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Westbury Northacre ATT plant gets planning permission

January 23, 2019 12:41 PM
By Trevor Carbin

The application from Northacre Renewable Energy Ltd for the "Revision of the layout and design of Advanced Thermal Treatment Facility permitted under consent 14/12003/WCM" went to Wiltshire Council's Strategic Planning Committee on January 23rd, and was approved by seven votes to four. This was despite a large turn-out from Westbury residents opposed to the scheme.

A previous similar application was refused by the committee on building design grounds, so the applicants had amended the plans, including reducing the base level of the structure, building a bund around it, and attempting to camouflage it by using more neutral colours.

The full agenda is here. Below is a summary of the main points, with direct quotes in italics.

Gasification is a process which converts organic or fossil-based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This is achieved by reacting the materials at high temperatures, without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam. The resulting gas mixture is called syngas (from synthesis gas) and is itself a fuel. The syngas can be combusted and the hot exhaust gases sent to a waste heat boiler to generate steam, which can be used in a steam turbine or used directly to produce electricity and heat, as in this case.

The applicants, the government, and the WC planners all maintain that this sort of plant is environmentally a good thing. Environmentalists though think otherwise, pointing out that they produce pollution, increase road traffic, and lock us in to producing large quantities of waste to feed the machine, instead of encouraging us to simply cut the amount of rubbish we produce.

The proposal would ... change the way in which commercial and industrial wastes are managed within Wiltshire by reducing the need for these to be transported, mainly by road, from the county to other parts of the UK, and often to landfill; instead Wiltshire's wastes would be managed in Wiltshire.

A problem for the planning committee is that they're only supposed to look at the planning merits of the scheme. The environmental side is regulated by the Environment Agency, and it's their job to assess the environmental impact before issuing a license to operate, and to monitor pollution, odours etc afterwards.

The Northacre project has the capacity to power 46,220 homes. It ...would operate 24 hours/day, seven days/week. HGV deliveries would take place between the hours of 07:00 - 22:00 Monday to Friday and 07:00 - 17:00 Saturdays over the equivalent of 304 days/year (six days/week including Bank Holidays). Electricity would be produced all of the time.

According to Green MEP Molly Scott Cato; "While the reduction in waste going to landfill is welcomed, swapping landfill for other treatment options, such as Advanced Thermal Treatment is not tackling the root cause of the waste problem which is an over production of products that quickly become waste rather than being part of a circular economy. The existence of plants such as the proposed ATTF in Westbury removes pressure to transform our thinking about manufacturing and using materials so that we do not produce waste. With the growing public awareness of plastic pollution and rising distaste for single use plastics, the approval of yet another ATTF looks spectacularly outdated and unambitious."

The applicant already operates a Mechanical Biological Treatment plant next to the application site. This takes household waste and turns it into solid recovered fuel (SRF) which is sent to Europe . This planning application, if approved, would mean the SRF would instead be used in the new ATT/EfW facility. Planners say, "there are both environmental and economic benefits arising from this."