Funding loss threat to waste burning proposals

GROUPS campaigning against proposed waste incinerators in Yorkshire have welcomed the Government’s decision to withhold £169m of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) funding from a similar project in Norfolk.

While councils insisted that large-scale projects in Leeds and Knaresborough were still likely to go ahead, protesters took heart from news that Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, has frozen funding for a £500m waste incineration project in King’s Lynn, West Norfolk because of local opposition.

The move cast doubt on eight other PFI schemes across the country, including a 180,000 ton-capacity incinerator on Pontefract Lane in Cross Green, Leeds, and a 260,000 ton-capacity facility at Allerton Quarry, between York and Harrogate.

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Under the proposals, 170,000 tons of the country’s unrecyclable rubbish would be taken from landfill and used to generate electricity.

Around half of Britain’s 75m tons of waste goes to landfill each year and European targets demand this is reduced by 40 per cent.

Bob Schofield, of the North Yorkshire Waste Action Group, which is campaigning against the Allerton Quarry development, said: “This is very positive news. Clearly, the presumed viability of these incinerators is dependent on PFI funding. With Allerton Quarry, if the PFI funding is withdrawn, the idea is sunk.

“The decision in Norfolk reflects considerable opposition to PFI as the sensible way forward. They can be very expensive to the public purse – we calculated a £1.3bn bill for North Yorkshire ratepayers if it doesn’t receive the full capacity of waste, because the shortfall needs to be compensated for.

“And in North Yorkshire, the waste companies are already saying that with recycling there are smaller volumes of waste, well below the capacity.”

David Smith, from No Incinerator Leeds (NIL), which is fighting the Cross Green development, said: “NIL has always maintained that a 25-year PFI deal chains Leeds to burning recyclables. PFI is much more expensive than a conventional loan.

“An incinerator will also affect the health of residents, prevent recycling and any energy produced will be at least twice as carbon intensive as fossil fuels. This energy will go into the national grid with no benefit to Leeds.

“I welcome the decision of the government to delay a decision of a Norfolk Incinerator. Seven PFI incinerators are planned for Yorkshire and this precedent could vastly improve the health and employment prospects of Yorkshire.

“Recycling creates more jobs than incineration and is far more healthier for people.”

Shlamo Dowen, from the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), said would-be incinerator operators were starting to think twice.

“They’re under assault from all sides now,” he said. “People are questioning the viability of their technology, there’s no quick return on the investment and demand has dropped.

“The decision in Norfolk will have a knock-on effect and further disillusion investors. They can no longer take at face value the claims of the operators.

“Some plans for incinerators have been rumbling on now for 16-20 years.”

But councils waved away the protests and vowed to press ahead with incinerator plans.

A spokesman for Leeds City Council said of the Norfolk decision: “There’s no question of that happening in Leeds, all the funding for Cross Green has been finalised.”

David Bowe, Corporate Director of Business and Environmental Services at North Yorkshire County Council, said: “We are confident that our proposed solution for the long term management of waste in North Yorkshire offers a strategic fit with the aspirations of the Government’s Waste Policy.

“The North Yorkshire and York Waste PFI continues to benefit from Government support through Waste Infrastructure Credits. Defra and Treasury have scrutinised the project at key stages and remain content to support it.”