An energy plant which will generate electricity by burning waste has been given the go-ahead in Heysham.
Lancashire County Council’s development control committee unanimously approved the proposed site on Imperial Road, which will incinerate 330,000 tonnes of non-hazardous waste every year – and create enough electricity to power 60,000 homes.
Waste firm Veolia will still need to obtain a separate permit from the Environment Agency, which will regulate emissions from the facility’s two, 90m-high chimney stacks. The applicant claims that its own assessment has shown that there would be “no unacceptable effect” on the local environment, because of the planned processes to clean up the gases before they are emitted from the site.
The application drew an objection from pressure group UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) about the potential adverse impact of the proposal on climate change.
The organisation claimed that the issue was a “material consideration”, on the basis of which planning permission could be refused – and suggested that the plans were unsustainable, because of the need for the country to shift to a low carbon economy.
But a report by the authority’s planning officers concluded that there were no planning regulations which require local authorities to “specifically limit greenhouse gases from individual development proposals” because of concerns over climate change. Councillors were advised that the government instead encouraged a “holistic approach” to moving away from use of landfill sites and the reliance on fossil fuels.
“Many proposals of this nature have been [considered by] planning inspectors and the Secretary of State and I’m not aware of any [which] have been refused because of climate change issues,” said Rob Hope, principal planning officer at Lancashire County Council.
“Notwithstanding the potential impacts [on greenhouse gas emissions] compared to other forms of waste management, this is not a reason for refusal.”
A further last-minute objection which claimed that the plan would not offset as much carbon dioxide as the applicant had claimed was also dismissed for the same reasons.
Committee members approved the scheme – which will be built on land already earmarked for waste management purposes – after visiting the site earlier this week and following an earlier trip to see a similar existing plant in Staffordshire. A proposal by a different compnay for a slightly larger facility based on the same principle - off Longridge Road, north of Preston - is likely to be considered before the end of the year.
County Cllr David Foxcroft said he was encouraged by the fact that the Heysham plans had generated so few objections from locals.
“I was very surprised to see only 10 representations, of which six are against. That shows the strength of support from the community,” he said.
Fellow member Stephen Clarke said that facilities such as the one proposed were more suitable than sending waste to landfill, which “produce a lot of gases anyway”.
“[In landfill], those gases are not going to produce electricity, but are just going into the atmosphere,” he added.
Before making their decision, members were addressed by Veolia’s national planning manager, David Bridgwood, who set out the company’s credentials.
“We are an experienced operator with 10 energy recovery facilities in the UK. We use a proven technology and have a good, well-established track record.
“The UKWIN concerns…have recently been considered at a public inquiry. The Secretary of State confirmed that the proposals we were putting forward would have significant benefits and he gave climate change benefits substantial weight in his decision,” Mr. Bridgwood said.
Permission was approved pending an agreement for Veolia to pay £145,000 to cover the cost of creating a footpath and cycleway between the cul-de-sac on Imperial Road and Middleton Road. A suggestion by one committee member to demand that the company foot the bill for connecting the two roads for vehicular traffic was not supported, amidst concerns over the potential for a new junction to encourage HGVs into a residential area.
The proposed building will be 140m long, between 55 and 100m wide and 49m high at its tallest point. However, it was deemed acceptable by planning officers when considered “in the context of existing structures, including wind turbines, electricity pylons and the Heysham Nuclear Power Station”.
It is expected that the plant will permanently employ between 40 and 45 people, with 350 temporary jobs created during the construction phase.
In a statement issued after the meeting, a Veolia spokesperson said:
"We are pleased with the decision that will allow us to deliver a high quality facility that will manage residual waste cleanly and efficiently and provide much needed low carbon energy. We will establish a local liaison committee and continue to engage with residents throughout the construction period.
"Our proposals will provide a useful boost to the local economy during both the construction and longer term operational phases and we will be using local providers wherever possible. A local recruitment programme for the team to run the facility will shortly be launched and we look forward to working with local colleges in providing training opportunities.
"This shows Lancashire is serious about both solving climate change and growing a local green economy and local jobs."
THE CLIMATE CHANGE CONUNDRUM
Planning officers who advised councillors to approve the 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 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.”
But objectors claimed that the facility could never be considered sustainable, because “sustainable waste management means minimising waste, not maintaining a steady stream of it to keep an incineration plant going”.
Another objector also disputed that the facility could be categorised as “flexible” for energy-generating purposes, because it is planned to operate 24 hours a day.
Waste heat will also be generated by the incineration process and its hoped that this could be captured for use by businesses. However, no potential customers have yet been identified – which would make the plant less efficient.
“Given the location of the site adjacent to undeveloped land allocated for industrial and storage purposes, there appears to be a reasonable chance that a heat customer could emerge,” the council report adds.
WHAT IMPACT ON AIR QUALITY?
The gases from the plant will be subject to several "clean-up stages" before they can released into the atmosphere. These include the removal of acid gases, like sulphur dioxide, and the filtering of particulates.
"Taking into account these factors and the location of the site, it is considered that the development is acceptable in relation to local air pollution and human health considerations," planning officers concluded.
Veolia will have to obtain a permit from the Environment Agency requiring it to comply with legal emissions limits. Committee members were told that national planning guidelines require them to assume that such safeguards are properly applied and enforced.
But committee member Kevin Ellard warned that the regulator would have to "play its role to the full...and be on top of the job".