As the council presses ahead with its incinerator plan, Coun Mark Dobson is the man in the hot seat.
As executive member for environmental services, it is his job to help steer the project through the council.
Born and brought up in east Leeds, he says he understands the objectors’ concerns but argues the case for the new plant is compelling, not least the financial implications of failing to take action.
In 2010-11 the council shelled out £9.2m in landfill tax. The charge is due to rise over the next few years and by 2014-15 the landfill tax bill could stand at £13.7m a year.
Burning rubbish rather than burying it in the ground is forecast to save the council over £203.9m over the life of the 25-year contract the council intends to sign with Veolia.
Coun Dobson said the council had started the search for a solution to the city’s waste problem with an open mind and incineration had emerged as clearly the best option.
He said: “We looked at other technologies but given the volume we will have to deal with, this is the best approach. It creates green electricity and there is the potential through a combined heat and power facility to supply heat to properties in the area.
“It is good for the environment because burying the rubbish would produce over 62,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.”
A pre-planning application given by Veolia representatives to the council’s east plans panel earlier this year indicated the incinerator site would cover 3.3 hectares and that the plant would have two buildings. The tallest would rise to about 42m and would include a chimney stack rising a further 33m above the building.
Apart from periods of planned maintenance, the incinerator would operate continuously. All waste operations take place inside the buildings. Access to the facility would be taken from Pontefract Lane via Newmarket Approach.
The first stage of the process would be “mechanical pre-treatment” during which all recyclable waste left in the rubbish would be removed. The remaining refuse would be burned in a process that would create 11 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 20,000 homes.
Coun Dobson said: “The energy from waste plant will also help boost our recycling rates because it will extract recyclable material that, under our current arrangements, ends up in landfill.”
Some people have expressed concerns over possible health impacts but Coun Dobson said: “It was one of the first questions I asked when I took over this role.
“I wanted to know if there was any scientific data of any adverse effects on public health. The answer was an absolute no.
“People should be reassured that the plant will need an Environment Agency permit to operate. If they don’t think it’s fit for purpose, it won’t operate.
“I have been to a similar facility in Sheffield and looked at the process that scrubs any toxins from what will be emitted through the chimney.”
He acknowledged the incinerator plan was contentious and said: “We will continue to try to address public concern and be open and transparent.”