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Pickles rejects Sherwood Forest incinerator

Following a public inquiry, the Secretary of State Eric Pickles has refused planning permission for Veolia’s proposed 180,000 tonne waste incinerator in Rainworth, Nottinghamshire. The public inquiry, which was presided over by Inspector Rupert Grantham, opened in October 2009 and was adjourned twice at the request of Veolia to allow them time to submit further evidence.

The greenfield site, owned by UK Coal and subject to a planning condition requiring restoration to heathland and woodland, is in the heart of Sherwood Forest, and is used by rare and protected bird species such as woodlark and nightjar.

Local campaign group People Against Incineration (PAIN) were joined by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and Newark & Sherwood District Council in opposing the application at the public inquiry. There was also a community evening where local residents voiced their opposition to the incinerator.

In the Planning Inspector’s view:

Veolia have failed to show use of the Rufford facility would not prejudice further movement up the waste hierarchy…Recognition that the site is not previously developed land would have ruled it out at an early stage in the site selection process. I have also identified significant shortcomings in the subsequent assessment of this and other shortlisted sites. To my mind, the appraisal of alternative sites has not been robust.

PAIN’s Chairman, Bernard Thompson, said:

This is a happy day for the people of Rainworth, and for all who care about Sherwood Forest. I would like to thank everyone involved. Local support remained solid over many years of campaigning. We have utmost respect for the Planning Inspector, Mr Rupert Grantham, who treated all parties fairly and arrived at the right conclusion.

Shlomo Dowen, who gave evidence on behalf of PAIN at the inquiry, said:

It is unfortunate that Veolia and Nottinghamshire County Council have squandered so much time and public money on this misadventure. Now that this distraction is over PAIN looks forward to working with our County Council to ensure that Nottinghamshire’s ever-decreasing quantity of waste is managed sustainably.

Newark & Sherwood District Councillor Linda Tift said:

I am overjoyed to hear that this beloved site will be protected from development. The site is clearly important to nature conservation and is surrounded by Sites of Special Scientific Interest. I hope that UK Coal will now honour their promise to return the site to heathland so that the community’s vision for the area to be restored and included in a Sherwood Forest Regional Park can be realised.

Download the Secretary of State’s decision letter and accompanying Planning Inspector’s report

“Highlights” (including excerpts which may be of use in objecting to planning applications for other incinerators) from the Secretary of State’s decision letter, and from the Planning Inspector’s report, include:

From the Planning Inspector’s report:

  • As matters of fact, and by way of background, the application site is within an area (Sherwood Forest) known to support more than 1% of the total UK breeding populations of (woodlark and nightjar) Annex 1 species for the purposes of the Birds Directive. The (2009) East Midlands Regional Plan records that the area is being considered for designation as a Special Protection Area (SPA). The application site itself is known to support breeding woodlark and foraging nightjar…
  • [It is] hard to conclude that the construction and operation of the ERF alone would run no risk of undermining the objective of maintaining both the habitats and populations of these birds within the protected Area.
  • …there is evidence to suggest that, when traffic emissions are also taken into account, the combined effects of the ERF and business park might result in significant harm to Rainworth Heath SSSI as a result of increased nitrogen deposition.
  • …if Sherwood Forest were to be identified as a pSPA/SPA, permission for the ERF should not be granted unless no alternative solutions are available and imperative reasons of overriding public interest indicate that the scheme should go ahead. However, it is not suggested that such reasons apply here.
  • …the ERF building would appear as an isolated, but prominent alien feature in the wider rural landscape…
  • …the land at Rufford is already subject to restoration conditions and, whilst the ERF development would provide 36 jobs, the building would represent a massive intrusion into what would otherwise be open countryside…
  • …a particular disadvantage of the ERF scheme is that it would involve the loss of habitat, used by woodlark and nightjar, at a time when the site would otherwise become more attractive to these birds as a result of its restoration. It would also detract from concerted efforts being made to consolidate the patchwork of lowland heath found in this part of Sherwood Forest. This would be at odds with the recognised need for a step change improvement to biodiversity, across the region…
  • The Environmental Statement, submitted in support of the Rufford scheme, indicates that 118 potential sites were originally considered. A desk top study reduced this to 36 by selecting only those sites that were, amongst other things, either allocated for development or previously developed land. Such an approach would be consistent with PPS10 and, on that basis, Rufford should have been screened out at this first stage, but it was not…the appraisal of alternative sites, which has been undertaken, is not robust.
  • …I have found little, if any, support from the development plan for siting an ERF on the former Rufford colliery.
  • …waste incineration is listed as a disposal operation in Annex I of the (2008) Waste Framework Directive. This is below energy recovery in the Directive’s (Article 4) hierarchy.
  • Transposing Regulations were not in force at the time of the Rufford inquiry, but this (2008) Directive sets out to clarify key concepts such as the definitions of recovery and disposal. Indeed, Annex II sets out a non-exhaustive list of recovery operations which include incineration facilities dedicated to the processing of municipal solid waste (MSW), where the energy efficiency is calculated to be at least 0.65. From the available evidence, it is not certain that this level of efficiency would be achieved at Rufford and, for reasons outlined below, it seems highly unlikely that this facility would process only MSW. On that basis, I cannot be confident that operations here would qualify as recovery, but guidance on this aspect of the new legislation has yet to be confirmed.
  • In any event, as PPS10 points out, development control decisions should be consistent with driving waste up the hierarchy and waste disposal should be seen as a last resort, albeit one that must be catered for adequately.
  • Whilst some details of the Nottinghamshire PFI contract remain opaque, I understand that it seeks to ensure that only residual waste is sent for incineration, by defining this as waste “which is not recycled or composted or reused”. In itself, this does nothing to encourage movement of waste up the hierarchy, beyond energy recovery; it simply discourages movement down.
  • The fall in MSW may be due, at least in part, to the effects of the recession. To some extent, it may also reflect the success of policies designed to reduce waste arisings. Whatever the cause, annual monitoring suggests that the amount of MSW requiring management across Nottinghamshire is likely to be considerably less than had been suggested when the ERF application was made.
  • Actual MSW arisings, across the city and county in 2009/10, appear to be more than 140,000 tpa below the (EMRP) expected figure of 710,000 tpa. To my mind this is a significant change and one that is unlikely to have been caused by recessionary effects alone, bearing in mind that household waste per head peaked in 2002/3 and has dropped every year since 2004/5. An upturn in the economy might be expected to slow the observed trend, but not necessarily reverse it.
  • Facilities at Rufford and Eastcroft would provide a potential 330,000 tpa capacity for incinerating MSW. This is considerably more than half of the total (MSW) arisings for the county and city combined which, in 2009/10, amounted to some 566,357 tpa. Indeed, if those arisings were to increase to 600,000 tpa, Eastcroft alone would provide the 25% which Waste Strategy for England 2007 expects energy from waste to account for by 2020.
  • These considerations lead me to conclude that the need for the Rufford ERF cannot sensibly be justified on the basis of MSW arisings alone.
  • Whilst the Rufford environmental permit allows for the incineration of C&I waste that is similar in content to household waste, there is considerable uncertainty over the amount that would be available to the facility. Much C&I waste is potentially recyclable and not all is suitable for incineration.
  • Whilst more green waste is likely to be collected for composting across the county, in future, almost a third of the ERF feedstock is expected to be putrescible. In the circumstances, and despite concerns expressed by the Environment Agency, there would appear to be little prospect of food waste being segregated at source for subsequent composting or anaerobic digestion and, in that respect, use of the ERF would not help implement the national Waste Strategy. This would run contrary to one of PPS10’s key objectives.
  • At Rufford, the available evidence indicates that more than half of the feedstock waste would be recyclable or compostable; that burning paper and plastic would increase the plant’s efficiency; and, that the waste disposal authority might increase efforts to improve recycling levels if planning permission for the ERF were to be refused.
  • It has been suggested that, if the ERF were to be built, there would be a financial disincentive to moving waste further up the hierarchy because of those elements of the costs, associated with the ERF, that would have to be borne by the waste disposal authority in any event. However, it is impossible to establish the true position because contractual details of those costs have been withheld. On that basis, and notwithstanding the clear hierarchical benefits of landfill diversion to the ERF, it could reasonably be argued that Veolia have failed to show that use of the Rufford facility would not prejudice further movement up the waste hierarchy.
  • PPS1(S) encourages the provision of energy generating facilities that would contribute towards reducing carbon emissions; this would include the Rufford ERF. Also, the (2010) revised draft National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3) points out that a proportion of the biodegradable waste feedstock may be classified as “renewable” for the purposes of Renewable Obligation Certificates. However, for the purposes of PPS1(S), this direct incineration plant would be classified as low-carbon technology and, as such, it would not benefit from the concessions made to renewable energy schemes in terms of landscape impact or the need to justify them. Nor would it fall to be considered against the emerging (EN-3) policy for nationally significant renewable energy infrastructure.
  • …the Rufford ERF would not secure the highest resource and energy efficiency, nor the greatest reduction in carbon emissions.
  • As outlined above, the former Rufford colliery is not allocated for development. It is in the open countryside and away from Rainworth. However, the ERF would be prominent in residents’ views and it would detract from their enjoyment of the area. It would also undermine efforts being made to develop Sherwood Forest as a tourist destination, because of the harm that would be caused to the rural landscape. This is clearly at odds with the need to protect the countryside for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty, so that it may be enjoyed by all.
  • PPS7 recognises the importance of considering employment alongside matters such as protection of the environment. However, the ERF would provide only 36 jobs, whereas the development’s impact on the countryside, and people’s enjoyment of it, would be substantial.
  • Some local residents doubt the Environment Agency’s ability to protect people. Nevertheless, that organisation is responsible for pollution control and, in accordance with relevant government policy (PPS23 paragraph 10), I rely on the Agency to ensure that air quality meets standards that are designed to guard against impacts on human health.
  • In relation to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, I see no reason to believe that the ERF poses a real and immediate risk to life, or that the permit conditions would not be properly enforced. There are fears that people living near to incinerators suffer an increased risk of cancer, but Waste Strategy 2007 (at paragraph 22 of chapter 5) points to research which has shown no credible evidence of this. Further reassurance is provided by the Nottinghamshire County Teaching Primary Care Trust and by the Health Protection Agency, who confirm that emissions from properly regulated modern MSW incinerators should have little effect on health.
  • In the circumstances, whilst I recognise that residents are genuinely concerned about the possible health effects of the proposed ERF, I do not believe that those concerns should carry great weight in the Secretary of State’s determination of the application.
  • Uncontested evidence suggests that the proposed ERF would be a net producer of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and that it is therefore necessary, under European law, to give priority consideration to alternative processes that would not generate and release these substances. This would appear to a matter for the planning regime, rather than the pollution control authority.
  • The implications of the law are not for me to decide. Nevertheless, this argument lends weight to the suggestion that the application should be refused so that more waste, which would otherwise be incinerated, could be recycled, composted or fed to an anaerobic digester.
  • Recognition that the site is not previously developed land would have ruled it out at an early stage in the site selection process. I have also identified significant shortcomings in the subsequent assessment of this and other shortlisted sites. To my mind, the appraisal of alternative sites has not been robust.
  • It has been argued that there is no requirement to demonstrate the need for this facility. That would certainly be the case if the proposals were consistent with an up-to date development plan; but they are not. Considerations of need are not ruled out by PPS10 in the current case.
  • More could be done to recycle or compost the waste. The viability of this is unclear, because details of the PFI contract have been withheld, but it becomes relevant if the proposed incineration facility does not qualify as a recovery operation. In that event, Veolia would have failed to demonstrate that the ERF development would not prejudice further movement up the waste hierarchy. This would be contrary to PPS10.
  • The ERF would be classified as low-carbon technology for the purposes of the Planning and Climate Change Supplement to PPS1. It would not be a renewable energy scheme and it would not necessarily represent the best available waste management solution, but it would help to reduce carbon emissions. However, the potential for moving waste by rail has been largely ignored and there is no certainty that the scheme would provide combined heat and power (CHP).
  • The fact that the incinerator would be a net producer of persistent organic pollutants does appear to be a material planning consideration. It adds weight to the argument for greater source separation, recycling and composting of the waste.
  • Veolia draw support for the ERF from recent (2010) DEFRA correspondence which outlines the basis for the departmental approval that was given to the Nottinghamshire waste PFI project. Various features are attributed to the project, although it is not clear whose analysis this is based on. The letter concludes that the project “continues to be consistent with Government policy”, but there is no indication of which policy is being referred to. In the circumstances, it has had no bearing on my consideration of the planning merits of the ERF proposals.
  • On balance I am led to conclude that, whilst it is better to use waste as a resource for energy, rather than landfill, the sustainability benefits of this particular proposal are insufficient to outweigh the evident conflict with the development plan’s requirements and the potential for harm to the integrity of habitat used by breeding woodlark and nightjar.
  • I recommend that planning permission for the proposed development be refused.

From the Secretary of State (for Communities and Local Government) Decision Letter:

  • The Inspector recommended that planning permission be refused. For the reasons given below, the Secretary of State agrees with his recommendation.
  • The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions on nature conservation…For the reasons set out by the Inspector at IR1105-1106, the Secretary of State agrees that, whilst the application site is within an area not currently identified as a Special Protection Area, there is merit in following a (Conservation of Habitats and Species) Regulation 61 approach towards considering the impact of the ERF scheme on the use of this area by the identified Annex 1 bird species (a “risk based approach”)…the potential for harm to the integrity of habitat used by woodlark and nightjar weighs significantly against the proposal.
  • The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions on landscape and visual impact…He agrees that the ERF building would appear as an isolated, but prominent alien feature in the wider rural landscape, and that it would clearly intrude into the openness of the countryside.
  • …the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions on the development plan…
  • …the Secretary of State does not consider that exceedence of “capacity” per se in policy 38 is necessarily inconsistent. However, he does consider that where ERF facilities are proposed in areas which are not specifically identified for such use, as is the case here, then PPS10 paragraphs 24 and 25 come into play. In such respects it is necessary to be consistent with PPS10…
  • …the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the appraisal of alternative sites was not robust.
  • The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions on PPS10…except with respect to the specific point identified below. He agrees with the Inspector that given that the proposal is not consistent with an up-to-date plan, considerations of need are not ruled out in this case. He also agrees that the availability of landfill capacity does not add any urgency to this proposal, although he recognises that local authorities are required to divert biodegradable municipal waste from landfill under the EU Landfill Directive.
  • As for whether the proposal should be deemed waste disposal rather than recovery, the Secretary of State has had regard to the lack of guidance in support of the definition of recovery operation R1 under Annex II of the EU Waste Framework Directive. He is content that, on the basis of the information available to him, including the amount of electricity that would be generated from the amount of waste feedstock, this particular proposal would generate energy from waste rather than be classified as a disposal operation in line with PPS10.
  • The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions on sustainable development under the terms of PPS1 and PPS7…He agrees that the proposal would not be a renewable energy scheme and it would not necessarily represent the best available waste management solution, but it would help to reduce carbon emissions. He also agrees that it would be harmful to the landscape. He therefore concludes that the proposal would result in movement up the waste hierarchy and help divert waste from landfill, and that this is a factor in favour of the scheme.
  • …the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that in the circumstances of this case the concerns of residents regarding health effects should not carry great weight in his determination of the application.
  • On the matter of persistent organic pollutants, the Secretary of State has not been able to consider this matter in detail, given the limited evidence available. However, as he has decided not to grant planning permission for this proposal, for reasons unrelated to this matter, he has not found it necessary to conclude on this particular issue in order to determine this application.
  • There are a number of factors weighing against the proposal. These include; that the Secretary of State cannot be satisfied that it would not harm the integrity of the area; that it would appear as an alien feature and intrude on the openness of the countryside; and that the site is due to be restored to woodland and heathland and is not allocated for development.
  • Factors weighing in favour of the proposal include, that it would result in movement up the waste hierarchy, and would help to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Overall the Secretary of State considers that the proposal conflicts with the development plan and national plan policies in a number of respects, and though there are material considerations in favour of the proposal, these are not sufficient to outweigh the identified conflict.
  • Accordingly, for the reasons given above, the Secretary of State hereby refuses planning permission for the construction and operation of a waste combustion/Energy Recovery Facility together with ancillary infrastructure, including a waste bulking/transfer station, administration/visitor centre, landscaping and creation of new internal haul road, on land at the former Rufford Colliery, Rainworth, Nottinghamshire, NG21 0ET, in accordance with application reference 3/07/01793/CMW, dated 29 November 2007.

One thought on “Pickles rejects Sherwood Forest incinerator

  1. Rob Whittle (NAIL2)

    This is excellent news for PAIN, Shlomo and Rainworth locals who have proved their case comprehensively to the planning inspector and the Secretary of State. Residual waste should considered primarily as a resource, not a fuel as per Veolia, and future facilities must look at smaller resource recovery (whether mechanical or ZW parks) – and local authorities like Nottinghamshire and their officers should listen to locals as to what facilities/ technology they wish, as opposed to black box generated burners.

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