The decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission to Indaver for its €160 million twin incinerator project at Ringaskiddy in Cork may not be the end of the matter, but it does conclude yet another chapter in a saga that extends back almost two decades.
Indaver purchased the Irish Ispat site at Ringaskiddy for an undisclosed sum in December 2000, but it wasn’t until April 2001 when Indaver unveiled plans for a hazardous waste incinerator that opposition to the project began to form.
Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (Chase) was established in October 2001, and a month later Indaver applied to Cork County Council for planning permission, prompting the environmental group to submit 30,000 letters of objection.
In April 2003 then Cork county manager Maurice Moloney proposed a material contravention of the county development plan, but a month later councillors voted by 30-13 against allowing rezoning, and in June 2003 Indaver appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála.
Chase and more than 20 other parties lodged counter-appeals, and the alliance demanded an oral hearing which the board granted. In September and October 2003 both sides made submissions at the hearing in Neptune Stadium in Cork.
Senior planning inspector Philip Jones recommended refusal of planning on 14 specific grounds, but in January 2004 the board decided to override his recommendations and grant planning to Indaver for a hazardous waste incinerator.
In March 2004 Ringaskiddy and District Residents' Association and 11 harbour area residents applied to the High Court for a judicial review of that decision – an application that would eventually be refused by the High Court in February 2008.
Parallel to the planning process, Indaver had also applied in April 2003 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a waste management licence, and in October 2004 the agency announced it was issuing Indaver with a draft operating licence.
In November 2004, Chase appealed the agency’s decision to grant Indaver a draft licence for Ringaskiddy, and the same month saw then minister for defence Willie O’Dea enter the debate when he said he didn’t believe Ringaskiddy was an appropriate site.
The EPA began holding an oral hearing into Indaver’s waste licence application in February 2005, and that November the agency granted Indaver licences for a hazardous waste incinerator and a municipal waste incinerator at the Ringaskiddy site.
The Ringaskiddy and District Residents' Association appealed the High Court decision to the Supreme Court in June 2008, with judgment being reserved, but in November 2008 the appeal was withdrawn on agreement by all parties.
Indaver applied under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 to the board in November 2008 for planning for a hazardous waste incinerator and a municipal hazardous waste incinerator.
A second oral hearing began in April 2009 and concluded in June 2009. In January 2010 the board indicated it would refuse planning for the municipal waste incinerator but would consider granting planning for the hazardous waste incinerator, and sought further information from Indaver.
Indaver submitted new information in August 2010 on flooding and coastal erosion mitigation measures. Chase said these measures amounted to a new structure, and Indaver should submit an entirely new planning application.
Six years later, in January 2016, Indaver did exactly that, making an application under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 for an incinerator which would handle 240,000 tonnes of municipal waste and 24,000 tonnes of hazardous waste annually.
An Bord Pleanála convened an oral hearing and over the course of almost a month – from April 19th to May 17th 2016 – heard submissions by both Indaver for the project and from Chase and other groups and individuals opposed to the proposal.
While Indaver MD John Ahern has been unwavering in his contention that both Ireland and the Cork region need a waste facility to reduce the amount of residual municipal waste being exported abroad, the local community has been equally unwavering its opposition to the project.
Given the determination that groups like Chase have shown to date and their willingness to use the courts to vindicate their rights, it would be a brave person who would predict that today’s decision in favour of Indaver is the end of the matter.