On the 2nd of June Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council will meet to determine whether or not to support the ARC 21 decision to refer the former Minister of the Environment’s Notice of Opinion to refuse planning permission for an Energy From Waste plant at Hightown Road in Mallusk to the Planning Appeals Commission.
The Minister’s opinion to refuse was based on two factors
1. The proposal is contrary to the DOE’s PPS 11 in that it has not been clearly demonstrated that the proposed method of treatment will not result in harm to human health.
2. The proposal would result in an additional waste treatment facility that is not considered necessary in light of other approved developments in the region and would run contrary to the program of encouraging recycling through “zero waste”.
The Planning Appeals Commission does not have the power to overturn the Minister’s opinion, their purpose is to determine whether the Minister’s reasons are robust and justifiable.
Confirmation of a planning refusal/approval would still be required from the current Minister irrespective of the decision of the PAC yet their involvement is considered a vital part of the process.
Clear grounds to challenge the Minister’s reasons exist both in terms of the advice provided to him in advance of his decision by Government Departments locally and also international best practice.
The use of incineration to thermally treat municipal waste is a common and accepted practice across Europe. It is considered a safe and environmentally acceptable treatment option. The Health Protection Agency in the UK has determined that the process has such a limited and immeasurable impact on air quality that trying to measure the impact of such a facility on public health serves no useful purpose.
“The Health Protection Agency has reviewed research undertaken to examine the suggested links between emissions from municipal waste incinerators and effects on health. While it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects from modern, well regulated municipal waste incinerators with complete certainty, any potential damage to the health of those living close-by is likely to be very small, if detectable. This view is based on detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that modern and well managed municipal waste incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants. The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has reviewed recent data and has concluded that there is no need to change its previous advice, namely that any potential risk of cancer due to residency near to municipal waste incinerators is exceedingly low and probably not measurable by the most modern techniques. Since any possible health effects are likely to be very small, if detectable, studies of public health around modern, well managed municipal waste incinerators are not recommended.”
The Impact on Health of Emissions to Air from Municipal Waste Incinerators, Health Protection Agency (September 2009)
On the 12th January 2016 Tim Irwin Director of the DOE Environmental Policy Division wrote to Carol Ramsey Director Strategic Planning Division in response to a query about the need for additional thermal treatment capacity. He stated:
“Since the issue of the Notice of Opinion, the publication of the EU Commission Communication on the Circular Economy, on 2 December 2015, has signalled a significant shift in the future direction of travel for waste management. Proposals to increase recycling rates from the current requirement of 50% by 2020 to 65% by 2030 coupled with a reduction in the permitted waste to landfill, down from 35% by 2020 to 10% by 2030, will have a major impact on our waste infrastructure requirements.
While it is clear that the required increase in recycling rate from 50% to 65% would reduce the treatment tonnage and thus the overall residual treatment infrastructure needed, the significant reduction in waste to landfill from 35% to 10% has a disproportionate effect the other way, that is to say more treatment capacity would be required.
A rough assessment of the impact of the Commission proposals would suggest that the requirement for thermal capacity would expand from the present estimate of between 200,000 – 305,000 tonnes to around 668,000 – 759,000 tonnes, that is to say around two to three times the current assessed need.” (copy attached)
In referring to “other approved developments in the region” in his opinion the Minister will have included the approved EFW plant at Bombardier.
The Environmental Statement included in the application for the Construction and operation of a combined heat and power generating station for the treatment of refuse derived fuel (RDF) at Bombardier states
3. Section 4 page 23;
“Finally, arc21 has sought clarification as to the Applicant’s position that it is proposed to treat some MSW as market demands. As MSW includes C&I waste it is assumed that arc21 is seeking confirmation on how and if the applicant intends to process RDF from local authority collected waste. For clarity, the proposal is not reliant on Local Authority collected waste as demonstrated above and does not seek to compete with the arc21 Becon Project at Hightown for such material.
Comments as to MSW are included for robustness in light of legislative changes which define C&I waste as under the MSW umbrella.”
4. Section 5 Page 4;
“As set out in Chapter 4, the Applicant is aware that arc21 has, in conjunction with the Becon Consortium, commenced pre-application discussions in respect of the proposed waste treatment facility at Hightown Quarry for both a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant and an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant. It is intended that the Bombardier facility will rely primarily on RDF comprised of C&I waste arisings which will be sourced from NWP and IRS at their Glenside and Duncrue facilities, respectively. The Applicant does not therefore anticipate that the Bombardier scheme would compromise or hinder an arc21 scheme.”
It is the right of a private sector operator to modify its intended commercial operation and having done so there has been extensive lobbying to the effect that the Bombardier plant can treat all of the municipal waste in the Arc 21 region thereby removing the need for the Becon proposal at Hightown Road. A number of elected representatives from various parties have repeated publically that the municipal waste from Arc 21 should go to the Bombardier plant. This raises a number of issues:
· the operators of the plant at Bombardier have not entered any commercial tendering process to treat Arc 21 waste,
· such a process would only be started with the collapse of the current process,
· companies linked to the proposed facility at Bombardier are actively engaged in opposing the Arc 21 proposal,
· those elected representatives who have advocated that Bombardier should have the contract for the thermal treatment of municipal waste could be deemed to have a conflict of interest when determining the next stages of the process,
· as per the DOE assessment of the impact of the Circular Economy Communication the development of both the Bombardier and Hightown Road sites to thermally treat municipal waste will not be enough to meet demand.
Individuals who have advocated the awarding of a contract to a private interest and then proceeding to take decisions which collapse a 10 year £10 million procurement process which subsequently facilitates the awarding of such a contract to that private sector interest could be at risk of significant reputational damage.
Arc 21 and its member councils have a £1 million contingent liability to the bidder in the event that the planning application fails, though it is to be expected that the contingent liability agreement was negotiated based on all parties acting in good faith.
Some elected representatives have queried the proposed length and/or cost of the contract and view the decision on supporting the appeal to PAC as an opportunity to halt the process on economic grounds. This is a difficult decision to justify given that contract negotiations and the development of the final business case will only commence once planning approval has been obtained. ARC21 and each of its constituent councils will have opportunities to consider the awarding of the contract on financial and value for money grounds over the next few months, this is not the final decision point and collapsing the process at this point would be premature.
In summary, should the Minister’s reasons for his opinion to refuse the application stand unchallenged then approving any future private or municipal proposals for thermal treament will be extremely difficult potentially leading to significantly higher waste management costs. Antrim and Newtownabbey will be committing all partner councils to the payment of a minimum £1 million liability without exhausting due process. Elected representatives from all parties who have advocated for a private sector alternative have introduced doubt into the decision making process and on the basis of value for money consideration the decision point on this issue comes later in the process and no decision can be taken on this point, at this stage, in the absence of a negotiated contract and business case clearly detailing cost.
There is clearly a difference of opinion between government agencies and most councils on one side who believe we have an urgent need to increase thermal treatment capacity and private sector interests on the other who contend current capacity can cope with demand. The risk to local government is that in taking the wrong option we increase our costs of waste management and hence our rates by many millions of pounds. We all need an independent authoritative voice which can review the arguments either way and determine which is correct. That independent voice is the Planning Appeals Commission, this is the process to determine the factual position, we all need to hear their view; the risk to local government is too great not to.