The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has called-in an application to vary the planning conditions for an incinerator proposed by Clean Power Properties for Corby, Northamptonshire. This means that the controversial proposals will be considered by a Planning Inspector at a Public Inquiry where evidence will be heard. The Inspector will then produce a report offering recommendations and the final decision will be made by the Secretary of State.

Gasification and pyrolysis are troubled technologies that have so far proven particularly unsuited to treating mixed waste. Companies proposing gasification and/or pyrolysis facilities often espouse their unwavering confidence in their proposed technology and make bold claims regarding benefits without citing evidence of such technology configurations having worked elsewhere. When evidence is produced showing that their proposed technologies have actually failed elsewhere, these would-be incinerator operators typically respond by going for newer and even more experimental technologies that have yet to be shown not to work.

There are also numerous examples of would-be operators being eager to point to existing and emerging demonstrator plants and claiming that they are proposing the same thing to make their technology sound like a safe bet, but as soon as those plants they cited start to fail (e.g. Isle of Wight,  Dargavel, Avonmouth, Tees Valley) then they suddenly try to explain how of course their proposal could not be more dissimilar to the one from which they had previously tried to draw credibility.

Because companies do not like to talk about their failures, it is often hard to find out what went wrong or what demonstration plants are actually demonstrating. For example, at the recent inquiry for the proposed Bilsthorpe Plasma-arc Gasification facility it was claimed that the applicant was unaware of the details of what was going wrong at Air Products’ Tees Valley plant, but they were still happy to claim that they reckoned that their more experimental variation on the same technology should be assumed to work exactly as they hope.

Getting back to Corby, Clean Power Properties were seeking to drop the Anaerobic Digestion element of their proposal and to move from a pyrolysis technology that had fallen out of favour to a gasification technology that does not have a clear track record. Importantly, even if their proposed gasification plant worked as proposed the facility could be so inefficient that it would fail to meet the R1 Threshold, meaning it could operate as a disposal plant at very the bottom of the waste hierarchy.

The variation application (15/00056/WASVOC) explains how: “…Bouygues (UK) Ltd will be responsible for the operation and the maintenance of the [Shelton Road] facility, with Biomass Power Ltd as the core technology provider…The final technologies for the Proposed Development includes advanced conversion through gasification for RDF, Commercial and Industrial waste, wood and pre-treated mixed source waste”.

The newly proposed technology sounds awfully similar to the description of Trent Development’s proposed Hoddesdon gasification plant that: “Bouygues have designed the plant using core technology from Biomass Power Limited, a UK supplier…It uses refuse-derived fuel (RDF)…which is gasified to produce electricity…”.

According to the environmental permit application for Hoddesdon their facility: “the overall plant design efficiency is 24%, with a corresponding R1 figure of 0.49”. A R1 Factor of 0.49 is significantly below the 0.65 factor associated with a facility that may qualify as ‘recovery’.

In summary, UKWIN’s Grounds of Call-in for the Corby plant were that:

  1. The applicant is asking for the variation application to be dealt with as a recovery facility, but have said that they are currently unable to secure a design-stage R1 Certificate from the Environment Agency. The applicant is attempting to have their proposal decided as if recovery status had been secured, without demonstrating that the proposal would be more likely than not to operate as recovery. Such an approach runs contrary to the recent Lock Street decision, and a raft of local and national policies, as well as the legal precedent.
  2. The proposed facility would not get the most energy out of waste, and this runs contrary to Government waste policy.

According to Corby Borough Council’s call-in request:

“The present application is made under section 73 of the Town and County Planning Act for variations of conditions attaching to permission 13/000791WASFUL. Corby Borough Council considers that this procedure is incorrect and inappropriate because the proposed variations amount to a wholly new application rather than simple variations of an existing permission.

The proposed variations seek to change the use of the site from a pyrolysis plant and anaerobic digestion facility to a gasification plant. This is a materially different use of the site from the original permission and therefore cannot be considered as a variation of condition. The proposed varied building is also clearly different from the original approval, with the substantial differences in dimensions…”

According to the call-in notification from the Planning Inspectorate:

“…The Secretary of State has today called-in this planning application for his own determination. The Government’s policy on call in is to be very selective…In general, planning applications are only called-in if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.”

The call-in letter itself, dated 27th January 2016, states that:

“On the information so far available to the Secretary of State, the matters which he particularly wishes to be informed about for the purposes of his consideration of the application are its consistency with the development plan for the area, its conformity with policies contained in the National Planning Policy for Waste, the National Planning Policy Framework, particularly those relating to climate change, renewable and low carbon energy, and conserving and enhancing the historic environment, and any other matters the Inspector considers relevant.”

This represents yet another in a string of setbacks for Clean Power Properties (CPP), including:

  • Willesden Junction, North West London – Due to the need for clarity on the processes, emissions and HS2 safeguarding issues determination of CPP’s planning application was deferred indefinitely in August 2013.
  • Leeds – CPP was refused planning permission in March 2014. The applicant appealed in October 2014, but days before evidence was due to be submitted, Clean Power Properties withdrew their appeal. CPP subsequently withdrew their environmental permit application in November 2014.
  • Brierley Hill, Dudley – CPP withdrew their planning appeal in May 2014 (and were required to pay costs to the local anti-incineration campaign group). CPP subsequently withdrew their environmental permit application in November 2014.
  • Castleford, West Yorkshire – CPP’s planning application for an amended scheme was refused in June 2014. CPP subsequently withdrew their environmental permit application in November 2014.
  • Eastleigh, Hampshire – CPP withdrew their environmental permit application in November 2014.
  • Thames Haven, Thurrock – CPP withdrew their environmental permit application in December 2014.
  • Washwood Heath, Birmingham – CPP withdrew their environmental permit application in May 2015.
  • Micheldever Station, Hampshire – CPP withdrew their planning appeal in October 2015.

This is yet another setback for gasification technology in general and for Clean Power Properties in particular. Rather than stumbling from one ill-fated incineration technology to another we hope that Clean Power Properties uses this as an opportunity to exit the incineration business altogether and focus instead on sustainable waste management. The future is in the circular economy, so we need to increase recycling and recyclability rather than building yet more unneeded capacity for the ‘residual waste’ that we are working to eliminate.

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