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Waterbeach incinerator public inquiry hears: ‘Eyesore incinerator could be threat to health’

Campaigners have spoken out at a public inquiry about their fears for the landscape and the health of their community if a massive waste incinerator is built on their doorstep.

The planning inquiry being held at Shire Hall opened on Tuesday ( Nov 5) and is expected to hear evidence for 16 days for and against Amey’s proposal for an 80-metre tall waste incinerator on a field close to Waterbeach.

Planning Inspector John Woolcock at Denny Abbey and The Farmland Museum with other representatives regarding the Incinerator inquiry. Picture: Keith Heppell. (21105572)
Planning Inspector John Woolcock at Denny Abbey and The Farmland Museum with other representatives regarding the Incinerator inquiry. Picture: Keith Heppell. (21105572)

Planning permission was turned down last year by Cambridgeshire County Council on the grounds that its “mass and scale” would have a detrimental effect on the landscape and on neighbouring historic site Denny Abbey.

Speaking at the inquiry, the chairman of Waterbeach Parish Council, Cllr Barbara Bull, said residents were “not confident or satisfied with the answers given as to how the proposed incinerator will affect our health both now or in 30 years’ time”.

She said: “Will farmland be affected? Will toxins in the emissions from the chimney affect the population in a much wider area, our water supply etc? No one seems to know the answer to this when asked.

“Also several primary schools will be built in close proximity to this proposal including the first one in phase one of the new town, which is very near to Amey, as it will be starting opposite the research park. How do we know that children’s lives will not be put at risk?”

Her concerns for the health and safety of the population were echoed by another resident, Nigel Seamarks, who told the inquiry that a study by Imperial College London had discovered an increase in birth defects for 1.2 children in every 1,000 born within 10km of a waste incinerator.

Amey waste treatment facility. (21105700)
Amey waste treatment facility. (21105700)

He said the figure “might sound like a low risk but the impact can be life- changing”. And he asked that if the incinerator proposal was approved that Amey should be required to pay a social fund levy “for the potential damage to newborns”.

He added: “I ask the inspector to reject this appeal. We must protect our children, landscape, wildlife and heritage. We must think about what is best for Cambridge, a high tech centre of excellence. Is burning plastics and Continued from front page

mattresses the best Cambridge can deliver?”

Also addressing the inquiry, Waterbeach resident and Labour Parliamentary candidate for South East Cambs James Bull said: “Scientists tell us that particle emissions, dioxins and heavy metals from incinerators are a potential risk to our health. Yet Waterbeach incinerator will sit next door to the Waterbeach new town and schools on the A10 along with the historic Denny Abbey. This means the nearest homes and schools will be just a few hundred metres downwind of the facility.

“This is the wrong site for an incinerator – the Waste and Resources Action Programme, the UK’s waste expert think tank, advise against siting incinerators near homes.

“Local people have rejected this incinerator, the local politicians have rejected this incinerator – if this appeal inquiry does not uphold the original decision to block this unsightly, unnecessary and unsafe incinerator then it will have failed not only the citizens of Cambridgeshire but future generations – who will have to live with this hazard for decades and decades to come.”

Campaigners outside Shire Hall public inquiry into the proposed Waterbeach incinerator (21105531)
Campaigners outside Shire Hall public inquiry into the proposed Waterbeach incinerator (21105531)

Amey wants to create the energy-from-waste facility at Levitt’s Field, on Waterbeach Waste Management Park, off Ely Road. It would be larger than Ely Cathedral and have an 80- metre tall chimney.

It would treat up to 250,000 tonnes of waste per year and potentially provide electricity for 63,000 homes. So far more than 5,300 people have signed a petition against the proposed incinerator.

Documents seen by the inquiry show that waste would be drawn from 11 counties around Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to supply the needs of the furnace, but this would only amount to 70 percent of the waste burnt. In order to make the incinerator economically viable, up to 30 per cent of the waste could be drawn from further afield – as far away as the Isle of Wight or Yorkshire.

Cambridgeshire County Council turned down the planning application for the incinerator last year saying that: “The scale and massing of the proposed development, in relation to the landscape (being local character and visual impact) and harm to the visual amenity of local residents (particularly those living nearest the development), are considered to have significant adverse effects which cannot be resolved through the proposed mitigation.”

Planning Inspector John Woolcock at Denny Abbey and The Farmland Museum with other representatives regarding the Incinerator inquiry. Picture: Keith Heppell. (21105550)
Planning Inspector John Woolcock at Denny Abbey and The Farmland Museum with other representatives regarding the Incinerator inquiry. Picture: Keith Heppell. (21105550)

They also cited heritage grounds as a reason to refuse the application, saying: “Given the scale and massing of the proposed development, and the significant adverse impact on the local landscape, the harm to the setting of the Denny Abbey complex heritage asset… is not outweighed by the benefits of the proposal.”

These remain the major grounds for the county council asking the secretary of state to refuse the application.

At the inquiry, its counsel said: “Cambridgeshire County Council is not remotely in the habit of finding itself at public inquiry.

“However, the degree of harm that would be caused by the appeal scheme, by reason of the EfW facility that is at the heart of the appeal scheme, means that the county council must vigorously contest this appeal.”

He added: “The sheer scale of the EfW facility and its massing (it will be the largest feature for miles around) mean it will be a highly visible new industrial element in this open, largely agricultural, landscape.

“It will stand in contrast with other built form, which is not only almost invariably lower slung – and typically markedly so – but generally well concealed at eaves/ridge height by multi layers of vegetation.

“That is true not only of the built form of the Waterbeach Waste Management Park itself but also the nearby business park and the Cambridge Research Park.”

He went on: “Any suggestion that the EfW facility would be ‘assimilated’ into its surroundings is untenable.”

Amey had suggested a line of trees could be built around the incinerator to mask its appearance, although this would not hide its full height.

The county council’s representative added: “Even the tree screen proposed as mitigation will appear as an alien feature in the landscape, whilst failing to hide the most impactful upper element of the building and inevitably failing to conceal the stack.”

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Rural England told the inquiry that Denny Abbey would be affected.

Alan James, CPRE’s representative, said: “The proposed building with its 80 metre chimney is so massive that it will cause significant harm to Denny Abbey and to the other listed building of the Denny Abbey Complex… we agree with English Heritage, who express the importance of the original setting chosen by the Benedictines in 1159 on the slightly raised edge of the fen.”

Waterbeach incinerator protestors at Shire Hall before the original meeting which halted the proposal. Picture: Keith Heppell
Waterbeach incinerator protestors at Shire Hall before the original meeting which halted the proposal. Picture: Keith Heppell

Benefits of the scheme that Amey mentioned were “providing renewable heat and energy; helping to reduce climate change; socio-economic benefits; heritage benefits; biodiversity benefits and providing a fiscal benefit to Cambridgeshire County Council”.

Mr James, for CPRE, also read out quotes from a report submitted by Cambridge Without Incineration (CBWIN), which raised money for an expert to assess Amey’s evidence.

He said: “We are very concerned to discover that the planned incinerator will apparently ‘emit between 11,393 and 28,336 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year more than would arise from sending the same waste to landfill’.

“Our primary concern is that this additional greenhouse gas will exacerbate the threats to climate change, the greatest of which in this country is the loss of the fens to sea levels rising.”

He added that transporting waste from around the country to feed the incinerator will create “additional emissions”.

Amey responded to the assertion by the council that the mass and scale of the proposed incinerator would harm Denny Abbey by saying“there is a dispute as to the magnitude of that harm” and that the only harm to the abbey complex was a “change to the setting of those assets”.

It contended that: “There have been fundamental changes to the setting of these assets through the extensive draining of the fens … and in more recent times there have been extensive changes through more recent development including the Waterbeach Waste Management Park itself and the Cambridge Research Park.”

Amey’s opening statement added that Levitts Field had been earmarked in the local plan for waste recycling and recovery and that this could include energy from waste.

And that the council’s main complaint about the incinerator was that it was “a single broad complaint, namely that it was too big.”

They also claimed that the proposal is “the product of a detailed and collaborative design process, involving both stakeholder organisation and the local community”.

However, Waterbeach resident Cllr Bull disagreed with this assertion. She said that she did not feel residents had been properly informed back in 2011 that the new waste management facilities being proposed were actually an incinerator.

She explained: “The reason for the lack of opposition when this idea was first put forward was because the planning application went in under the heading of a waste recovery facility. If this had been referred to as an incinerator built on the edge of our village way larger than Ely Cathedral then public opinion would have been generally against it from the beginning. The location and design of waste management facilities supplementary document (SDP) was adopted by Cambridgeshire County Council on July 19, 2011.

Ms Bull added: “I don’t recall a public consultation in our area prior to this being adopted, and we weren’t informed that we would be having a planning application submitted by Amey for an incinerator on our doorstep. Because of the major impact that this would have if built in our community, surely we should have been fully consulted as residents and told the truth that this is an incinerator?”

She also raised concerns about Amey, which already runs the waste management depot in Waterbeach.

She said: “The Amey track record of incidents is appalling. They have had fires break out on their site, the odour from the site is regularly revolting and the fly infestations during the summer are gruesome. All of this should be regulated so that residents don’t suffer however, the Environment Agency are unable to stop Amey from letting this happen.

“Therefore I feel it is imperative that the incinerator is refused because of the risk that the EA won’t be able to control the Amey incinerator through permits alone.”

Some of the campaigners from CBWIN, Cambridge Without Incineration, could not attend the first day of the inquiry due to work commitments, so their representative opted to wait until later in the hearing to make its representation.

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