No time to waste

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ENVIRONMENT Secretary Caroline Spelman’s decision to delay plans for a huge waste incinerator in Norfolk will come as music to the ears of residents battling similar schemes here in Yorkshire, and elsewhere.

Incinerators, or at least the idea of them, have always proved deeply unpopular with people living near the proposed sites, though it is notable there is little local opposition in places, such as Sheffield, where plants have been in situ for many years.

Despite all the protests, however, improvements in emissions technology over recent years mean incineration has been looked upon increasingly kindly by local councils and Whitehall officials, as the powers-that-be seek alternatives to unsustainable landfill sites. And with the environmental concerns apparently assuaged, opponents are usually told their arguments ultimately carry little weight.

But Mrs Spelman’s move yesterday suggests the rules of the game have now changed. Her stance is that the sheer weight of local opposition means further consideration should be given to the whole scheme.

This is a welcome position for the Minister to take. For too long, residents have felt utterly helpless in the face of single-minded town hall technocrats or large corporations.

The reality is that there are alternatives to incineration, and ones which residents generally find far more palatable. And it is down to councils to find not just the most cost-effective solution, but one which carries the support of local people.

Nonetheless, clear guidance on this issue from Government is now urgently needed. With landfill fees soaring higher with every passing year, councils know that time is running out.

Drawing up alternative plans would inevitably be a lengthy process. But one way or another, decisions must be made before the impact on already-stretched town hall budgets becomes even greater.