SF ex-min­is­ter re­jects crit­i­cism over neu­tral stance on in­cin­er­a­tor

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY JONATHAN BELL

FOR­MER Sinn Fein min­is­ter Chris Haz­zard has de­fended his neu­tral po­si­tion on a con­tro­ver­sial plan to build a mas­sive in­cin­er­a­tor on the out­skirts of Belfast — even though his party op­posed it.

It comes af­ter the Department for In­fra­struc­ture ap­proved plan­ning per­mis­sion for the project, which will col­lect waste and burn it to pro­duce elec­tric­ity in the old Hightown quarry in Mal­lusk.

Thou­sands ob­jected to the project, lead­ing to then SDLP En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Mark H Durkan re­ject­ing it in 2015, say­ing it wasn’t needed and would af­fect re­cy­cling ef­forts.

How­ever Arc21, which is be­hind the plan, took it to ap­peal and won.

One of the factors in the de­ci­sion was that the Department for In­fra­struc­ture, then headed by Mr Haz­zard, took a neu­tral stance on the mat­ter.

In Oc­to­ber 2016 the Plan­ning Ap­peals Com­mis­sion heard how cir­cum­stances had “moved on” since Mr Durkan’s de­ci­sion and it was “no longer seek­ing to de­fend the stated rea­sons for re­fusal”.

“While per­ti­nent in con­sid­er­ing the back­ground to the case, com­ments made by the pre­vi­ous min­is­ter, Mark H Durkan, no longer rep­re­sent the department’s stance on ac­cept­abil­ity or oth­er­wise, of the pro­posal,” the Plan­ning Ap­peals Com­mis­sion (PAC) rul­ing stated.

Mr Haz­zard’s party has long op­posed plans for the in­cin­er­a­tor and yes­ter­day Gerry Kelly MLA branded the over­turn­ing of the orig­i­nal de­ci­sion a “dis­grace”.

Re­spond­ing to crit­i­cism, Mr Haz­zard said it was “im­por­tant” that the min­is­ter, as the fi­nal de­ci­sion-maker, was neu­tral un­til the point when the de­ci­sion had to be made. He re­jected sugges­tions his neu­tral­ity “shifted” the department’s po­si­tion on the in­cin­er­a­tor and gave civil ser­vants cover to ap­prove the plan.

“As fi­nal de­ci­sion-maker, I was pro­tect­ing in­tegrity of PAC process,” he tweeted.

Mr Durkan said peo­ple would be “sur­prised” at Sinn Fein’s stance on re­ject­ing the in­cin­er­a­tor when its own min­is­ter took a neu­tral stance, and ques­tioned how a de­ci­sion of such “mag­ni­tude” could be made while no min­is­ter was in place.

North Belfast SDLP MLA Ni­chola Mal­lon has writ­ten to the head of the Civil Ser­vice “ask­ing for ur­gent an­swers over the process, jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and tim­ing of this ir­reg­u­lar de­ci­sion on the Hightown in­cin­er­a­tor”.

“It beg­gars be­lief that while po­lit­i­cal par­ties are united in their unan­i­mous po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion to this de­ci­sion, the Department for In­fra­struc­ture can al­low it to go ahead,” she said.

Ques­tions: Chris Haz­zard

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