It costs £900m, its chimney would be 70 metres high and it has united more than 10,000 people in opposition.
The Harrogate Advertiser series has launched the Waste of Money campaign – urging the authority to think again on its costly and environmentally damaging scheme, which is opposed by 45 town and parish councils as well as the town’s MP.
We are giving readers the chance to give their views by voting in our online poll, to the right of this article. The results will be published on page 14 of Thursday’s Harrogate Advertiser.
The project to build an incinerator at Allerton near Knaresborough, which has been inching its way through the machinery of local government for the past six years, may be billed as a “waste recovery” venture, but its many vocal critics point that it would burn the vast majority of its waste.
That may have had some environmental merit when the scheme was conceived in 2006, but given the exponential growth of the green tech industry over the past half-decade, it is horribly out of step.
So just imagine how backwards the idea will seem in the year 2037, when the 25-year contract between the council and waste management firm AmeyCespa would finally lapse.
There are other shortcomings too. The need for the plant is based on the amount of waste the county currently produces: the 50 per cent that is not yet recycled.
That figure will surely change over the next 25 years, since some counties already recycle 70 per cent of their waste.
The wording of the contract suggests the taxpayer may have to compensate AmeyCespa if the levels of waste fall too far short.
Crucially, North Yorkshire County Council, which initiated the project, will also have the final decision on whether it goes ahead. While the authority has claimed impartiality at every turn, saying its planning committee would never dream of simply waving through a proposal backed by its executive, this simply cannot be allowed. An objective third party must have the final say.
When the Advertiser series looked at the incinerator in depth earlier this year, we were struck by the scale, volume and variety of the objections to the proposals, from local residents to environmental campaigners and politicians.
Speaking in February, Steve Wright, chairman of the North Yorkshire Waste Action Group (NYWAG), said the incinerator would cost taxpayers £400m more than the more environmentally friendly and much less wasteful alternative.
“It’s really important to understand that North Yorkshire County Council is not impartial in considering whether to grant planning permission for the incinerator,” he added.
“They have described their relationship with AmeyCespa, the company making the planning application, as a ‘partnership’. We think it is wrong that the decision should be made by a body that has a vested interest in the outcome. That’s why we want the planning application called in by Government and decided by an independent planning inspector.”
But the cost of the plant, the pollution it would cause and the decision-making process are not the only issues that have inspired more than 10,000 people to sign NYWAG’s petition opposing the incinerator.
NYWAG believes that more than 80 per cent of the waste handled at the plant would simply be burnt. “That’s a terrible waste of a valuable resource, which elsewhere in the country is being recycled into new paper, plastics, metals and even soil improver for farmers,” Mr Wright said.
“What’s more, the contract is for 25 years, so it commits North Yorkshire until 2030 to burn material that could be recycled now – leave aside reused even more effectively as technology improves in coming years.
“And the plant doesn’t even make use of the heat it generates – there are no buildings nearby that can use the heat so instead it’s just being wasted by being vented into the atmosphere.”
As well as the financial, recycling and sustainability arguments against the incinerator, NYWAG shares the views of others opposing the scheme that the plan doesn’t make any sense on a range of other grounds.
“Government policy says waste should be treated near where it arises and 96 per cent of those questioned in a survey undertaken by North Yorkshire County Council backed treating waste locally to keep heavy traffic off our roads,” said Mr Wright. “But this proposal would see waste from all corners of the county being transported by lorry to Allerton Park.
“That’s something like 3,000,000km of lorry journeys every year. It’s inevitable that will add to congestion, result in road traffic deaths and injuries, and add to emission of carbon and other exhaust pollutants.
“There is also the visual impact of a 70m-high chimney and a visible plume up to 300m long, which will be clearly visible from tens of miles away. English Heritage has described the visual impact on the nearby Grade I listed Allerton Castle and its surrounding parkland as ‘severe’.
“It is taller than York Minster and would be the most visible landmark in the Vale of York. It’s a completely alien feature in a rural landscape; yet you could build a Thermal MBT plant at Allerton Park and not know it was there!”
“The bottom line is the incinerator is too costly, too big, too wasteful and completely unnecessary if the greener alternatives were properly considered,” he added.
MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Andrew Jones, who is also against the plans, said: “The incinerator at Allerton Park is a significant proposal that was always likely to meet a lot of resistance in the community.
“To proceed would lock North Yorkshire into what many see as outdated technology for the next 25 years and for which there are cheaper and more efficient alternatives available. Also, most projections point to the proposed facility being far too large to handle the amount of waste North Yorkshire will generate.”
Last October, the Advertiser met protestors outside a county council meeting that concerned the plans. Ruth Child, from Green Hammerton, said the waste wagons and chimney emissions would blight the area around Allerton Park, while Harold Dunning, of Grange Farm in Whixley, said the proposals would “spoil this lovely part of Yorkshire” and he had concerns about the large amount of ash the incinerator would produce.
Environmental campaigner Emily Diamand, from Friends of the Earth, said the plans were outdated and short-sighted. “I feel really strongly against a waste disposal programme which is not aimed at increasing recycling, it’s just aimed at burning our rubbish,” she said.
“This is going to lock us into a form of technology which is really old fashioned and old hat.
“Our campaign isn’t nimbyism, it’s not just that we don’t want an incinerator in our backyard – it’s really important that Harrogate improves recycling.”
Company defends facility
THE company behind the waste incerator project says it would increase the county’s recycling, save taxpayers money and reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill.
Bill Jarvis, project director at AmeyCespa, told the Advertiser in February that the Allerton Waste Recovery Park would address the county’s waste problem, using state-of-the-art technologies to increase recycling and create energy, while making a significant cost saving for taxpayers and reducing North Yorkshire’s reliance on landfill by at least 90 per cent.
Mr Jarvis said: “You may have heard claims that it is too expensive or that there are other, cheaper alternatives – these are simplistic comments and the alternatives suggested, without exception, only offer a partial solution,” he said.
“Of course, Allerton Waste Recovery Park is a major new development and, with any new development, questions will be raised about the proposals, particularly by those living close to the proposed site.
“Some people say it is too big, or there won’t be enough waste to fill the facility, or the contract is too long.
“ None of these are true. In actual fact, the Allerton Waste Recovery Park has been designed specifically as a local solution for local waste.” volumes of household waste produced in North Yorkshire and there will be no need to bring additional rubbish from outside the area.”
Mr Jarvis said that if more household waste was recycled in the future, or household waste volumes fell, the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of commercial waste produced in North Yorkshire every year would continue to feed the incinerator.
Mr Jarvis said AmeyCespa had consulted widely with the local community and hoped to provide them with a vital, cost-saving service, creating around 400 jobs during construction and 70 when the site was operational.