Councillors yesterday approved plans to build two waste incinerators within a mile of each other in east Leeds.
Waste incinerators? Think of them more as power stations that burn waste instead of coal, generating power for up to 73,000 homes.
The first to be approved at a lengthy session of Leeds City Council’s “strategic” plans panel will be built and run at Skelton Grange (near Junction 44 of the M1) by waste management specialists Biffa.
The £200m plant will burn up to 300,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial waste that currently goes to landfill. Biffa says the incinerator will generate enough electricity for 52,000 households.
The second – which had aroused much more controversy ahead of yesterday’s meeting – will be built and run by multi-national Veolia just one mile away on a former market site at Cross Green.
It will handle 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 will be recycled. The rest will be burnt, generating power for up to 21,000 homes.
The £460m Veolia facility will be paid for by Leeds ratepayers over the 25 year life of a Private Finance Initiative contract signed by the company and Leeds City Council months ahead of today’s planning approval.
No vote against
In the end both applications pretty much sailed through: the plans for both were approved without a single vote against from any councillor.
There were no tough questions from councillors on the panel for the representatives of Biffa or Veolia.
No councillor spoke to present the case of the 673 people who had formally objected to the Veolia PFI scheme. None spoke to represent the views of their party colleagues, the six east Leeds councillors who had lodged objections to the plans.
And no question was asked about what it might be like to live 200 yards from a massive power station. Just a “What’s in it for the community?” from Cllr Walshaw – a one-time skeptic who has now seen the incineration light.
“You can’t see the chimneys!”
When the mock-up impressions of the plants came up on the presentation screen, there were suppressed gasps from members of the public, sat at the back behind the phalanx of suits.
“Where are the stacks? You can’t see the chimneys!” they hissed at each other.
The councillors hadn’t noticed. Or if they had, it didn’t merit a mention.
The lone dissenting voices came from a dozen protesters who gathered on the steps of the Civic Hall ahead of the meeting. And from two speakers, representing residents and Friends of the Earth, who addressed the panel.
Had an assessment been carried out of the region’s waste incineration capacity to establish whether Leeds needed its own facilities? they asked. No answer came.
Why hadn’t Biffa carried out any decent consultation to find out what the local community thought of the plans for Skelton Grange? they asked. Under planning law, they don’t have to, came the reply.
The two raised questions too about the health impact of the plants’ emissions – questions that were batted back with assurances from health and environmental professionals that there was nothing to be concerned about.
Granting planning permission is not quite the final step. They’ve still got to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s on the legal agreements and conditions attached to both applications. But those should be formalities.