Menu Close

MPs use Westminster Hall debate to raise concerns about incineration

Stephen Doughty MP for Cardiff South and Penarth secured a Westminster Hall debate on the incineration of industrial and commercial waste. The debate took place on 28th January 2020, and the full transcript of the debate is available from the Hansard website.

Writing about the debate, Stephen Doughty said: “I’m supporting campaigners in the east of Cardiff who oppose a planned new incinerator and have concerns over emissions and the impact of HGVs near schools and homes. With an existing incinerator near Cardiff Bay, and continuing controversy over the biomass plant in Barry docks in our neighbouring constituency, this is an area of concern for many people locally” [Source].

This debate is not to be confused with the Westminster Hall debate in April 2019 on the regulation of the incineration of waste.

Quotes from the Westminster Debate (and MPs tweeting about the debate)

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)

Opening the debate, Stephen Doughty set out his “total opposition to the proposals for the so-called energy recovery facility” in Cardiff, which he described as “a huge industrial-scale burner”. He spoke of the “chain of proposed incinerators running from Swansea to Barry, to Splott in my constituency — where we already have an incinerator that I opposed — right through to Monmouthshire and across the water to Avonmouth, and in many other clusters across the UK”, noting that he has “been pleased to join thousands of local residents across the area in making our opposition known over the past six months”, adding: “we have been supported by colleagues on our local council and from across the parties”. The MP went on to make the point that: “Much is made of the treatment of emissions through burner chimneys, but, given the climate crisis we face, the carbon emissions from such facilities make a crucial difference”.

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)

“According to a recent Birmingham University study, air quality in Cardiff is the fourth worst in the UK. It is even worse than in London. Does he agree that allowing the incinerator to be built not only risks moving our city further up the league of shame, but undermines the hard work that has gone into Cardiff Council’s wide-ranging transport and clean air green paper, which is currently out for public consultation?”

Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)

“Does he agree that when we talk about building incinerators, we are talking not just about the incinerators themselves, but about their effect on traffic and all their other potential unintended consequences, which make them so unwieldy and inappropriate for places such as Cardiff?”

Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)

“I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for securing this debate. He is making some powerful points, especially about Wales leading England in recycling. Does he agree that it is crucial that the views of the local people who will be affected by the incinerator are taken into account? After all, it is their lives, communities and homes that will be affected, and we must take account of that.”

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)

“It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). He and I have not historically agreed on much, but we certainly agree on this. I will not pretend that I am bringing expert views to the debate, but my impassioned plea to the Minister is this: please can we get our policy on industrial-scale incineration right?

“I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who met me last week to discuss this issue. I appreciate the constructive manner in which she engaged with it. We have an ambitious plan to reach net zero by 2050, and everyone in the Chamber—I hope—is committed to clean energy generation and waste reduction.

“Just last week, in the room next door, we had a giant Womble carrying a placard and insisting that we recycle, re-use, rethink, and that is absolutely the direction of travel in which we must move. All over the country, however, from Cardiff South to Romsey and Southampton North, there are proposals for yet more incinerators that are, in many cases, dressed up as energy producing waste plants…

“We have to account for the true cost of those facilities, the impact on air quality, the emissions from heavy diesel vehicles driven many hundreds of miles to bring waste from far afield, and the current policy, which allows CO2 from biogenic sources to be ignored in the context of climate change. At best, only 50% of the energy generated from the facilities can be considered renewable, and we should be extremely concerned about the other half. That 50% of energy comes from burning fossil carbon—plastics—and emits as much pollution and CO2 as coal-fired energy. Would we really consider building new coal-fired power stations?”

“Of course, there is a baseline: to keep running, the giant incinerators have to have enough fuel source. While industry urges us to believe that there is more than enough industrial and commercial waste to exceed the demand generated by the monster incinerators, we are seeing a sea change in public opinion. People—especially young people—are coming to understand that we cannot continue to consume and dispose at the same rate as we have been.”

“Aside from the specifics of the massive plant that is planned at Harewood, we need to pause and rethink our strategy on incineration. Time does not allow me to examine in detail the issue of air quality and the balance—I use that term loosely—that the applicant must strike between the visual impact of tall chimneys and the need to make them high enough to disperse the emissions over a less concentrated area. In Test Valley, we are blessed with exceptionally good air quality, which means that the chimneys might not need to be as high. That of course means that more pollutants can be released without breaching Environment Agency limits. What sort of horrific equation is that? Applicants are able to get away with emitting more because the air quality is currently good. Surely our aim should be to work with the Environment Agency to reduce those limits and seek an overall improvement, not the lowest common denominator. We need to improve regulations to make them tighter, rather than having applicants rely on the emissions set out within existing regulations, which I raised in the Queen’s Speech debate a couple of weeks ago.”

“Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has said, to have a landfill tax and not an incineration tax. Incineration is simply not an environmentally sustainable way to tackle waste management. It may be better than landfill in the waste hierarchy—only just—but to allow incineration to proliferate simply does not address the climate emergency that we all agree exists.”

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

“In 2017, a planning application for a gasification plant to be built in Hillthorn Park in Washington was submitted to Sunderland City Council. Since then, approximately 10,800 people have signed petitions opposing the plant—I presented one of them to the House last week.

“Many of my constituents have contacted me about the planning application, and it came up a lot on the doorstep during the general election, so I am left in no doubt about how my constituents feel. Never in my 15 years as an MP have I seen an issue galvanise my constituents in such a way. They are totally against it. I share their concerns and join them in opposing the application. Although the planning application was submitted almost three years ago, we still do not know what type of gasification technology will be used if it is approved.”

“The planning application is in direct contradiction to the Government’s own policies on climate change and waste processing, and the proposed plant could be expected to release millions of tonnes of CO2 —my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned that risk—within its anticipated lifetime. Undoubtedly, that will have a negative impact on our environment and on climate change. What assessment have the Government made of the impact that waste incineration could have on climate change?”

“…The health and the lives of my constituents should not be gambled with. I will continue to work ceaselessly with constituents, campaigners and local councillors of every party—they all oppose the plans—to oppose the building of this plant. It must not be allowed to happen, and the united voices of all local people must be heard and heeded.”

Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)

“The contributions we have heard so far were made by Members who face the threat of an incinerator being built in their constituencies. I am in the unfortunate position of representing a constituency that lives in a shadow of the massive Beddington incinerator. I hope to give a perspective of what it is like once such things have been built.”

“The incinerator was championed, in an extraordinary show of arrogance, by an out-of-touch Lib Dem council, which has shown a total lack of ambition in tackling air quality in Sutton. Thanks to its complete incompetence, the incinerator is now an eyesore on the landscape that we can see from every single corner of the constituency. In 2018 alone, bearing in mind that it was not fully operational at the time, it pumped more than 21.5 million kg of CO2 into the local atmosphere.”

“I stress the fact that it is not just the incinerators that are significant; there are other consequences to having one in the area. As we have heard, they have a potential impact on recycling rates. As the UK Without Incineration Network has rightly pointed out, for an incinerator to be anywhere near commercially viable, waste often needs to be imported and sometimes even non-recyclables are burned. They also have an impact on traffic and air quality. The route to Beddington incinerator on my patch of Carshalton and Wallington is already congested. Rubbish from four south London boroughs is taken along Beddington Lane, which leads to the incinerator. They all take their waste to that incinerator, all against the backdrop of seemingly endless roadworks that never seem to be completed but are meant to help Beddington Lane cope with the capacity.”

“The final impact is on energy bills. The Beddington incinerator is one of a few with an operational decentralised energy network, which in Sutton we call the SDEN—the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network. It is a way to justify having an incinerator in the constituency, because it creates energy to heat local homes. The development of New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, in my constituency, is connected directly to the incinerator via a series of pumps and so is being heated by the Beddington incinerator. That SDEN, however, has trapped New Mill Quarter residents in an energy scheme that they cannot get out of. They are not allowed to go on the open market to change their energy provider and, I am told, the cost of their energy bills is at least three times higher than the highest market average currently available. That is completely outrageous. Thankfully we now have a price cap under energy legislation, but we are pushing it to the limit for our New Mill Quarter residents, many of whom were not told about the energy scheme when they were being sold their house.”

“We need to be a lot more ambitious about tackling air pollution. All I can say to the local authorities of other hon. Members fighting incinerators is that I hope that they will succeed where Lib Dem Sutton has unfortunately failed.”

Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)

“Does my hon. Friend agree that there must be detailed scrutiny of the impact that incineration has on the surrounding environment as a result of the harmful pollutants and emissions released into the atmosphere, and of the impact of exhaust fumes from the increased traffic bringing waste to the site? An incinerator has been proposed for my constituency, in Marley. The site is located right next to playing fields, community assets and residential property, and in the bowl of a valley. If the proposal is not able to contribute any positives for health and wellbeing, does my hon. Friend agree that it should be disregarded altogether?”

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)

“Like me, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) has a proposed site for a new incinerator in south Wales in his constituency. I therefore thank him for securing this important debate.”

“Clarion Close in Llansamlet, in my constituency, is on the Swansea Enterprise Park, at the heart of a small community. About 7,000 people live there, and the proposed site is close to a local school, Ysgol Lonlas, and to the Swansea Vale nature reserve. My great concern is about the effect of the incinerator on air quality, which is already a serious issue in Swansea. Only yesterday, the local press reported that Swansea has one of the highest PM2.5 levels in the UK, due to heavy industry in the city and the surrounding areas. PM2.5 are the tiny particles that cause the air to be hazy and, because they are so small, they are able to penetrate people’s respiratory and circulatory systems with ease. Those pollutants are incredibly dangerous and potentially fatal, in particular for vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with illnesses. Llansamlet is located between the M4 and two other major thoroughfares through Swansea. Consequently, that further affects the air quality in this part of the city, and asthma rates among residents are disproportionally high. We do not need the threat of further health implications from an incinerator in the area, and I have no doubt that those living in the area would agree with me resoundingly.”

“We should be looking at recycling and reusing as much as we can, and at finding alternatives to waste incineration whenever possible… Building these toxic towers to incinerate waste is not the answer, not for now and certainly not for the future of our children, our towns and cities, and our planet.”

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)

“The Biomass UK No.2 Ltd plant has been proposed in Barry, but the way it has been treated has been wholly inconsistent. On this occasion, the local authority’s planning committee unanimously rejected it, only for that to be overturned by the Welsh Government’s Planning Inspectorate because it had to follow the policy that the Welsh politicians had put it in place. This is a 10 MW power station that did not have an environmental impact assessment and, significantly, was not considered a development of national significance, which it would have been had it been considered consistently with the policy here in England, which I believe was the intention at the time.”

“…as hon. Members from across the House have pointed out, the policy and recycling rates have changed in a positive way; therefore, the policy that gives rise to these incinerators also needs to change.”

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

“This issue hit the headlines in Northern Ireland when the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed and a decision was taken by the permanent secretary to allow an incinerator to go ahead, after a Planning Appeals Commission decision deemed the application acceptable. At that time, Mrs Justice Keegan ruled that that a senior civil servant did not have legal power to give the green light to the major waste disposal facility at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk, following the collapse of devolution, leaving the application waiting for the new Minister. Many of the questions about that have been raised by the hon. Gentleman.

“We have to find a method of waste disposal. We create the waste and we have to get rid of it—that is a fact of life. How do we do that? We encourage councils to recycle using the carrot and stick approach: if they recycle, that is great and they may win an award, but if they do not, there will be financial penalties. I understand and agree with encouragement. My council has been proactive and has met every target it has set; every new ​target it has set, it has met that, too. We all know how it goes: glass in one bin, plastics and paper in the other one, and green waste. This issue is above and beyond that.”

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

“…it is quite clear that, although it was the case that incineration was an improvement over previous waste disposal arrangements, it is decreasingly apparent that it is something we should pursue as a fundamental part of our future waste disposal activities…”

“Our aim should be to move consistently up the hierarchy so that waste is recycled into another resource or, ideally, does not enter the waste stream at all…moving just to the next stage up in the hierarchy is a little like a landlord responding to someone complaining about getting wet in their house by putting a tarpaulin on the roof. It is a bit better, but it is not a solution to the problem. We need to be much more imaginative in moving up from those solutions.”

“Real residual waste is a fairly small proportion of the waste stream, which suggests that a policy of introducing very large incinerators to collect that waste would fix us in place on the waste hierarchy rather than move us up it.”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)

“I want to set the record straight: as my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) highlighted, our focus as a Government ​is on “reduce, reuse, recycle”. We are sticking to that, as well as to the drive towards an ever more circular economy, which many Members touched on. That means extracting maximum value from our resources, then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of their lifespan. Through that, we seek to minimise the amount of waste that goes to incineration or landfill, which certainly are at the bottom of the waste chain.

However, needless to say, there is commercial and industrial waste classified as municipal waste. I agree entirely with the shadow Minister that much of it ought to be recycled. That is why the forthcoming environment Bill, which I hope everyone present will support, will include far-reaching measures to drive us towards a circular economy. We will also introduce legislation to increase the separate capture of business waste, promoting high-quality recycling. That will include food waste from the catering sector, for example, which will have to be captured separately and, wherever possible, diverted from landfill or incineration into anaerobic digestion.”

“Policies aimed at diverting waste away from landfill mean that, in addition to recycling gains, the volume of waste being treated at energy-from-waste plants has increased. Of course, however, the aim with all the measures in the waste and recycling strategy is to bring that down.