Plans for 150,000 tonnes a year waste incinerator in Basildon recommended for approval

Controversial plans for a power plant on the outskirts of Basildon capable of burning up to 150,000 tonnes of waste a year to be built near homes have been recommended for approval

The energy from waste (EFW) facility on Burnt Mills Industrial Estate in Archers Fields would burn non-hazardous residual waste to generate 11MW of power – enough for 20,000 homes.

The company behind it, Archers Field Energy Recovery Ltd says non-hazardous waste from businesses in the local area already comes into the industrial estate to be recycled at its existing Clearaway facility. However not all of the material can be recycled so currently some is having to be sent to landfill.

That is no longer seen as a sustainable option and Essex County Council – responsible for the disposal of 350,000 tonnes generated annually from kerbside black bags – itself has said it will stop sending waste to landfill by the beginning of 2028.

However the plans have been criticised by Basildon Borough Council leader Councillor Andrew Baggott who believes other sites must be found given the amount of waste Basildon has historically handled – the Pitsea landfill covering around 450 international football pitches and which stopped receiving non-hazardous waste in 2018 has accepted millions of tonnes since it first opened in the early 1900s.

The Tovi Eco Park in Basildon was built to process 420,000 tonnes of black bag waste but never met its targets and is now in the process of being dismantled.

Councillor Baggott said: “The key thing is and what we have been consistent about is we feel continuing to dump waste stations in Basildon means there comes a point where you have to say enough is enough on behalf of the residents.

“Basildon has been dumped on for a protected period of time now. I am aware there are other areas that could have been chosen and were equally as suitable and therefore question why it is that it should be given to this particular site.”

The plan scheduled for a decision by Essex County Council’s planning committee on Friday January 26 will come a week after a fire broke out at the Archers Field site.

Residents were advised to keep windows and doors shut after huge plumes of smoke were left bellowing out of the site after around 250 tonnes of waste as well as plant machinery caught fire.

Despite the stiff opposition from residents Councillor Baggott has also ruled out taking the matter to judicial review if the pans are passed.

He added: “Given that you can only judicial review something on process and we have looked at the processes Essex County Council has followed and can’t see anything there which is against policy or against process we would potentially be throwing taxpayers’ money away just to make a point.”

The facility, which would be built with two chimneys each up to 50-metres tall, would need a permit from the Environment Agency but even so Basildon Council says it remains concerned about the health impacts arising from the proposed development – adding energy from waste facilities emit emissions of nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter.

Basildon council unanimously resolved at its meeting held in October 2020 that if Essex County Council approves the waste plant in Archers Fields there will be a significant increase in the number of Heavy Goods Vehicles within Pitsea which “will adversely affect the air quality and almost certainly lead to the imposition of a Congestion Charge by the Government”.

It also recognises that the Tovi waste plant has been an “unmitigated disaster” that planning committee members at Essex County Council are predominantly from outside of the Basildon borough and believes no decisions on the planning application for a waste plant at Archers Fields should be taken until Local Government Reorganisation in Essex is complete.

Once operational, other than during shutdowns for routine maintenance the plant will operate continuously. Material deliveries will occur 24 hours per day.

Councillor Craig Rimmer (Cons, Pitsea South East) said: “It’s so close to residential areas that I don’t see how they could possibly justify it in terms of the health and safety aspects for residents.”

The plant’s 150,000 tonne annual capacity would add to the incinerator being built at Rivenhall capable of taking 595,000 tonnes a year. Waste operator Viridor wants permission for its Tilbury-based energy-for-waste facility to be able to handle 379,658 tonnes a year.

Councillor Rimmer added: “And that is the issue. Somewhere else can take this rubbish.”

A report in front of members of Essex County Council’s development & regulation committee said has concluded the facility would be a positive contribution towards net zero.

It said: “From a health and wellbeing aspect the facility is seen as contributing to reducing the potential for green house gas generation.

“Furthermore, the facility is found that through an Air Quality emission aspect there is considered to be an overall positive contribution that an EFW process has over the existing landfill scenario.

“Air Quality is not found to be prejudiced either within the immediate nor further afield locality. The report acknowledges that seeking precise percentage figures over what benefits of carbon savings can arise through EFW compared to landfill can be subjective; however overall a positive benefit is assessed to arise in this particular case.

“This “saving” combined with a reduction in traffic movements and the co-location of the proposed facility to the feedsource is seen as overall a positive to both supporting climate change and green house reduction aspirations and ensuring best value is achieved from the waste stream.

“The ability of the applicant’s site to utilise a known residual waste tonnage also provides comfort that the facility does not result in diversion of what could otherwise be potentially recoverable waste and so reducing the potential for recycling on the wider waste stream.

“As such the development is considered to offer positive attributes contributing to supporting climate change initiatives through both its design; management of drainage and solar uses and tangible use of that energy efficiency through use of charging points and operation in the business environment of electrical vehicles. The development in that respect is seen as addressing positively to its environmental footprint and future legacy.”

It adds: “From a human health aspect, the report acknowledges public perception of such facilities as the EFW process have negative connotations. The report has assessed the air quality and climate change implications finding such impacts unfounded and with specialist third party consultees including Public Health England; Environment Agency and Environmental health officer not raising any fundamental objection.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter