Campaigners opposing plans for a new energy recovery incinerator on the outskirts of Preston say it would be “folly” for the project to go ahead after a similar scheme was granted permission in Heysham.
Lancashire County Council’s development control committee will consider an application for the facility on the Red Scar industrial estate on Longridge Road later in the year. It will generate electricity by burning just under 400,000 tonnes of non-hazardous waste annually.
At the meeting to decide on the Heysham application, committee member and Preston East county councillor Kevin Ellard asked whether its approval – and permission recently granted for a larger site by Blackburn Council – would have a cumulative effect on the consideration of future applications.
“Where would that leave Lancashire in terms of its capacity requirements – would that be it, or might we still need more [energy from waste]?” County Coun Ellard asked.
The authority’s principal planning officer, Rob Hope, said that each application had to be judged on its merits and added: “The important point is that you can only consider currently operational capacity.”
The Heysham and Blackburn schemes could be several years away from coming to fruition.
But a spokesperson from Residents Against Longridge Road Energy Centre, said that the whole of the UK was already at “overcapacity” for this type of energy generation, which is intended to reduce reliance on landfill.
“It would be folly to build yet another incinerator only 13 miles from Darwen and 33 miles from Heysham. You cannot pretend to ignore the fact that permission has been given to build another two incinerators in such close proximity.
“As we improve recycling, there will be less residual waste to fuel the incinerator and it could well become a white elephant,” she added.
The campaign group said that the unanimous approval for the Heysham plant had left it fearing a similar outcome in Preston.
Development control committee members visited the proposed Central Lancashire site earlier this week, after requesting the opportunity to see it for themselves before they consider the application. They also took a trip to an existing waste energy facility in Staffordshire to help inform their decisions on both the Heysham and Preston applications, which have been submitted by different companies.
“Ribbleton is an area of high deprivation – building a massive incinerator in the area will only exacerbate the problem, including having a detrimental effect on house prices. Investment is needed in this area, but £200m could be better spent and more jobs created compared to the incinerator.
“Houses and schools are only 400-500m away from the Longridge Road site and air pollution will affect the health of everyone.
“Climate change and greenhouse gasses were almost ignored (in the Heysham case), despite being so topical and so urgent. Councillors didn’t appear to challenge any of the developer’s application, so it did seem rather one-sided,” the campaign spokesperson added.
‘THE BENEFITS ARE REDUCING LANDFILL AND CREATING LOW CARBON ENERGY’
Miller Turner, which is behind the Preston application, says that its proposed development is both necessary and safe.
“Lancashire sends over 30 per cent of its waste to landfill – one of the highest rates in the UK,” the company’s planning director, Paul Zanin, said.
“In addition, the UK currently still landfills 12 million tonnes of household residual waste every year and exports a further three million tonnes abroad. This demonstrates there is not an overcapacity for energy from waste plants, which take this waste and uses it constructively to generate low carbon energy.
“Under the planning system, each application is determined on its own merits. Approving three proposed energy from waste schemes would give the market a choice of which schemes in the region would provide the best combination of reducing landfill, generating energy and creating jobs. This will determine which and how many plants are built.
“Public Health England has considered energy from waste plants carefully and found no measurable impact on human health. The decisions to approve scheme proposed for Heysham reflects this.
“We are confident that the Longridge Road Energy Centre (LREC) is a strong proposition. Alongside the benefits of reducing landfill and generating low carbon energy, LREC would be located close to where the waste is generated, reducing the need for transportation of waste over long distances. It also has the potential to create significant numbers of new jobs, in addition to these created to operate the plant, by attracting new companies to locate in the area to access the low cost electricity LREC can provide.
“LREC would also employ the same robust emissions control technology employed at any modern energy from waste plant,” Mr Zanin added.
CONTRASTING CAPACITY CLAIMS
A report by the environmental consultancy Eunomia Research and Consulting in 2017 claimed that the UK was on course to reach overcapacity in energy from waste plants by the end of the decade.
It stated that the volume of waste which the industry was capable of processing had doubled since 2009, but the amount of so-called “residual waste”, required by energy recovery sites, had fallen by about a fifth over the same period.
The report suggested that recycling rates could be hit if energy from waste was allowed to go overcapacity – because material which could be recycled might be added to genuinely residual waste and sent for incineration to make up the shortfall in fuel for the sites and keep them operational.
But waste firms rubbished the findings, with the trade organisation, the Environmental Services Association (ESA), claiming that the figures were “flawed”.
ESA Executive Director Jacob Hayler was reported by the Resource website as saying: “Year after year these consultants have claimed that the UK was heading for overcapacity – its earlier reports suggested that we would already have reached overcapacity today.
“The consensus position on waste treatment is that we will end up over five million tonnes short of energy from waste capacity by 2030. This is what the government needs to understand if it is not to sleepwalk into a capacity crisis.”
WHAT DO WE KNOW FROM THE HEYSHAM DECISION?
Although individual applications are judged on their own merits, some of the issues likely to feature in the debate over the Longride Road site were rehearsed during consideration of the Heysham application.
The climate change conundrum
Planning officers who advised councillors to approve that development said that the issue of whether more greenhouse gases were generated by the incineration of waste or its decomposition in landfill was “a complex subject with many variables”.
A report to development control committee members said that much would depend on the material being used to power the plant – and the different types of carbon stored within them.
Some waste items will come from biological sources and the so-called “biogenic carbon” which they contain was only recently absorbed from the atmosphere.
However, other waste will contain plastics manufactured using fossil fuels – the resultant “fossil carbon” was absorbed millions of years ago and so would be considered “newly released” into the environment if incinerated. If sent to landfill, fossil carbon is released at a much slower rate than if combusted.
The report states: “The proportion and type of biogenic waste is key, with high biogenic content making energy from waste inherently better and landfill inherently worse. Secondly, the more efficient the energy from the waste plant is at turning waste into energy, the greater the carbon offset from conventional power generation.”
Air quality concerns
Even if it is granted planning permission, the Longridge Road incinerator will require a permit from the Environment Agency, controlling any emissions. In the Heysham application, councillors were advised that they should assume that the regulations would be properly applied and enforced.