‘I’d oppose waste plant if it wasn’t clean’ - councillor

A LONDONDERRY councillor says a proposed new waste plant at Maydown recently rubberstamped by a local cross-municipality waste management group is 100 per cent clean and will help us avoid crippling EU fines that loom in 2020 if we don’t act now.

SDLP councillor Shaun Gallagher sits on the board of the North West Region Waste Management Group (NWRWMG) which is responsible for managing waste across seven local council areas from Strabane to Moyle.

He insists that the massive new plant that will dispose of at least 120k tonnes of household rubbish generated by households from Moyle to Strabane is not an incinerator.

However, on this he is at odds with the EU, which under its Waste Incineration Directive is clear that incineration includes “processes such as pyrolysis, gasification or plasma processes in so far as the substances resulting from the treatment are subsequently incinerated.”

But Mr Gallagher told the Sentinel the by-product of the new plant will be cleaner than the air we breath generally.

“I live in Derry directly across the river from the plant. If I thought it was unsafe do you think I would be supporting it?” he asked.

The Shantallow councillor pointed to his long-standing record as an environmentalist and his former opposition to proposals for the location of mass-burn incinerators within the city.

He was responding to concerns raised by the Enagh Youth Forum, which is worried about the potential health impact of the proposed plant.

The Forum’s management committee stated: “The incineration/gasification plant which was recommended by the NWRWMG, Derry City Council and the SDLP just before Christmas must not be allowed to proceed. Health before wealth.

“There has been zero community consultation and total disrespect and ignorance has been shown to the health related statistics and a study which has long been requested for years by local people must now happen.”

The group is already concerned about the level of industrialisation in the area.

The Forum referred to recent statistics revealed in the Sentinel, which showed that 108 people from the Strathfoyle and Maydown area were diagnosed with cancer between 2007 and 2009. Only in Culmore - directly across the River Foyle from the heavily industrialised Strathfoyle and Maydown area - was there a higher cancer rate with 139 incidences. Twenty-nine people died in Culmore and 25 died in Enagh during the 2008-2010 period.

Enagh Youth Forum has asked local politicians and decision makers to reverse the planning decision to make the lands surrounding Strathfoyle and Maydown an industrial zone. In reference to the new gasification plant, however, Mr Gallagher believes there is no cause for concern.

He said the selection of this route forward was the result of a three-and-a-half years process involving cross-partisan politicians across seven council areas and was informed by best practice across Europe - including in environmentally conscious Scandinavia.

“It will bring Derry’s waste management into the 21st century and will mean a reduction in landfill so that we can avoid penalties when they kick in in 2020.

“It’s based on what we’ve looked at in Scandinavia, German and France,” he explained.

Mr Gallagher pointed out that it cost £8m to close the Culmore landfill site alone and asked if we wanted to bequeath more landfill to other generations.

He says that would be infinitely more damaging to the environment than the current proposal.

He also referred to the likelihood of massive fines being handed down to ratepayers if we don’t take these steps.

For example, the European Landfill Directive requires that by 2020 the amount of material being sent to landfill must be reduced to just 35 per cent of 1995 levels.

The local SDLP councillor claimed the EU was deadly serious about penalising those who drag their heels referring to the case of Italy.

The European Court of Justice was recently asked by the European Commission to impose a fine of 56 million euros, plus a daily fine of 256,819 euros until Italy complies with a 2007 ruling ordering it to resolve an ongoing illegal waste landfill situation.

“Whether we like it or not we produce waste, every single one of us and it has to be dealt with,” said Mr Gallagher. “It’s reduced slightly during the recession but if it picks up again it’s likely to rise again by one per cent every year.”

The total value of the contract is half-a-billion pounds and the construction of the plant will see a £275m investment: £775m in total.

A NWRWMG spokesperson said: “This solution will bring the North West into line with modern best practice waste infrastructure across Europe - it is not a mass-burn incineration approach. These facilities are already widely used in Europe, North America and Japan. As part of the planning process it was concluded that the facilities will not be detrimental to public health, either by themselves or in conjunction with existing facilities.”