Tuesday 21 May 2019

City Manager is Ireland's last hope in incinerator battle

Poolbeg
Poolbeg
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

It's a great boost for democracy when Dublin's elected representatives overwhelmingly reject a report that recommends proceeding with the incinerator plant at Poolbeg, near Sandymount Strand.

But the vote is an empty gesture, as the Dublin City Councillors have no say in the final decision.

This legislative change was introduced to prevent local councillors over-riding executive decisions in favour of personal interests. But what of the dilemma when the executive ignores the representatives of the electorate? Let's hope that won't arise in this issue of national importance. Because the only personal interest being served is that of Covanta, the American company commissioned to build and manage the plant, and which has been lobbying through agents and other consultants for several years.

One of only two councillors who voted in favour of the proposal on Monday night was Deirdre Heaney. She says her grey bin is always full and therefore we need an incinerator. There are four people in my home and a dog. The black waste bin is put out every three months, because there is a charge per lift, so it is more economical to wait until it is full. If I had a big enough garden I'd avail of the compost bin as well. Recycling is what we have all become accustomed to and the projected volume for incineration back in 1996 in no way correlates with the 92pc of Dublin's waste which is recycled today.

Since the Waste Management Act 1996 the manner in which people dispense with rubbish has altered dramatically. No longer is there a local council collecting bags of random rubbish for 'free'.

We have become expert at recycling paper, glass, metal and plastics, because we are incentivised to do so. Back in 1996 people brought home their shopping in multiple plastic bags and threw everything into one bin. That is unheard of now.

An incinerator has to be kept fully operational, there is no 'on/off' switch. In order to utilise its full capacity it will not only have to bring in truckloads of waste from around the country, but from overseas as well, and remove truckloads of ash containing dangerous dioxins to be disposed of elsewhere in the countryside.

Once more we await the decision by Owen Keegan, Dublin City Manager. As he made such a brave stand in support of Croke Park residents over the €50m that could be gained from Garth Brooks and his five concerts, one can only expect that he will do the right thing for Poolbeg too. This is a plan which not only affects local residents, but all of Dublin city and Dublin bay; at least one million people will be affected. The plan is obsolete and the economic gain is not only negligible, but could easily result in a loss.

The proposal is termed a "waste management project" and was recently endorsed by the National Development Finance Agency with a "value for money" cert. After spending €4.3m on public relations consultants, the Council still has not bought favour for the city incinerator. Astonishingly, only €1.3m was spent on legal fees. It seems that the push to sell the idea was more important than anything else.

Implementing the plan is based on the logic that, having spent almost €100m on consultants and land, they might as well get on with it. But based on the expended figures, the Council said the expected return over 45 years was between €30m and €155m. By any economic standards, that does not stack up. It means the council will suffer a €70m loss or a €45m return, at best a one per cent yield pa, when a 10pc yield would be the norm for any viable business based on €100m outlay. It is, therefore, by no means "value for money".

The Executive said that if the proposal doesn't go ahead they will have to write down €100m, which means there won't be any money for parks and swimming pools.

The money is gone. The fact remains that only private interests are now pushing this proposal. The horrific environmental, visual and traffic impact on the city is irrevocable if it goes ahead. The fact that the incinerator is not needed, and never will be, appears to be irrelevant. The land should be destined for development as part of a greater housing plan for the city.

Mr Keegan has the appetite to take hard decisions and he is noted for his anti-traffic initiatives, from clamping to cycle lanes. So why increase the number of HGVs into a cul-de-sac by 122 trucks per day?

Abandoning this project and improving the land bank in the vicinity for better use is the democratic and environmental way to proceed.

Deirdre Conroy is a specialist in urban and building conservation.

Irish Independent

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