Plans to build a mass-burn waste incinerator on the Bucks/Oxon border
Plans to build a mass-burn waste incinerator on the Bucks/Oxon border have been rejected in favour of a site in Bedfordshire, dropping Leighton and Linslade right in a possible toxic zone and leaving Central Beds Council powerless to protest.
The original idea to build the incinerator at Edgcott, Bucks, had prompted some of Leighton’s surrounding villages to oppose it because of potential poisoning effects if the wind blew in this direction.
However, last Monday, Buckinghamshire County Council’s cabinet decided to enter into a waste disposal partnership with US firm Covanta, with a site in Stewartby, for the county’s future waste disposal.
That means the Leighton-Linslade area would be well and truly within any toxic fallout zone with the incinerator being much closer to home.
The move has prompted an outburst from Councillor Tricia Turner, leader of Central Bedfordshire Council, who said: “We deeply regret that Bucks County Council did not meet with local Bedfordshire politicians to discuss their proposals before making this decision. If they had they would know that the three unitary councils in Bedfordshire are working together on our own solution to disposing of our county’s waste.
“The Buckinghamshire decision is very bad news for Bedfordshire residents who will just become the dumping ground for other people’s rubbish. If these proposals go ahead under the Electricity Act then Central Bedfordshire will be merely a consultee in any planning application at Rookery Pit rather than having the ability to determine it itself.
“We are aware that many local parish councils are already concerned about the consultation which took place as part of this decision.
“We are highly critical of the government for enabling decisions like this to be taken. It is a backward step to allow thousands of tonnes of waste to be moved across county and regional boundaries like this and one which actually breaks the government’s own guidelines. It could mean up to 900 lorryloads of waste travelling through country lanes from as far away as Slough.”
Covanta is preparing a planning application for the major ‘energy from waste’ facility at Rookery Pit, Stewartby, in the Marston Vale, to take waste from both counties.
Because of the capacity of the proposed ‘green’ facility and its ability to generate significant amounts of electricity – 65MWe, enough to power 82,500 homes – its application would be made to the Secretary Of State for energy and climate change under Section 36 of the Electricity Act, and a direction would also be sought under Section 90(2) of the Town And Country Planning Act for deemed planning permission.
This would mean that Central Bedfordshire Council would be a statutory consultee on this application rather than the decision-making planning authority. It could object to the proposal at that point but any decision would lie in the hands of the Secretary Of State for energy and climate change.
A spokesman for the council added: “Central Bedfordshire and other councils in Bedfordshire are committed to minimising the amount of waste which goes to landfill and together they are developing, through the BeAR project, their own Public Financial Initiative-funded project to reduce landfill in a productive way. It is through this process that Covanta could bid for the disposal of Bedfordshire’s waste.
However this will be an open tender and other companies will have the opportunity to bid.”
The safety factor
DURING the protests against the Edgcott site, toxic expert Dr Dick Van Steen is had warned that this type of site produced emissions containing chemicals PM2.5 and PM1 and could cause illnesses such as cancer, asthma, heart attacks, strokes, clinical depression, birth defects, stillbirths and miscarriages.
But the Health Protection Agency said incinerators that are well run and regulated do not pose a significant threat to public health.
A spokesman said: “Evidence suggests that any potential damage to health of those living close to incinerators is likely to be very small, if detectable.
“European Union Directives aimed at minimising landfill are leading to an increased use of incineration, and research suggests that this will not cause any significant adverse health effects.
“The agency, therefore, does not believe that studies of public health around individual incinerators are scientifically justifiable.”
Meanwhile, Malcolm Chilton, managing director of Covanta Energy UK, also wished to give a reassurance regarding health. He said: “The environmental impact assessment process Covanta is currently undertaking incorporates a rigorous quantitative assessment of the environmental and health effects of the proposed facility.
The need for a health impact assessment will also be discussed with the relevant statutory consultees such as the Health Protection Agency and the Primary Care Trusts and we will be required to demonstrate this in our planning application which must satisfy the tightest environmental regulations.
“The Rookery South project will also be closely examined by the Environment Agency who will only consent to the project if they are satisfied that all the rigorous standards have been met. Emissions will be constantly monitored and the EA will have the power to close the plant if limits are exceeded.”
Mr Chilton added: “It is vital that any examination of energy-from-waste (EFW) plants is accurate – modern EFW plants are far removed from the incinerators of old and must operate to stringent EU emissions standards. You don’t have to take our word for it, a great deal of detailed research has been carried out to investigate whether EFW plants do, in fact, damage human health.
“The HPA have just this month concluded that ‘modern, well managed incinerators make only a small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants’. It is possible that such additions could have an impact on health but such effects, if they exist, are likely to be very small and not detectable.”
What the council say:
TWO companies were in the running for Buckinghamshire County Council’s 25-year contract, Covanta Energy and the Waste Recycling Group.
Buckinghamshire County Council’s cabinet member for planning, environment and development, Councillor Martin Tett, said: “The quality of both bids was high and the decision was not easy.
“This is a high-profile project of great importance to residents and the county. We must ensure that we reach our high recycling target of 60 per cent by 2025 and that the waste left is treated efficiently.
Through this project we will reduce landfill and the greenhouse gases it produces. We will also minimise the taxes and fines linked to landfill, and so avoid having to make cuts elsewhere in vital services. Current calculations show that using Covanta to treat our residual waste will cost 18 per cent less than doing nothing.
Councillor Tett added: “I am confident that the EfW technology proposed by Covanta is right for the job and that this deal is in the best interests of our council tax payers. We needed efficiency, effectiveness and economy from the winning bidder. But, we also need to consider another ‘E’ – environment. Although any decision to process waste involves having to transport it from homes to the processing plant, waste is a renewable resource that, when treated properly, can produce significant levels of energy and reduce our reliance on dirty, fossil-fuelled power.
“We have conscientiously researched and objectively evaluated the technical options available for treating our leftover waste.
“EfW is a modern, highly regulated technology which is well proven in the UK and elsewhere in Europe and works well with high recycling t
argets, as demonstrated by countries like Denmark.”