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New Barnfield refusal: Another victory for common sense!

Local campaigners celebrating the New Barnfield victory.
Mick Bee and other local campaigners celebrating the New Barnfield victory.

The Secretary of State has agreed with the Planning Inspector to refuse planning consent for the 380ktpa incinerator proposed by Veolia for Hertfordshire. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: “Development within the green belt will not be allowed unless there are very special circumstances, and in this case, the benefits of the development did not outweigh the potential harm to the green belt”.

This joins the other refusal decisions by the Secretary of State for the incinerators proposed at Twinwoods (Milton Ernest, Bedfordshire), Rainworth (Nottinghamshire), and Middlewich (Cheshire).

The refusal also joins other anti-incineration decisions this year, including:

  • Hampshire County Council’s June 2014 decision to refuse planning permission Clean Power Properties’ proposal for a 100ktpa pyrolysis-type incinerator at Micheldever Station.
  • Leeds City Council’s March 2014 decision to refuse planning permission for a 128ktpa pyrolysis-type incinerator proposed by Clean Power Proposes for Bridgewater Road, Cross Green, Leeds
  • SAS Waste Ltd’s January 2014 decision to withdraw their appeal for a proposed 30ktpa gasification-type waste wood incinerator proposed for Redhill Road (Cobham, Surrey) which was refused planning permission by Surrey County Council in February 2013.
  • R Plevin & Sons Limited’s decision not to appeal the 22ktpa biomass waste wood incinerator proposed for Elkesley (Retford, Nottinghamshire) that was refused planning permission by Nottinghamshire County Council in September 2013.

Reactions from local campaigners

Celebrations in front of Hertfordshire County Hall
Celebrations in front of Herts County Hall

The campaign against the ill-considered incinerator proposed for New Barnfield brought together a range of brave individuals and UKWIN member groups who invested a lot of time and energy into making the case against the proposal and working to help secure the refusal, including Hatfield Against Incineration (HAI), Herts. WithOut Waste (HertsWOW), Welwyn Hatfield Friends of the Earth.

The proposal was also opposed by various others, including English Heritage, North Mymms District Green Belt Society, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, and the New Barnfield Action Fund (NBAF).

Mick Bee (HertsWOW) said: “This is not the end it is the beginning – and a wonderful opportunity to rethink waste handling in Hertfordshire. This decision has instantly saved Herts ratepayers more than half a billion pounds over the next twenty five years (the cost of using the refused Veolia incinerator at New Barnfield over alternative methods). Now we have much immediate work to steer the authority away from knee jerk solutions and then towards better, more responsible and future proof ones”.

rally-outside-HCC-County-Hall3MediumJohn Webb (HertsWOW) said: “UKWIN gave us essential help to focus on the vital issues at each stage toward this tremendous result. Now we need to seize the initiative to get our County Council to work out a sustainable way ahead”.

Paul Zukowskyj (HAI) told BOB fm: “I am jumping up and down. I can’t stop smiling! I am just buzzing at this fantastic news. This will invigorate the community and help them realise that they’re not powerless in the face of the bureaucratic monster that is the County Council. They DO have power. They DO have the ability to get things changed in their local areas.”

When asked for a comment, Cathy Roe (HAI) provided the following statement:

IMG_2454 (Large)
Cathy Roe and other local campaigners celebrating the New Barnfield victory.

We thank UKWIN and Shlomo for all their advice and support, leading us through each stage of the campaign, and being available to us whenever we needed help.

Campaigners are very, very pleased that the incinerator plan has been rejected. We now look forward to a better future.

The DCLG has agreed with the decision of Inspector Richards, who led the Public Inquiry in Autumn 2013, that planning permission should not be granted for the incinerator at New Barnfield proposed by Herts County Council and Veolia Environmental Services.

We congratulate all the many, many people who have contributed to this success. It has been a very long campaign and many people have put a massive amount of time and effort into it. The campaign has involved people from the communities near to New Barnfield, and people from across the county. People have worked together whatever their opinions on other issues.

It was clear from the start that the plan for an incinerator at New Barnfield was wrong, as it would be damaging to people and to the environment. Herts County Council should have rejected any suggestion of an incinerator at New Barnfield years ago, before so much time and money was expended needlessly. The ruling group at Herts County Council did not take note of the true facts and did not listen to what the public were telling them.

Now Herts County Council needs to fully implement its own policy for waste – reduce, re-use, re-cycle – and must use methods of waste management that minimise harm to people and planet.

Details of the decision

Highlights from the Secretary of State’s decision letter (DL) and the Inspector’s Report (IR) include:

  • “Though the site of the proposed building is already developed, the Secretary of State also considers that the building’s very large bulk and visual prominence compared with existing structures would be detrimental to the visual perception of the remaining gap between Hatfield and Welham Green. For this reason he considers that the proposed building would be harmful in terms of another of the purposes of the Green Belt – to prevent neighbouring settlements merging into one another” [DL Paragraph 21]
  • “…the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the proposal…fails to pay appropriate attention to the character and appearance of the surroundings, and would be viewed as an alien and intrusive structure in the landscape and surrounding area. Moreover, although the extensive on-site landscaping proposed, including ground modelling and planting, would partially soften the appearance of the building and provide some mitigation by year 15, it could not be wholly effective in view of the scale and prominent siting of the structure” [DL Paragraph 24]
  • “…[The Secretary of State] agrees with the Inspector that parents of children with special needs, and indeed parents in general, may understandably perceive that a large waste treatment facility would be an unsuitable neighbour for a school…” [DL Paragraph 29]
  • “…in view of acknowledged uncertainties over the extent of the market, the costings of the supply network and the timing of provision, [the Secretary of State] also agrees [with the Inspector] that little weight can be attached to the prospects for CHP [combined heat and power] in the overall planning balance” [DL Paragraph 44]
  • “…For the reasons given he agrees that although the proposed development would not absolutely preclude other treatment capacity coming forward on other sites, it would absorb all of the residual local authority collected waste stream and considerable quantities of residual commercial and industrial waste, which may adversely affect the investment prospects for other developments. To that extent, he agrees with the Inspector that to grant planning permission would be highly likely to prejudice the outcome of the WSALDD [Waste Site Allocation Local Development Document] process” [DL Paragraph 47]
  • “The Secretary of State considers that substantial weight should be given to the Green Belt harm by reason of inappropriateness. He considers that the harm to the openness of the Green Belt is real and he gives substantial weight to this harm. He also gives weight to the harm to the perception of a gap between Hatfield and Welham Green in line with the Green Belt aim to prevent neighbouring settlements merging into one another” [DL Paragraph 51]
  • “The Secretary of State considers that there is further significant harm to the character and appearance of the area, and to the amenity of residents and users (particularly the enjoyment of the countryside, the footpath and cycle network, and the outlook from the most affected properties). He considers that there would be significant (though less than substantial) harm to the setting of the ensemble of heritage assets at Hatfield House and Park, and he attaches considerable weight and importance to this harm. Due primarily to the scale of the development, the Secretary of State considers that the mitigation proposals would not be fully effective in mitigating these impacts; that this harm would endure for at least the life of the scheme (c. 25 years); and that the existence of such a large building would be a material factor in considering the future potential of the site at that time…” [DL Paragraph 52]
  • “WHBC, NBAF, Herts WOW and Hatfield FOE all consider that the capacity of the New Barnfield scheme is such that there will effectively be no requirement or incentive for other waste operators to bring forward the network of sites or new and emerging waste management processes and techniques for which the Policy provides. They argue that in backing the scheme the WPA has effectively put all its eggs in one basket. This argument has considerable force. On the one hand HCC appears to be promoting a network of sites through Policy 1 and the Sites Allocation Document (currently at examination). On the other, through its contractual relationship with the Applicant, it is fully committed to promoting the New Barnfield scheme subject to planning permission being obtained. Notwithstanding that it has different legal entities for the two separate purposes, there is clearly some tension between the role of HCC as Waste Planning Authority, and its role as Waste Disposal Authority” [IR Paragraph 1002, as supported by the SoS in DL Para 45]
  • “Harm to the Green Belt, to the character and appearance of the surroundings and to the amenity of residents and users of the countryside, to Southfield School, and to Heritage Assets is considered in the relevant sections of my report above. In addition to harm by reason of inappropriateness, to which substantial harm is attached, I conclude that there would be serious harm to openness and to the purposes of including land in the Green Belt, and to the character and appearance of the surrounding area. There would also be significant harm to the amenity of residents of South Hatfield and Welham Green, to the enjoyment of users of the countryside, cycleway and footpath networks, and to the setting and environs of Southfield School. The degree of harm to Heritage Assets is assessed as less than substantial in accordance with the provisions of the Framework, but is nevertheless accepted as being significant, and accordingly to be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal” [IR Paragraph 1011, as supported by the SoS in DL Para 45]
  • “…I share the concerns of objectors that it would occupy such a prominent place in treatment capacity which could inhibit investment in alternative facilities and technologies…” [IR Paragraph 1045, as supported by the SoS in DL Para 45]
  • “…the application scheme would provide capacity for the treatment of all of Hertfordshire’s residual LACW, and a substantial proportion of residual C & I Waste. It is so substantial in waste treatment terms that it will dominate the treatment of LACW and C & I waste in the County for many years to come. While it would not absolutely preclude other treatment capacity coming forward on other sites, it would absorb all of the residual LACW stream and considerable quantities of residual C & I waste, which may adversely affect the investment prospects for other developments. To that extent its approval would be highly likely to prejudice the outcome of the DPD process. The frustration and disillusion with the processes of procurement and planning that has been expressed by the local community is understandable in the circumstances” [IR Paragraph 1057, as supported by the SoS in DL Para 47]
  • “The scheme would provide up to 350 jobs during the construction phase and approximately 52 once operational. While this weighs in favour of the application, the construction phase benefits would be relatively short term and the processing of the tonnages of waste identified in the WCS would in any event generate employment of a commensurate scale, so I attach little weight to it in assessing whether VSCs [very special circumstances] exist in this case [IR Paragraph 1070, as supported by the SoS in DL Para 50]
  • “The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts. VSCs will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations. I attach substantial weight to a number of material considerations which amount to a strong case for the development on waste management grounds. However, in my judgment they do not clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm identified. The objections to the development in this location are equally strong. Accordingly I conclude that the very special circumstances necessary to justify the development do not exist and recommend that planning permission should be refused” [IR Paragraph 1070, as supported by the SoS in DL Para 55]

While the Council and Veolia have the right to appeal the decision within six weeks, even a successful appeal would not guarantee that an incinerator would actually be built. It could require the decision to be re-made, but could not force the Sectary of State to approve the application.

As we know from Norfolk, which lost PFI Credits and terminated their contract before the Secretary of State decided whether or not to grant planning permission for the King’s Lynn incinerator proposal, failure to obtain planning permission in a timely manner can be fatal to an incinerator contract.

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