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This issue hit the headlines in Northern Ireland when the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed and a decision was taken by the permanent secretary to allow an incinerator to go ahead, after a Planning Appeals Commission decision deemed the application acceptable. At that time, Mrs Justice Keegan ruled that that a senior civil servant did not have legal power to give the green light to the major waste disposal facility at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk, following the collapse of devolution, leaving the application waiting for the new Minister. Many of the questions about that have been raised by the hon. Gentleman.
We have to find a method of waste disposal. We create the waste and we have to get rid of it—that is a fact of life. How do we do that? We encourage councils to recycle using the carrot and stick approach: if they recycle, that is great and they may win an award, but if they do not, there will be financial penalties. I understand and agree with encouragement. My council has been proactive and has met every target it has set; every new target it has set, it has met that, too. We all know how it goes: glass in one bin, plastics and paper in the other one, and green waste. This issue is above and beyond that.
It is not clear how we deal with the issue of burning waste, but Government must lead the way. Controls must be in place to address the issue of landfill and the lack of space, but also to ensure that any incineration that takes place is done in the right way and is as environmentally friendly as possible.
Figures were published in the weekend press about air quality in the United Kingdom. The number of deaths has risen. The proportion of deaths in Northern Ireland due to air quality is higher than the UK average. We have a serious problem in Northern Ireland, as we do in the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree with my colleague the Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots, about waste incineration in Northern Ireland. He said that he did not believe that burning waste was necessarily damaging to the environment, but that incineration
“requires an awful lot of waste and there are better ways of dealing” with it. For him, the issue was clear. He highlighted the fact that European countries with some of the highest green credentials use incineration. I agree that it is uncertain whether Northern Ireland needs an incinerator of this scale—that is probably the case in many parts of the United Kingdom, as hon. Members have mentioned.
We put so much pressure on our local councils, yet this debate and the ongoing issues at home show that there must be clearer guidance from the Minister. We look to her for a positive response. I hope that direction and guidance comes from this debate.