Localism debate ignites over ‘incinerator revolt’

Conflict over the localism agenda and its impact on waste planning has heightened following claims made in The Times newspaper that a "national revolt" was brewing against incinerators.

The story, which ran on the front page of the newspaper yesterday (April 9), led with the strapline “Hundred giant incinerators to replace landfill” – a statement that many in the waste industry have condemned as inaccurate and misleading.

It went on to highlight four cases in the UK where there are plans to build an incinerator despite strong public opposition.

The most high profile case is in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Borough council is now seeking a judicial review against the Government for approving PFI credits for a proposed £500m incinerator in the county.

The article also questioned the Government’s localism agenda and suggested it was being undermined by recent decisions taken by ministers to approve controversial proposals for large, centralised waste facilities.

Opinion is split on whether large-scale energy recovery plants are the right approach. Some feel they lock local communities into a long-term inflexible diversion route, whereas others believe they offer a simple and convenient solution.

Julian Maiklem, an advocate of small-scale anaerobic digestion (AD) plants, is based in Cornwall where last month Eric Pickles won a high court battle to grant permission to SITA to build a £117m incinerator in St Dennis.

He told edieWaste that such decisions made a mockery of localism and that the Government was “riding roughshod over the opinions and legitimately made decisions of local people”.

He said the decision by Pickles to overturn two rulings by the local council to reject SITA’s application for planning permission was “incomprehensible” and “not a due and fair process” – especially as protestors had succeeded in getting the minister’s first overruling revoked.

He argued: “In order to work properly, the incinerator will need to burn more waste than is produced in Cornwall meaning that it will be importing waste from Devon and Somerset. This is frankly insane from both an environmental and a financial point of view.”

He added: “The answer is clearly for us to wean ourselves off this addiction to large scale centralised facilities … the only people who will benefit are the bankers and the large waste management companies.”

However such sentiments are disputed by Lee Petts, managing director of waste service provider Remsol, who believes The Times article presented an argument driven by nimbyism.

Speaking to edieWaste, he said: “We absolutely should burn non-recyclable waste and use its latent value to create lean, dependable energy instead of wastefully sending it to landfill.”

But independent waste consultant Peter Jones told edieWaste that incinerators are not always the most popular choice among communities for energy recovery due to economies of scale.

“They tend to be sized at 25 plus megawatts – over 350,000 tonnes – and rarely make efficient use of the heat which is lost up the chimney,” he claimed.

“Emergent starved air systems operating at similar temperatures offer routes to higher levels of energetic conversion efficiency and are competitive at smaller scale. In consequence the heat output is more easily utilised as well in a local network.”

Viridor is currently consulting on an incinerator build on behalf of South London Waste Partnership at its landfill site in Beddington and told edieWaste it was “disappointed” by the article’s unbalanced reporting.

The company’s external affairs director Dan Cooke said the piece didn’t pick up on other EfW projects in the UK that had been approved in non-contentious circumstances and were now being progressed or operational.

“The article offers no back-up to claims that EfW competes with recycling, and evidence from EU countries with the very highest recycling levels, where EfW operates alongside recycling systems in a complementary manner, suggests otherwise.

“EfW, in all its forms, also provides base-load renewable power and could deliver up to 6% of the UK’s electricity.”

Others felt the newspaper’s coverage of the issue was heavily blinkered with little mention of other waste treatment processes like AD, mechanical biological treatment (MBT) or gasification.

Maxine Perella

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