Waste incinerator near Warboys gets go-ahead - but what does it mean for Waterbeach?
Puddock Hill site will process 65,000 tonnes of waste water and 48,000 tonnes of wood a year
There are fears Cambridgeshire could become a “dumping ground for waste from across the UK”, with claims “toxic rain” will ruin farmland after plans for a new waste incinerator got the go ahead.
Today (September 6) Cambridgeshire County Council’s planning committee discussed plans for a waste facility and a power plant with a 25-metre high chimney north of Warboys at a landfill site in Puddock Hill. The public gallery was packed, as 33 speakers lined up to have their say on the plans.
Residents in South Cambridgeshire have been watching with interest, as they are fighting other plans for an incinerator in Waterbeach, due to be discussed later this month.
It was Sycamore Planning Ltd that put in for planning permission from Cambridgehire County Council to build the facilities near Warboys at a landfill site in Puddock Hill.
A representative of the applicant said no objection had been made to the scheme by the Environment Agency.
The plants are expected to process 65,000 tonnes of waste water and 48,000 tonnes of wood every year, delivered by 24-tonne lorries visiting the site up to 18 times a day. The committee heard about fears for “toxic rain” ruining farmland, and noise and pollution spoiling life for residents.
The committee heard that the plant would be fuelled by “grade B and C” wood which had already exhausted its potential for recycling. The wood, and other materials for incineration, would be sourced from within a 30-mile radius of the plant.
According to a report which went before councillors: “The proposed development comprises two elements, a biomass combined heat and power (CHP) plant and a waste water treatment plant.
“The proposed waste treatment processes are thermal treatment of up to 48,000 tonnes per annum of non-hazardous grades B and C pre-shredded waste wood and compost oversize in a fluidised bed boiler with recovery of energy, and treatment by evaporation of approximately 65,000 tonnes per annum of non-hazardous waste water including leachate (waste water) from the adjacent and other landfill sites.”
Councillors supported the idea of incinerating waste instead of contributing further to landfills, but many had reservations about the potential impact on residents.
But Cllr Geoff Willis, of Warboys Parish Council, feared people near the site, including people living in caravans, could be exposed to “noxious” odours.
He said “compost run-off” is “extremely pungent” and he said there had been no guarantee the smells would not drift over nearby communities.
Katie McCallan, who lives near Warboys, received a round of applause from the public gallery when she called for the committee to reject the application. She said noise and smells from the plant would ruin neighbours’ lives.
“Nobody knows what the impact of the development will be because it is still untested technology,” Ms McCallan said. “It is clear the impact of the sight and smell of the site has been understated by the applicants.
“This is a place of beauty. A silent place where you can only hear nature and the air is clean. The noise and smell will carry.”
Ms McCallan said the HGVs that would be used to carry waste along the roads in the area would also impact on other road users, especially people riding on horseback in the area.
“The people who live near it will have to see and smell it 24 hours for the rest of their lives,” said Ms McCallan. “These are our homes and our lives.”
There were also claims that Cambridgeshire could become a “dumping ground” for the country’s waste.
Resident David Perkins asked whether there would be enough waste to power the incinerator, especially if another, much larger, incinerator in Waterbeach gets the go-ahead later this month.
He said that, if the county was not able to produce the waste needed to fire the new incinerators, it could lead in an increase in “waste imports” to the county, resulting in Cambridgeshire “becoming a dumping ground for waste from across the UK”.
There was also concern from farmer, Hugh Whittome, who told the committee the plant would lead to “toxic rain” falling on nearby crops and farmland. He claimed the plant will produce a “steady stream” of toxic vapour which would later fall as rain, potentially damaging crops.
Betty Ball, who lives in Warboys, has spent 25 years as part of the Warboys Landfill Action Group. She said it’s the “wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time”. She told the committee the evaporation method of water treatment is “unproven” and said the council should wait instead of “crossing their fingers and hoping” it would work.
Cllr Sebastian Kindersley expressed his frustration with the planning system. He said that if the application was refused, he could see it being brought before inspectors at appeal.
“I have really really wrestled with this,” said Cllr Kindersley. “Many of the arguments made by members of the public have been compelling. However, the concerns that have been expressed are largely not the business of this committee. It is incredibly frustrating as a committee member to say it is not our business when the man or woman in the street would say that’s bonkers.”
Labour leader Joan Whitehead said she would not support the proposal as “the benefits are not sufficient to outweigh the negatives”. She said the committee couldn’t “second guess” what might happen at an appeal.
Cllr David Connor, chairman of the planning committee, said he had to support the recommendation to approve the application, but said he did so with “an extremely heavy heart”. He said the committee had to believe their experts, and said there was no reason not to go with what had been recommended.
The plans were approved with seven councillors supporting the officer recommendation to allow the scheme. Only Cllr Whitehead opposed the plans. Liaison meetings will now take place regularly to keep residents informed of further developments. The plant will now need an Environment Agency permit, and it is likely further local consultation with residents will take place.
Meanwhile, in Waterbeach, Amey Cespa has applied for permission to build a £200million energy-from-waste facility, which it says will divert waste away from landfill.
A petition against the incinerator has collected more than 2,400 signatures and, although the plans will be considered on their own merits, those who signed it will now be nervous about the outcome.