycled.

  • Mick Fealty

    Evening extra are reporting an additional cock up: the vote may have to be taken again because of ‘a mistake’. An irregularity in the way the vote was counted. Leaving it a draw. Special meeting on Friday. Sammy Wilson talking about voting in favour next time, after abstaining last night.

    Conflicting legal advice apparently!

  • oracle

    DISGRACE DISGRACE DISGRACE

    What a bunch of nobodies run that stupid city council, it should be closed down immediately.

    An MBT and an EFW facility should have been built beside each other on the north shore.
    Anywhere else inthe world would have built both, what do our plonkers do they waste £100,000 doing fancy lunches and assuring people that only one facility would be built.
    It was reclaimed land not a school playground they had to build on!

    Grow up City councillors and resign NOW you’re all a disgrace

  • iain

    Why did Sammy Wilson abstain?

    If he cant make a decision one way or the other, he should bugger off out of politics.

  • loki

    Belfast may be able to find efficiencies to pay for fines but what about the other councils in Arc21? Also, how chuffed would I be as a ratepayer in Belfast to find that instead of not paying fines at all they’re keeping rates up to find ineeficiencies to pay for said fines? not much I think. Bunch of total muppets. AND, why the hell was Sammy voting at all? Surely it’s a conflict of interest with his ministerial role?

  • Mark McGregor

    Iain,

    I would hope Wilson abstained and continues to abstain as he has Ministerial responsibility for the final decision. Voting for it at Council would be a clear conflict of interest.

    I assume him voting in favour at a future date means he won’t be in his Ministerial role at that point. Thank god.

  • Marie Antoinette

    After he thinks of a realistic alternative to devolved power-sharing. Maybe Jim Allister can think of a way to make the rubbish just go away.

    If he’s successful with this maybe he’ll come up with a way for me to have my cake and eat it!

  • Trombone

    What do we pay councillors for? This was probably one of the most important decisions the council was going to make all year and almost 20 of them didn’t turn up to vote!

    If they can’t even be bothered to turn up and save ratepayers £20m, is it any surprise increasingly few ratepayers return the favour and turn out to vote for them?

  • cynic

    Perhaps we could dump it all in the Irish sea until we create a landbridge to Scotland. It might even attract an EU grant and think of the cultural liaison possibilities for council delegations over the years it would take

  • cynic

    ” almost 20 of them didn’t turn up to vote ”

    ….. now that isnt fair. Some of them probably couldn’t read their brief on the issue (incinerator has has 11 letters after all). Others are still working on a calendar and that pre-dates the Gregorian changes – so they did turn up to vote – just 10 days early

  • spiritof07.com

    This is a new low for parish pump politics. How has it come to pass that such a massively important decision on waste management / recycling / fines / investment etc be left to political pygmies like Ian Crozier and Pat Convrey?

    As a ratepayer I feel entitled to know why £150,000 was spent on a city wide consultation which was then ignored?

  • Alan

    Is it coincidence that this meeting was timed for the first day of the CIWM‘s Annual Conference in London and how many Belfast councillors were in London rather than in Belfast?
    There is no other credible alternative to the incinerator. The decision has been artificially and politically delayed for well over 12 years and any councillor voting against should really be quizzed more deeply on his or her viable alternative.
    Remember Maggie Thatcher and the “waste in the streets“ debate. We are not that far away from the same scenario.

  • pete whitcroft

    The massive swing to the greens has got them like a rabbit in the head lights.
    Discuss.

  • Alan

    What swing would that be – maybe the one in the playground. Don‘t assume a disaffected vote to be a swing to anywhere. The Greens don‘t have a vaible alternative either to the problem. Recycling is certainly part of the answer NOT the whole solution.

  • YelloSmurf

    The money was spent on the consultation because our good councillors who were sent to Europe to observe other such plants, and who were agreed that they were a clean and sensible way to solve our waste and energy problems in the short to medium term, didn’t have the balls to make the decision.

    As it is we have spent money sending the councilors out, on consulting the ratepayers of the city, and now we’re going to have to pay again when Europe slaps a fine on us. Not a good day for Belfast’s ratepayers.

  • wasters

    I don’t understand why councillors are only voting against this now. I thought the incinerator was was part of wider plan which Belfast City Council had already approved with ten other councils?

    Unless of course they only object to the facilities if they’re in their own back yard.

    Nimbyism writ large.