Lancashire County Council’s development control committee approved the proposal for the facility on the Red Scar Industrial Estate off Longridge Road.
A petition opposing the development was signed by more than 700 people, with 430 official objections also lodged with County Hall. Several residents appeared in person at the meeting to outline concerns over the plant’s potential impact on air quality and traffic.
Officially known as a waste energy recovery facility, the incinerator will burn 395,000 tonnes of non-hazardous, non-recyclable rubbish each year – enough to generate around 42 megawatts of electricity. That would power 108,000 homes, almost double the number of households in Preston.
Gases released as part of the process will be ‘cleaned up’ before being released into the atmosphere and Public Health England last month stated that regulated plants like the one proposed at the Red Scar site “are not a significant risk to public health”.
But in a series of speeches often aimed personally at the councillors making the decision, locals lined up to rubbish the conclusion that the plant would not harm those living nearby.
Eleven-year-old Anna Basnyet-Steingold from Grimsargh appealed not to be dismissed as “just a child”.
“Give me a chance – a chance to live,” she said.
“The health and welfare of every child in Preston will be sacrificed [by this plant] in order to make lots of money for a handful of adults.
“No wonder your generation had such respect [for their elders] – they gave you so much.
“You’re much better at taking away – now there’s nothing left to take from us except fresh air and…you are about to take that, too,” Anna said.
In outlining her opposition, Sue Lomax, a member of the group Residents Against Longridge Road Energy Centre, said she had real concerns over the effects of particulate matter – and was not “a nimby”.
“This shouldn’t be anybody’s back yard,” she warned.
Another resident told committee members that they had a duty to protect people from “those who would cause us harm”.
But the advice from the authority’s planning officers was that the application should be approved. They concluded that the Environment Agency permit which will be have to be obtained separately in order to operate the facility means that “it should be assumed that there are unlikely to be any unacceptable adverse impacts on the environment…or local residents.”
The council’s own independent consultants also supported the applicant Miller Turner’s assessment that the facility would be safe.
Committee member Paul Hayhurst said that the use of the phrase “no significant harm” by Public Health England suggested that some level of harm would, indeed, occur.
But fellow member Stephen Clarke said that incinerators were preferable to the alternative of landfill.
“I’ve been to one of these [incinerator] sites – they are superb and run very efficiently. Incineration has got to be the best way forward, because landfill will cause more pollution from CO2 and methane than this method ever will,” County Cllr Clarke said.
Preston East county councillor and committee member Kevin Ellard – in whose area the Longride Road site sits – proposed that the application be refused, amongst other reasons, because of the impact on the road network.
“I believe this is a severe additional load on the local B-roads which are clogged up now,” he said.
It is expected that there will be an additional 340 HGV trips per day to the site during the construction phase, reducing to an extra 186 large vehicle movements per day once the plant is operational. Apart from the Red Scar access road, the worst affected routes will be Longridge Road eastbound and the B6242, which would each see a 10 percent increase in HGVs when the site opens – and double that extra volume while it is built.
Committee members voted in favour of a condition to install signs at the exit of the industrial estate, directing lorry drivers on a specified route to the motorway network.
The 174 metre-long main building will be topped with two 85 metre-high chimneys. The site will include a waste reception hall, boiler, turbine and ash storage building. Waste will be stored in a bunker 10 metres below ground level, reducing the overall height of the building.
But Preston city councillor Brian Rollo said that it still amounted to "a 12-storey block of flats, covering one an a half football pitches". He said that fact alone gave county councillors "a rock-solid reason for refusal".
However, Paul Zanin, planning director for Miller Turner, told the meeting that the development would lead to lower waste disposal costs for the county council.
“If permission is refused, competition for residual waste contracts will be reduced.
“Our [public] consultation was the start of a relationship with the local community. We are committed to being open and if this application is approved, we encourage people to come and visit the site for themselves,” Mr. Zanin said.
The proposal was approved by a majority of seven votes to four.
WHAT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT?
The Longridge Road Energy Centre will be classed as a “low carbon” source of energy – but exactly how low depends on the material which is processed at the site.
Yet that is something which county councillors were told “cannot be confirmed at the planning application stage”.
Members heard that it is a “complex” calculation to compare the levels of carbon released by incineration and landfill – one which hinges on the types of carbon stored within the waste which is sent there.
Some waste items will come from biological sources like food 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. Moreover, if sent to landfill, fossil carbon is released at a much slower rate than if combusted.
That means the green credentials of a waste incinerator are determined by the fuel used to power it – and also how efficient it is at generating electricity. The more efficient the plant, the greater the amount of carbon is ‘offset’ compared to that which would have been released anyway by more conventional sources of power generation.
The Longridge Road plant could become more efficient if it ultimately finds a user for the waste heat which it will also produce as part of the incineration process.
There are currently no planning policies which seek to limit greenhouse gases from individual developments like the one which is set to appear in Preston.
AREN’T WE SUPPOSED TO BE RECYCLING MORE?
Theoretically, any waste which is sent for incineration should not be recyclable. But there are concerns that energy recovery sites reduce the incentive for recycling.
Papers presented to the committee described fears about the impact on recycling as “legitimate”, but added that the problem does not lie with the incineration process – rather the poor separation of materials at the point of disposal.
It is not usually a planning consideration whether there is sufficient residual material in the waste market to power incinerators like the one which will be built at Red Scar and committee members were told that permissions recently granted for two similar schemes in Lancashire – at Heysham and Blackburn – could not be taken into account, because they are not yet operational.
THIS IS WHAT THE DEVELOPER SAYS
Miller Turner claims that their successful application to build the Longridge Road Energy Centre (LREC) will save a net total of 77,000 tonnes of CO2 per year - equivalent to taking 28,500 cars off the roads each year - by helping Lancashire send less waste to landfill.
The firm also says that it will boost the growth of the local economy and create 40 permanent jobs and 500 temporary construction roles.
Commenting on the approval of the planning application, Gregory Ewing, Chief Executive Officer for Miller Turner, said: “We are naturally pleased that our hard work, experience and track record of successfully delivering sustainable energy projects has been recognised with this approval. We now look forward to commencing construction of the project within the next six to twelve months.
“We are confident that LREC will offer significant benefits to Preston and Lancashire and that it will operate without issue. We have worked hard to engage with the local community, holding a number of public consultation events as well as directly contacting well over 5,000 homes and businesses.”
“We want to continue this and be a good neighbour to the community. We plan to set up a community liaison group to operate throughout the construction and operation of LREC, offer an annual £60,000 community fund for local projects, support local people to apply for the jobs and apprenticeships created as well as opening a visitor centre for the facility.”