NoArc21: community power in action

NoArc21, a community group based in Belfast, is entrenched in a long running battle. The group’s been protecting its local environment and the health of all of those in its community from a proposed waste incinerator for almost 10 years. NoArc21’s campaign has been fraught with wins and setbacks, but out of its fight back the group has achieved more than clean air – it's built community, power and pride.  

01 Mar 2023

"Mallusk was seen as the toilet of Northern Ireland. They think they can just dump anything here. But they are wrong." – Colin Buick, NoArc21 Chairperson.

The incinerator

Incinerators emit toxins and particulates that are harmful to our health. NoArc21 has many concerns about the proposed incinerator in Belfast basin, a highly industrialised and already polluted area.

From noise and light pollution, heavy traffic and odour, damage to the farming community and to tourism – but most concerning for those nearby, is the impact on health and air quality. A study in 2020 showed that more than one in 24 deaths in Belfast were connected to air pollution.

What’s worse, the incinerator simply isn’t needed. Northern Ireland has an existing incinerator in Belfast Port, and a 50% and rising recycling rate. But Arc21, the council body responsible for waste management in the area, signed a £2.5 billion contract with private company Indaver, representing the biggest public sector contract ever awarded in Northern Ireland, locking them into construction of the incinerator regardless of whether it’s needed.

Community power

A massive landfill site was imposed on the community in Mallusk over 20 years ago. The local community tried to fight it but lost. Industrialisation of the area continued, making it unrecognisable from what it once was. But the incinerator was a bridge too far.

“You might think Northern Ireland is a hard place to unite people from all parties – but we’ve done it”, Colin comments.

In a true David vs Goliath battle, where £20 million has already been spent trying to get the project through, Arc21 thought the community wouldn’t put up much of a fight. Perhaps it relied on the idea that a community divided wouldn’t be able to come together. Or assumed people already felt disempowered due to the landfill site, and all the industrialisation that had come before. Maybe it thought the community was resigned to being polluted. But NoArc21 united groups across the entire community – from all political parties, from different demographics, from different ages. “I’ve got friends I never thought I would have” says Colin. Together, over 10 years, it's achieved something much greater through its campaigning than just stopping the incinerator.

Colin now has people come up to him in the street asking for advice on how to campaign, to stop expansion of the local quarry, for example. He also has seen renewed success in community campaigning, with the newly united community saving its local primary school. Once a poorly attended state school for protestant children in danger of closing, it's now fully-integrated (anyone can attend) and thriving.

Residents in Mallusk are also fighting to prevent the expansion of the Mallusk quarry. Sign this petition to help them defend their area from further industrialisation.

Colin is humble about the campaign’s achievements. He's dealing with the day-to-day reality. NoArc21 has won its case in the High Court twice now. But each time Arc21 and Indaver come back and present another challenge.

Each time the community wins, Indaver launches another expensive appeal, assuming that, in time, the community will get tired and go away. But people's homes, schools and lives are at stake. On a site nearby, they're planting a quarter of a million trees. This is their community. They’re not going anywhere.