Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Feeling the heat

Names & Faces - Robert Wheatley is bringing a wealth of energy-from-waste expertise to Peter Brett Associates

A lifetime working with heat and fire leaves its mark. 'Sadly, yes, I have been called a pyromaniac, ' says Robert Wheatley, now bringing his expertise in waste management to consultant Peter Brett Associates.

Wheatley trained under a mechanical engineering apprenticeship at Westland Aerospace in Yeovil.

'I specialised in infrastructure.

I came face to face with furnace technology in heat treatment and central heating, ' he says. Aged 20, he then headed to Canada to continue burning things.

'I worked with petrochemical fires, heaters and other technologies involving combustion.

'Then I went into the steel industry, but ended up back in petroleum production in furnaces and cracking oils to make petrol, ' he says.

Wheatley returned to the UK in 1983, joining Midlands-based GKN Birwelco. There, he was asked to take a Canadian visitor around an energy-from-waste plant in Zurich. 'I knew very little about it, so the MD told me, 'you're a pyromaniac, go early and get the foreman to give you a look'.' This was his eureka moment.

'I went and saw how this could be a benefit to society, and I left believing we would have incinerators all over the UK.

' It is still not always regarded as the best solution, however, ' he says.

His drive got him involved with the SELCHP consortium - the force behind the energy from waste plant in Lewisham, south London.

'I eventually became the MD, seeing through planning, construction and operation.

By then, we were confirmed in business, with a 400,000t municipal solid waste plant - the first in the UK to meet UK and EU emissions standards - a benchmark, ' he says.

He then joined with Belgian financiers to form the United Waste Group, now owned by SITA and responsible for the plants in Kirklees and the Isle of Man.

'People down the pub are not impressed when I tell them that in 20 years I have built three plants. But this is more than anyone else has, ' he says.

Wheatley now runs three plants - in Wolverhampton, Dudley and Stoke-on-Trent - and joined Peter Brett Associates on the suggestion of a former colleague.

So what's next? 'Now I am in my early 60s, I suppose retirement is next.

'I would hope to get a few more plants off the ground, though.'

Q&A Robert Wheatley

Favourite team: LutonTown.They have had a terrible year, but they will be back.

Last album: Got the Bob Dylan album, 'Modern Times' for Christmas. It is not really a country record . . . they are just good songs that a man of my age would sing.

For Valentine's Day: I sent a card, but, come to think of it, I did not get one in return!

If my house was burning down, I would save: . . . My laptop. It is a sign of the times, but I would be dead without it.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.