Heat is on as d-day looms for Leeds incinerator

An artist's impression of the incinerator waste management firm Veolia are proposing.
An artist's impression of the incinerator waste management firm Veolia are proposing.
Have your say

Planning permission for the controversial Leeds incinerator, costing around £460 million, could be granted as early as next month. Aisha Iqbal spoke to some of the key players both for and against the project.

It’s been a heated issue for several years, but it looks like the Leeds incinerator could get planning permission as early as next month.

The contract for the £460m project was awarded to waste management firm Veolia at the end of last year.

But what does it mean for a city that has two million bin collections a year and an ongoing raging debate about fortnightly collections?

The company is part of a multi-billion pound global operation and already runs 50 treatment facilities converting waste. Seven of those are energy recovery plants like the one planned for Leeds.

But despite the firm’s professional pedigree, campaigners have criticised the contract-awarding process because the scheme had not yet been approved by planning chiefs.

It also emerged last year that the council could have to pay £930,000 to the firm if the contract had to be terminated because of planning failure.

The YEP has learned the scheme could come before the planning committee as early as next month, and initial building work on the underground element of the plant could start in the summer.

Leeds currently has a landfill bill of £9.2 million a year and that looks set to increase by £1.5 million every year.

The Leeds incinerator – to be built on the site of the former market site at Cross Green – will be a 25-year PFI funded deal.

Up to 214,000 tonnes of waste will be sorted at the facility and leftover waste will be burned. Enough electricity will be made to power 20,000 homes.

Even taking the £460m costs into account, says the council, it is expected to save £200 million over the 25 years.

Criticism for the council’s apparent hands-on involvement came from the highest level, with MP George Mudie saying at one point that it was “obscenely” near to homes, and the council might appear to be too directly involved.

He also stressed other existing incinerators in the city were under-used.

And David Fanaroff, from the No Incinerator Leeds campaign (NIL) previously told the YEP the planned facility would actually put people off recycling, and could even have legal implications for the council.

However despite the many objections, Councillor Mark Dobson, the council’s environment lead, insists support for the project is widespread.

“For me, it’s about Leeds catching up,” he told the YEP.

“We have made great strides in recent years with pushing recycling up.

“We have diverse ways of collecting refuse.

“We have got a very big eye on the green agenda. But part of that has to be around how to tackle 200,000 tonnes of waste that we produce as a city.

“I look at some of the big cities in Britain and on the continent and energy from waste and incineration has been a key strand of lots of cities’ energy strategy for decades.

“Sheffield has a very comprehensive district heating scheme that heats swimming pools, libraries, municipal buildings and schools that all run from their incinerator, and that’s been done over years working in partnership and finding funding.

“I look at that and think ‘why can’t Leeds be at the forefront of the technologies?’”.

He acknowledged even he had been “conscious of health implications and emissions” when the scheme was first presented to him and questions about other options for delivering the city’s energy strategy are “perfectly legitimate”.

But he insisted: “I am satisfied that there are no health implications. It will be heavily monitored through the Environment Agency.

“I am really comfortable with the increased recycling facilities it will give us.

“If people are up to speed with what they are putting into their bins, we will be able to harvest it.

“Incineration will generate electricity and we can potentially have district heating.

“If landfill costs continue rising, by the time the incinerator goes online and comes operational, we will have a bill of burying our rubbish of £16 million.

“Council budgets are hellishly tight – we simply cannot afford as a city to be literally wasting money in such a profligate way as supporting landfill.”

The scheme has won broad approval from engineering experts, with one leading voice saying it was an appropriate and viable solution for a city the size of Leeds.

John Queening, spokesman for the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Yorkshire and Humber Region, explained there were various common methods for processing household waste, but the Leeds incinerator was a mixture of mechanical sorting systems to recover the dry recyclable waste and thermal combustion steam systems to process the burnable waste producing energy via steam turbine generation.

“The Leeds solution provides for both recycling of materials and recovery of energy, whilst ensuring a long term reliable means of disposing of Leeds’s black bag residual wastes,” he said.

“The ICE supports the Government’s waste hierarchy which encourages firstly source separation of wastes, then secondly the treatment or processing of mixed or residual waste, then finally landfilling of ultimate residues.

“The Leeds solution supports this approach with recycling first, then energy recovery from the residual waste component of Leeds municipal waste.

“Whilst there are other solutions to conventional energy from waste incineration plants, these have issues [and] the technology is newer and is less commercially proven on the larger scale such as Leeds.

“The ICE considers energy from waste plants to be a proven technology, producing a valuable energy resource, as well as stable end products which can be recycled.”

A spokeswoman for Veolia told the YEP that the incinerator was the best solution for Leeds because despite huge efforts on recycling and the waste management initiatives, Leeds still has “a substantial amount of waste that needs to be disposed of, collected mainly in black bins”.

She said the scheme was “a solution that provides the optimum recycling and waste treatment activities to deal with residual waste” in the city and one that would “generate valuable electrical energy for export to the local electrical distribution network”.

She stressed the only access for vehicles bringing waste to the site would be via the A61 South Accommodation Road, or Junction 45 of the M1.

The vast majority of the refuse trips would take place outside of the morning and evening peak traffic periods, she added.

“The proposed facility will not cause damage to local property and like all waste management activities, will be the subject of extremely strict regulations,” she said.

“The living wall and the landscaping of the facility will help biodiversity in the area and provide a green point in an industrial area.

She said a wide range of community work with schools, charities and other organisations, as well as a new visitor centre, would help dispel myths.

Sarah Sordy of Mars Petcare in Birstall

Meet the team behind Yorkshire’s petfood powerhouse