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Local politics undermines waste to energy

Veolia Environmental’s recent success in gaining planning approval for its energy from waste scheme in Wolverhampton is good news for those in favour of this waste disposal technique.

Yet many other projects continue to struggle. Concerned with the slow pace of action on municipal waste recycling strategies, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is reviewing waste policy. It is intriguing what it will conclude.

“Council has statutory duty to scrutinise the plans”

Paul Carey, MVV

Many councils have signed PFI contracts with private companies to provide waste management services and facilities. Often incinerators are a key feature.

But projects to build such facilities invariably come up against local opposition with, in some cases, bizarre twists.

Councils in Cornwall and Worcestershire have denied planning permission for such schemes resulting from their own PFI deals.

Functions kept separate

MVV Environment managing director Paul Carey says councils’ waste management and planning functions are kept separate because the “council has statutory duty to scrutinise the plans”.

MVV Environment has been selected by the South West Devon Waste Partnership (SWDWP) as preferred bidder, but Carey says there’s no guarantee that it will win planning permission for its incinerator.

The PFI contract is with the three councils making up SWDWP - Plymouth City Council, Devon County Council and Torbay Council - but the Plymouth planning authority operates separately from this partnership, so it could still reject the application. Private firms take on a lot of risk with energy from waste proposals.

“In our case we are a funding plant costing £250M, but will not receive a revenue stream until at least 2014,” adds Carey. “Planning authorities are independent,” says a senior planning expert.

“It’s a principle that’s held sacred. The problem is that it is made up of elected councillors and at that point politics comes in.”

Most energy from waste plants do not qualify for scrutiny by the Infrastructure Planning Commission because they are too small.

As a result, most are subject to local authority planning permission. But getting them approved looks set to be a tough battle.

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