AFTER a decade-long struggle through the planning and legal system, the key figures fighting plans for the country’s first toxic waste incinerator were expecting more bad news yesterday.
Who could blame them?
They had become used to the state’s decision-making agencies coming down against them, time after time, year after year, decisions compounded by chronic delays, deferrals, and postponements.
But they never gave up, stayed united in the face of huge ‘systemic’ hurdles and costs, and fought on.
In 2004, 11 private individuals risked their homes to take a High Court action to ensure that planning permission given by Bord Pleanála, against its own inspector’s advice, in breach of EU and Irish law, would not be allowed to stand.
And yesterday was to be another key day in their campaign, with Bord Pleanála due to issue its decision on Indaver’s latest plans, submitted in November 2008 under the Strategic Infrastructure Bill, for an incinerator, waste-to-energy facility and transfer station at Ringaskiddy, at the mouth of Cork Harbour.
So convinced were they that things would go against them again, that CHASE, the Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, had prepared a press release titled: Bord Pleanála Give Two Fingers to Europe.
But when it came, they were left “stunned, shell-shocked and delighted,” with the refusal.
The appeals board shot Indaver’s project down on four key grounds:
- It was not satisfied that the development would be compatible with the region’s Waste Management Strategy, or the Waste Management Plan for County Cork, 2004.
- The development would constitute overdevelopment of the site and would seriously injure the amenities of the area and of property in the vicinity.
- The road serving the site is at risk of flooding and it was not satisfied the impacts of these measures have been fully described and assessed.
- It said the site might be at risk of coastal erosion in the future.
But the key question is, why has it taken 10 years, complex appeals and legal challenges to the highest courts in Ireland, and Europe, for the state to accept what campaigners argued from day one?
And what happens now to the toxic waste created by the region’s pharma-chem industries?
“We are totally stunned and obviously delighted with this decision,” CHASE chairperson, Mary O’Leary, said.
“An Bord Pleanála has given concrete reasons for refusal, and these are grounds which have been argued from the outset by CHASE.
“We are happy to have been listened to at last, but lessons must be learned from this process and better decisions adopted at the first hurdle in everyone’s interests.
“Huge credit is due to the wider community as a whole, the members of CHASE, our solicitors and everyone who worked on the oral hearings, our supporters in the whole community, experts who visited us, our public representatives, our city and county councils, Bord Pleanála’s inspectors, and last but not least to An Bord Pleanála for recognising when enough is enough and finally making the right decision.
“It’s been a long 10 years, but it should serve to show communities across Ireland that it’s worth the fight.”
The fight can be traced back to the 1999 EU Directive on Landfill of Waste that set targets for the reduction of landfill of municipal biodegradable waste. It set targets for 2010, 2013 and 2016.
The same year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched its proposed National Hazardous Waste Management Plan stating that Ireland should be self-sufficient in hazardous waste management.
Later that year, the Cork Waste Management plan stated a preference for a mechanical biological treatment (MBT) plant and landfill, but kept options for thermal treatment of municipal waste under review.
The fight began in earnest in April 2001 when Indaver announced plans for a £75 million state-of-the-art waste management facility at Ringaskiddy — including a 100,000 tonne toxic waste incinerator, a 100,000 tonne non-hazardous waste incinerator, a community recycling park and a waste transfer station. It was to employ 50 people and be operational by 2005.
It lodged its planning application with Cork County Council in November, 2001. But it wasn’t until May 26, 2003, that county councillors rejected a material contravention to rezone the site, and planning permission was refused.
Indaver appealed the decision to Bord Pleanála.
CHASE, who led the opposition, were joined by over 20 other parties who lodged counter appeals to uphold the decision.
CHASE demanded a public oral hearing which began in Neptune Stadium, Gurranabraher, on September 22, 2003, chaired by inspector Philip Jones.
The hearing, which ran until October 9, included a powerful contribution from actor Jeremy Irons, who spoke in support of the Cobh Action for Clean Air Group. “To build an incineration plant, when waste production is hopefully near its height, on the edge of one of the world’s most beautiful harbours, the gateway of the south east, in the teeth of an onshore south westerly wind, seems an option tinged with madness.
“Building such a facility in such a location sends out a message to the world that the Celtic Tiger, limping as she may be, has finally turned on her own. And the message to other entrepreneurs will be as long as you pay the piper, dear old Ireland is up for grabs.”
Mr Jones issued his report some weeks later, and gave 14 major reasons why planning permission should be refused. So convinced was he that planning would not be granted, he set no conditions for the development if it were to go ahead.
But campaigners were shocked when An Bord Pleanála decided on January 15, 2004, to granted permission.
Ringaskiddy and District Residents Association and 11 harbour residents lodged an application with the High Court for a judicial review of the decision.
It marked the start of a drawn-out legal saga, that went all the way to the Supreme Court, testing their resolve to the limit.
The EPA granted a licence for the two incinerators in November 2005.
The National Maritime College opened opposite the proposed incinerator site in March 2006.
In 2007, the National Development Programme stated its support for thermal treatment, through private development, to reduce landfill usage and to promote greater use of recycling and recovery.
The incinerator became a major election issue that year when CHASE called on voters to vote only for parties with a ‘no incineration’ policy.
The legal route was still being pursued when, in November 2007, the applicants to the judicial review sought an adjournment pending the outcome of a case against Ireland by the European Commission.
Then in February 2008, when the planning for the first incinerator had expired, Indaver signalled its intention to make a submission under the Strategic Infrastructure process.
Meanwhile, the applicants to the judicial review lost their case and were facing massive costs.
In November, the state agreed to drop its costs and the planning case was also dropped, with the agreement of all parties, because of an imminent application under the Strategic Infrastructure process, lodged on November 28, 2008.
Indaver sought 10-year planning permission for two incinerators — one for hazardous waste and one for municipal waste — on the 12-hectare site.
The €150 million project included two waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities, plus a waste transfer station.
The industrial facility was to burn a maximum of 100,000 tonnes of solid and liquid, hazardous and non-hazardous wastes from the pharmaceutical and chemical industry every year.
The municipal facility was to treat a maximum of 140,000 tonnes of residual household and commercial waste annually.
The Department of the Environment, which was among 284 submissions on the project, outlined potential risks to human, plant and animal life from the planned development. It stated the incinerator is within 1km of a European Union-designated Special Protection Area that could be adversely affected by emissions.
Another oral hearing began in April 2009 at the Cork Airport Hotel and concluded in June 18.
In January 2010, the board announced that it would “probably” refuse permission for the municipal incinerator, but would consider granting planning to the hazardous waste incinerator, pending the submission of more information on flood and coastal erosion mitigation.
Meanwhile, Cork County Council sold its waste collection business, eliminating the need for it to develop its own MBT plant, and it emerged this year that it was reviewing the viability of opening its Bottlehill landfill.
Then crucially, the European Commission Environment Directorate, acting on a complaint filed by CHASE’s legal adviser, Joe Noonan, in April 2004, satisfied the European Court of Justice in a case heard in 2010 that Ireland’s decision-making system was in breach of EU law.
“That decision was slow in coming from the court but when it did emerge in March 2011, it had a critical impact on the board’s consideration of this application in our view,” Mr Noonan said.
But despite yesterday’s decision bringing this 10-year saga to an end, Indaver said it remains committed to the incinerator project.
It is now exploring the board’s ruling and is expected to consider a range of engineering options with a view to address the issues.
While campaigners celebrate yesterday’s decision, their struggle is likely to continue.
And the problem of dealing with toxic waste in a region with the state’s highest concentration of pharmaceutical companies remains.
Nationwide planning battles
WHILE the hazardous waste element of Indaver’s planned incinerator has made it one of the more controversial, a number of other waste to energy facilities have been the subject of huge local disputes:
- Indaver plans to open its first municipal waste incinerator near Duleek, Co Meath, in September.
About 50 people will work at the plant, which can take up to 200,000 tonnes of waste a year and on which construction in 2008.
An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the facility at Carranstown in October 2007, but not before two High Court cases, a Supreme Court ruling and an EPA licensing ruling. The successful plans were lodged with Meath County Council in early 2006.
The original application for the site in 2001 was the subject of objections by almost 5,000 individuals and An Bord Pleanála received more than 60 appeals and observations after the council first approved the plans.
- The municipal waste incinerator at Poolbeg in Dublin remains uncertain as Environment Minister Phil Hogan awaits advice from the Attorney General on the issue.
His predecessor, former Green Party leader John Gormley, opposed the project by private company Covanta for Dublin City Council.
Work had already begun at the site in the Dublin South East constituency but was stopped after further legal difficulties had to be overcome.
The 600,000-tonne waste-to-energy plant, if sanctioned by Mr Hogan, will be built and ready for use in three years.
First proposed in 2001, the Dublin City Council and Covanta-backed waste-to-energy plant has planning permission from An Bord Pleanala, as well as a waste licence from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Irish Waste Management Association and Mr Gormley oppose the plans, saying the incinerator is too big for the amount of waste expected to be generated in the Dublin region.
- In February 2009, An Bord Pleanála rejected a planned waste incinerator at Rathcoole, Co Dublin, for which the US firm Energy Answers had sought permission.
The board said the facility would be in conflict with waste management policies in the region, taking into account the permission already in place for the Poolbeg incinerator.
Most of the 270 submissions received by the board opposed the application.
- Plans for a meat and bonemeal incinerator at Rosegreen, Co Tipperary, were the subject of major local opposition almost a decade ago.
Local family company Ronan Industries withdrew the plans in 2003 after a campaign by community activists. The campaign also had the support of some of the world’s biggest names in horse racing.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien had threatened to move his facilities abroad from the nearby Ballydoyle, while the Coolmore Stud owned by John Magnier planned to reduce its operations if the incinerator went ahead.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved