I confirm to the Member that I received a letter from the office of Sammy Wilson MP on 11 February of this year. The letter, which was endorsed by the eight DUP Members of Parliament, outlined strong support for the delivery of planning approval for the proposal and asked that I make a quick determination on the application. I received further communication from Paul Girvan MP on 1 April to clarify that this letter did not represent his views on the proposal and that his view remains that my Department must decide on this application to bring the matter to a conclusion. He asked that the Department update its record to ensure that this view on the application is properly reflected.
Given representations from the council, councillors and many elected representatives across the entire region, not just south Antrim, will the Minister confirm the continued opposition to the Hightown incinerator, to which many, including me, have referred to as "RHI 2"? We want this incinerator planning brought to a conclusion rapidly so that we can bin this ridiculous project.
This application has attracted huge interest. In excess of 5,200 letters of objection and around 160 letters of support are associated with it. The Member will appreciate that, within planning, there are proper processes to be followed. That is what is occurring in this case, as in all cases. As soon as my officials are in a position to be able make a recommendation to me, I will ensure that they do so.
I thank the Member for his question. The question of the need for the facility is a matter for the applicant and DAERA. Given the passage of time and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, my Department asked DAERA for an update on a statement of need in the context of the proposed development and the strategic and long-term needs for waste management and its circular economy in the North. A response is awaited from DAERA. However, the need for the facility is a key material planning matter for my planning officers to consider when making a recommendation to me on the application.
Does the Minister not agree that it is ridiculous to have waited for over seven years for a decision on that planning application? Meanwhile, councils cannot properly meet their statutory obligations, and we are exporting waste to be incinerated and dumped elsewhere. How is that helping to clean up our world?
I thank the Member for his question. I am keen to reach a resolution to that long-standing application for all involved. If a sound decision is to be reached, it is important that the planning process is completed properly. The necessary administrative processes are being undertaken, including requesting consultation advice from the necessary interested bodies and public authorities. Once all the processes have been undertaken, I assure the Member that my officials will make a recommendation to me.