Green light for waste plant will not be end of this bitter battle in a rural idyll

A controversial waste plant’s go-ahead is the biggest planning decision ever taken by councillors in North Yorkshire. Paul Jeeves looks at the implications.

WITH the North York Moors rising up on the horizon and the sought-after village of Marton-cum-Grafton lying nearby, Hundayfield Farm has been an idyllic place that Liz Wilson has called home since she was born.

But when her great-grandfather, John Barton, took on the 300-acre farming business back in 1928, he would never have imagined the bitter and protracted planning battle which would be fought out nearly a century later on the doorstep of his home.

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Mrs Wilson, her husband, Nick, and their twin 17-year-old daughters, Rosie and Rebecca, are among the communities at the eye of the storm over a £250m waste management plant which was this week given planning approval by North Yorkshire County Council.

There has been claim and counter-claim about the merits of the waste facility, which councillors and supporters maintain is vital for managing up to 320,000 tonnes of waste every year that is produced across England’s largest county.

There have also been accusations that the opponents with the strongest voices are simply those living closest by, not wanting the sprawling waste plant to be built near their homes.

But to dismiss the wave of opposition as a simple case of Nimbyism would be to miss the point. Campaigners who have attempted to halt the waste facility from becoming a reality have stressed that the development has implications for every taxpayer among North Yorkshire’s 700,000-strong population.

The plant would be the first of its kind in the country to employ the recycling techniques which are proposed, but the central – and most controversial – element is an incinerator which would burn 80 per cent of all the waste that is brought on site.

Opponents have claimed a £1bn contract to run the plant for 25 years which was awarded by the county council and York Council to a firm, AmeyCespa, nearly two years ago in December 2010 is far too rigid as new technologies could be developed to supersede the waste plant.

And for Mr Wilson, the county council’s decision to grant permission on Tuesday during what is thought to be the longest ever planning meeting in the authority’s 38-year history has made a mockery of local democracy.

Mr Wilson, 52, who himself was a member of Harrogate Borough Council up until 2007 and a parish councillor for 17 years, said: “Local people have been accused of Nimbyism, but it is about the strength of the argument against and not who is saying it.

“The council itself has made a big play of going out to public consultation, which by its very definition should be about consulting with local communities.

“If the people who are being consulted say they don’t want the waste plant, then surely it should not have been given the go-ahead.”

Mrs Wilson, 47, told the Yorkshire Post many local people had not been swayed by the arguments for and against the waste plant until they had gleaned a fuller picture – but the vast majority are now firmly opposed.

She added: “We have no intention of moving away, I have my roots here and hopefully this will be home for the family for generations to come. But the waste plant is simply the wrong solution to dealing with North Yorkshire’s waste.”

There can be no denying that there have been strong arguments against building the scheme.

Concerns have been raised about the traffic which will be generated on the already congested roads around Allerton Park, the existing quarry and landfill site earmarked for the development between York and Harrogate. It is expected there could already be as many as 302 heavy goods vehicles coming in and out of the site daily during the first year of operation.

There are also fears over the risk to human health from the incinerator’s emissions. Council officials have said the burning of waste will generate enough energy for about 40,000 homes, although they admit emissions would be the equivalent of pollution created by traffic along a seven-mile stretch of the A1. However, there have been no objections raised by the Health Protection Agency.

Opponents have claimed the plant should be built closer to a major town or city so the incinerator’s heat can be used to warm nearby buildings – mirroring practices which are already widely used on the Continent.

Directors from AmeyCespa have said there is the potential to use heat from the plant for homes, businesses and council buildings in nearby Knaresborough, but campaigners are far from convinced the plans are viable.

The need for incineration has been called into question, with the continuing drive towards recycling undermining the amount of waste which will be available to actually burn.

Mr and Mrs Wilson’s daughter, Rosie, gave an eloquent speech to the planning committee on Tuesday, in which she argued the Government has called for a zero-waste economy, based on the principles of “reduce, re-use and recycle”.

She stated advancements in technology will “deliver the aspirations of zero-waste”, which would not be achieved through the use of incineration.

But perhaps the strongest argument against the waste plant has been over its financial viability. Campaigners and politicians including Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams and his parliamentary colleague Andrew Jones, who represents the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency, have stated the financial model is deeply flawed.

Harrogate Borough Council has lodged two formal objections to the scheme to the county council, but the decision to grant planning permission was granted nonetheless.

The mantra among campaigners, who collected a 10,000-signature petition against the proposed waste plant, is that they are confident they can argue the case against to an independent planning inspector if Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles calls in the scheme for a public inquiry.

Mr Jones said: “More recycling means that there will be no need for drastic means of waste disposal such as incineration. There are new methods of separating waste for recycling and waste is now viewed very much as a resource.

“The answer to our waste problem is not simply to burn it.”

But councillors and AmeyCespa’s officials remain adamant the incinerator is vital to coping with North Yorkshire’s waste – and preventing local authorities from being hammered by landfill taxes.

The county council’s executive member for waste disposal, Chris Metcalfe, said: “(Planning approval) marks the start of us being able to move away from landfilling our waste to a sustainable long-term solution which generates green electricity.

“The contract with AmeyCespa will give us over £240m in savings on the costs of doing nothing different with our waste – welcome news indeed in this time of severely-reduced council budgets.”

His counterpart on York Council, the cabinet member for environmental services, Coun David Levene, stated the cost to both authorities will be up to £1.7bn over the next 25 years if the status quo is maintained.

When asked whether he would be happy to have the waste plant built close to his home, AmeyCespa’s project director, Bill Jarvis, claimed he would have no problem with the development.

He added: “This was always going to be an emotive issue, and protest groups have raised concerns. But we have remained committed to public consultations, and we will continue to be. I do believe this is the best option, otherwise we would not have invested so much time and effort in the project. Local communities need to take responsibility for their waste, and we have come up with a responsible and effective solution to dealing with it.”

Hopes pin on public inquiry

OPPONENTS are pinning their hopes that the decision to grant planning permission for the Allerton Waste Recovery Park will be overturned at a public inquiry.

But if given the go-ahead, construction could begin next year before the plant is operational in 2015. It will create 70 jobs at a quarry and landfill site next to the A1M near Knaresborough. The plant, a joint venture between North Yorkshire County Council and York Council, aims to recycling at least 50 per cent of waste by 2020. It will use mechanical sorting and anaerobic digestion to produce green energy, although the incinerator is the most contentious element of the overall scheme, projected to save taxpayers up to £320m over 25 years.