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Families in the shadow of mountain speak of shock

Anger builds over quarry’s asbestos plan

By Francesca Ryan

Opposition to plans for an asbestos storage facility on Black Mountain is growing.

Last week, we revealed the proposal by Whitemountain Quarries, who are seeking to store and treat the potentially deadly material at their Upper Springfield Road quarry landfill site. The Department of the Environment (DoE) has yet to make a decision on the request, although they have marked the application “streamlined”.

In the past week we have been inundated with phone calls and emails from anxious residents pledging their support for a campaign to scrap the plans. Meanwhile, West Belfast MP Paul Maskey met with Whitemountain Quarries yesterday (Wednesday) to convey the alarm reverberating through the community after our story was published last week.

Mr Maskey, who was accompanied by Sinn Féin MLA Rosie McCorley, described the meeting as “open and frank”.

“We spoke to them and heard their plans and they heard our concerns,” he said.  “They said they are willing to work with us on the issue and we left them under no illusion that there are major worries about this proposal.

“We will be meeting with them again but next on our agenda is to sit down with the planners and see exactly what they have applied for. This will enable us to double-up on the facts before we go back to them. This plan is nowhere near approval stage so there is time to work on it and we will be working very closely on the matter in the coming weeks.”

A veteran Black Mountain campaigner says the quarry has long been a “blot on the landscape” and vowed to oppose the hazardous waste storage plan.

James McCabe, an original member of the Black Mountain Action Group and a founder member of the Belfast Hills Aspiration Group back in 1991, is planning to meet with Alex Attwood, the Environment Minister, to discuss the proposal.  He says that after 25 years of campaigning for a regional park on Black Mountain, he never thought he would be discussing plans for an asbestos facility in 2013.

“In the past, we always saw potential for tourism so we campaigned for the protection and enhancement of the area and pushed for plans to develop a Belfast Hills park,” James told the Andersonstown News.  “The quarry has always been an issue and now they want to have an asbestos facility there. I strongly oppose this plan and I never thought we’d even be talking about such a potentially dangerous plan on this mountain in 2013.”

James went on to discuss the potential dangers that face the thousands of residents living at the foot of Black Mountain.

“All it would take for asbestos to be set free in West Belfast is air spray, human error or bad working practice that could send asbestos blowing all over this district and beyond,” he said.  “It could happen as easily as that and the only way to stop it beyond doubt is to scrap the plans. There were always conditions on the quarry dump that the waste had to be inert, if this application is given the go-ahead it could be the thin end of the wedge for plenty more hazardous waste going up there.

“The Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan for 2015 calls Belfast ‘A City of Hills’. If they call it that, then why can’t they protect the hills? We should be working towards giving the mountain and hills park status but no, we are talking about plans for an asbestos dump on the mountain instead. It’s unbelievable.”

James says he has been in contact with the DoE about the application and after speaking with them, remains even more determined that the plan should be shelved.

“I’ve been on the phone to the DoE and asked them why this application was earmarked ‘streamlined’,” he said.  “I was told they didn’t expect any objections to it. What a joke. I will be making plans to meet with Minister Attwood about it to tell him my concerns for residents and people living near the quarry and across West Belfast, as everyone has the potential to be affected.

“I’m a grandfather now and some day I assumed I would be taking my grandchildren up there to a Belfast Hills park, instead we have proposals for a hazardous waste dump.  In my view, the quarry has been a continual blot the landscape up there, inhibiting development that would enhance this area and really make Belfast ‘A City of Hills’.”

Residents living in the shadow of the quarry in Meadowhill and Glencolin feel the same way.  Many said they were shocked to read about the plans last week and are ready for the fight.

“I would totally be against it,” said one mother.  “Look how close to that quarry we are, that would be a huge problem for us, we basically live right underneath it. I’m all for a campaign and will be spreading the word to all my neighbours.”

One man said he was left stunned when he read last week’s Andersonstown News.

“This can’t be allowed to happen. Asbestos can kill, what are they thinking?  Who is ever going to want to go up to the mountain now? This has to be stopped, no question about it.”

Another resident made a disturbing observation that serves to highlight just how dangerous the hazardous waste facility could be.

“We are right in the firing line for this,” he said. “As it stands we have to paint the house here a lot more than normal because of the silt coming down from the quarry, it’s the same for washing the car, you can see it on the car. Now, can you imagine if that was asbestos coming down? If they can’t stop the dust, how will they stop the asbestos? I have two young kids and I would have to consider moving away if this plan is given the go-ahead. Sure they wouldn’t be able to play in the garden or street. This has to be stopped, that’s all there is to it.”

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