Milestone as £460m city waste agreement is signed

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A CONTROVERSIAL deal has been signed for a £460m contract to process a Yorkshire city’s waste throughout the next quarter of a century which opponents have claimed will undermine efforts to boost recycling.

It was announced yesterday that Leeds City Council has signed the contract with a multi-national company, Veolia, to build and run the West Yorkshire city’s proposed incinerator.

Council bosses said the official awarding the contract to Veolia ES Aurora Ltd marked another milestone in plans to deal with waste and increase recycling rates. The proposed plant, which will generate electricity and is officially called a recycling and energy recovery facility, is to be built on the former wholesale market site in Cross Green.

Opponents have argued the site is too close to homes and maintain there are better alternatives to incineration to deal with the waste. However, supporters have insisted the scheme will provide Leeds with a long-term solution to waste going to landfill. The council’s landfill tax bill last year was £9.2m and this is set to increase by about £1.5m every year.

The council’s director of environment and neighbourhoods, Neil Evans, said: “As part of the council’s overall waste strategy, the facility will play a big part in increasing recycling and moving Leeds away from burying waste in landfill.

“Signing the contract was the next step in our timetable to provide the city with a long-term solution that turns waste into a valuable resource.”

The 25-year Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project will cost the council a total of about £460m, and Veolia was selected as the preferred bidder on January 23. It is estimated the incinerator will save the council £200m over the 25 years compared to the costs of continuing to landfill household waste.

If planning permission is granted – the application is due to be determined by the council next year – all of Leeds’s black bin waste will be sorted at the facility to remove metal, paper, cardboard and plastics for recycling. Up to 214,000 tonnes of waste a year will be sorted at the facility and leftover rubbish will be burned under tightly controlled conditions to generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes. Building work is due start next summer and the plant would be operational by 2016.

The announcement comes after another major waste management plant in the region has moved a huge step towards becoming a reality. North Yorkshire County Council gave planning permission on Tuesday last week for a £250m facility at Allerton Park between York and Harrogate following a marathon six-and-a-half hour debate. The move signalled the biggest ever planning decision which the council has taken in its 38-year history and has been heralded as vital to dealing with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste each year from across England’s largest county.

Opponents have claimed the financial model is deeply flawed and a £1bn contract to run the plant is too rigid as new technologies could be developed to supersede the facility. But councillors and AmeyCespa, the firm handed the contract, remain adamant the incinerator is vital to and prevent both North Yorkshire County Council and York Council from being hammered by landfill taxes.

The ultimate decision as to whether the facility is built rests with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who could call in the scheme for a public inquiry.