Leeds – D-Day for controversial PFI waste incinerator plans tomorrow

Veolia's proposed plant at Cross Green

Veolia’s proposed plant at Cross Green

East Leeds could end up with two big waste incinerators following a key planning meeting tomorrow.

Councillors on the city’s top planning panel are set to decide whether to give the go-ahead to plans for one plant at the old Skelton Grange power station and another on the former market site at Cross Green.

Council planning officers are recommending that approval be given to both.

Of the two, the Cross Green proposal has proved significantly more controversial. Several hundred members of the public have objected to the plans of multi-national waste management company Veolia, as have a number of campaign groups, two local Labour Party groups, six local councillors and Leeds East MP George Mudie.

The objections are pretty wide-ranging – from the devaluation of neighbouring property prices to Veolia’s interests on the West Bank – but two that are often repeated are the closeness of the site to residential areas, and worries over health risks posed by the incinerator.

Worth noting here (more of it below) that as they weigh up the Veolia application tomorrow, councillors will be aware that turning it down could saddle the council with a hefty payment to make to the applicant.

The Skelton Grange site plans have prompted only 14 ‘representations’, not all of them in objection.

Power generation

Biffa's proposed plant at Skelton Grange

Biffa’s proposed plant at Skelton Grange

At a glance, here’s what the two plants would do:

Waste management specialists Biffa want to use the incinerator they plan to build at Skelton Grange (near Junction 44 of the M1) to burn up to 300,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial waste that currently goes to landfill. They say they’ll generate enough electricity for 52,000 households.

The facility would be capable of dealing with municipal ‘black-bin’ waste too, but that would mean reducing the volume of commercial waste it handled.

Veolia’s plans for the site at Cross Green involve handling all of Leeds ‘black bin’ waste, plus commercial and industrial waste up to an overall total of 214,000 tonnes a year. Up to 20% of the waste would be recycled. The rest would be burnt, generating power for up to 21,000 homes.

The Cross Green plant would be built and run by Veolia as agreed in the 25-year, £460m Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal it signed with Leeds City Council last year. The council says that once it’s up and running, the waste plant will save it £800k a year.

Council to cough up if approval not given

"Council has direct financial interest in scheme being agreed" - Leeds East MP George Mudie

“I don’t think the council should deal with the planning side” – Leeds East MP George Mudie

Back to that point (mentioned above) about the council ending up significantly out of pocket if the Veolia planning application gets turned down.

Why should that be?

Well, there’s a clause in the PFI contract that’s already been signed with Veolia that says that in the event of the contract being terminated due to “planning failure”  the council would have to pay costs to Veolia and its contractors.

According to the Yorkshire Evening Post and documents posted here, those costs would be “in the region of £930,000”.

Is that a conflict of interest for the councillors on the planning panel? No, says the council: the bit of the council that sorted the contract is independent from the bit that decides the planning application; the issue of possible compensation won’t compromise the planning process in any way, they say.

Others are less happy with the situation.

Among those who have raised concerns is Leeds East MP George Mudie, who called for the planning decision to be taken out of the council’s hands and dealt with by a public enquiry.

“I don’t think the council should deal with the planning side of this because of the impression people have that the council has a direct financial interest in the scheme being agreed,” he told the YEP in October.

Now you may be wondering how it is that a £460m contract to build something gets signed BEFORE planning permission has even been granted … Me too.

Tomorrow’s meeting is open to the public. Details here.


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One Response to Leeds – D-Day for controversial PFI waste incinerator plans tomorrow

  1. Paul Thomas says:

    It’s seems the default position of politicians today is the ‘public inquiry’. Millibland has called for at least 9 already in his two years as leader. Likewise, Mudie obviously thinks such issues are better dealt by unelected bureaucrats than by elected officials who we can at least kick out of office if they screw up.

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