Matthew Lee Selects £75 Million Incinerator

07:06 Monday 13th August 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: A multi-million pound energy from waste facility for Peterborough is now a step closer. Peterborough City Council has named waste management company Viridor as its preferred bidder. The Council says that 50 tons of black bin waste is being sent to landfill, and the new plant will burn the rubbish, reducing the amount sent to landfill. Richard Olive is from Friends of the Earth in Peterborough, and Fiona Radic is from the Green Party, and we can speak to them now. So first of all, to Richard, what do you think of the plans that have been put forward?
RICHARD OLIVE: It’s diabolical. One of our big concerns is that almost all of the Council’s announcements about this waste strategy have been full of mistakes, half-truths and inaccuracies. We’re surprised, when we look back over the announcements from the last few days, they don’t even seem to know how much waste is being produced in Peterborough.
ANDY GALL: Well we have to be careful here, because this is an issue that they’re trying to address, the importance of trying to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfill. Because from the Green Party perspective, and Friends of the Earth, I’ve always been led to believe that your policy is to reduce landfill. Isn’t that right, Fiona?
FIONA RADIC: Yes that’s true. But the reason why you want to reduce your landfill is to massively increase your recycling. And Peterborough at the moment is aiming at 65%, which is not spectacular to be honest, but it’s actually achieving 43%. So we’ve already got problems.
ANDY GALL: What’s your gripe with the incinerator then? What’s your issues with it, and what would you rather see put in place?
FIONA RADIC: The problem with an incinerator is it mixes everything up. It means that you’re not separating out sufficient or enough of your recyclates, or recyclables, or there is a definite risk that you won’t do that. And incinerating it creates all kinds of nasty health risks. You’ve got particulates, large ones down to very very small ones, which can enter your body via your skin.
ANDY GALL: But isn’t it also dangerous though if you put food waste into landfill? Doesn’t it then create methane?
FIONA RADIC: Well methane in our landfill in Eye is actually captured. I think 95% of the methane there is captured, and canistered up.
RICHARD OLIVE: I think the really big thing that people in Peterborough are concerned about is actually the cost of this. It’s an incredible amount of money to be spending. We’re talking about £81.5 million.
ANDY GALL: But aren’t you looking at a 20 year investment? Isn’t it meant to be built in 2015?
RICHARD OLIVE: Well it might be looking at that sort of period of time, but it still comes down to a massive cost to the people of Peterborough. It’s actually going to cost between £4.5 million and £10 million a year to run.
ANDY GALL: I suppose the issue is though Richard, and also Fiona, the issue is that the City Council have been looking into this, looking into ways of dealing with what is going to be an increase in waste, as the population grows.
RICHARD OLIVE: That’s one of the big arguments, one of the big fallacies. At the moment the actual amount of waste being produced in Peterborough is reducing. The Council don’t even seem to know this. Their contractor, FCC, who runs the landfill site, are concerned because their business is actually going down. We’ve been campaigning, Friends of the Earth, for supermarkets to reduce over-packaging, and they are doing, and it is actually going down. So on the one hand, OK, the population may be increasing by the number of houses, but the actual amount of waste is reducing. And manufacturers are being quite responsible, and producing articles which can be more and more recycled.
ANDY GALL: So Richard what would you do? Would you carry on as we are?
RICHARD OLIVE: Certainly not. No.
FIONA RADIC: The first step has got to be the food waste out of the waste stream. And the Council is doing that, which is wonderful. That is the best thing they’ve done in a long time, to extract the food waste. The next step after that would be to take out any other organic waste from the waste stream.
ANDY GALL: And also, have you not thought of mechanical biological treatment? Is this something that you guys are thinking about?
RICHARD OLIVE: Well that’s a good second best there. People who are listening to this, some people in the south of the county will be aware of the MBT in Waterbeach. That does actually treat 180,000 tons of waste per year at half the cost that is proposed by the Peterborough facility. But of course you don’t even need an MBT as big as that. You can go right down. Peterborough could actually manage with two smaller MBTs at a cost of only £5 million each.
ANDY GALL: It’s confusing though, isn’t it. for people listening this morning, and wondering, look, we have to deal with the waste that we’re producing. We have to deal with it in an economical and ecologically viable way. So it’s essential that we get this right now. Peterborough is claiming to be a green city.
RICHARD OLIVE: An incinerator does neither of those. It’s the worst possible alternative.
FIONA RADIC: I would agree with that completely.
ANDY GALL: Well what I was going to ask both of you, Richard and Fiona, is that have you .. apparently the Council has invited you to meet with them to discuss these policies, and you haven’t followed suit.
RICHARD OLIVE: We’ve actually been in agreement. We’re very very keen to meet the Council all the time. This is another major gripe from Friends of the Earth. We’ve actually posed 24 questions. Because we hardly know anything about the detail of this incinerator. We posed these questions about three weeks ago. We said to them, we’d like the answers to these questions. Because we actually want to research what their answers are, an then we’ll meet them. They won’t tell us what they are. They said, you come along to a meeting, we’ll tell you then. But of course we would have no opportunity to research their answers. And then they’re going to say, well we’ve spoken to you. Now go away. That’s just not fair. We’ve said, just give us the answers first. Then we’ll come along and we’ll have a really meaningful discussion with you.
FIONA RADIC: Those answers need to go into the public domain. It’s no good just speaking to a couple of campaigners behind closed doors. We need those answers out there, so that everybody can see them.
RICHARD OLIVE: I would endorse that. We need that information for everybody.
FIONA RADIC: There’s three major things we’re missing. There’s a document apparently called the Green Papers, which nobody I’ve spoken to has managed to see. This apparently lies somewhere lurking in the woodwork behind the decision. There are the exempt documents about which we know a little bit more. We know that there is 66 pages of those, which the Scrutiny Committee have been able to see. Although I would dispute that they can possibly read them in 20 minutes. And there is a Risk Assessment, which the Council has also been challenged to produce, and we suspect that doesn’t actually exist. Now the Risk Assessment should include things like, what if we’re wrong about population numbers, as we were on the schools programme. Do you remember? We got the population of the children completely wrong. What if the economy does something different, which it has done since the original business case. The economy now is completely different. The markets for recyclates is completely different.
ANDY GALL: So Fiona, are you arguing that the Council has put forward this proposal with not a true understanding of the potential growth of the city and how it will evolve over the next thirty, forty years?
FIONA RADIC: Absolutely. I think it’s been put on to a hypothesis which they thought might stack up in about 2007. And it hasn’t been given a really good shake-over since then.
ANDY GALL: Do we all agree though that something has to be done to address the way that we deal with waste in Peterborough?
RICHARD OLIVE: Peterborough, being an Environment City, needs the best possible means of treatment. And of course it is a big issue. Global warming is attached to this one, the biggest problem facing mankind at the moment. And of course an incinerator is one of the worst ways. It will actually emit 53,000 tons of CO2.
ANDY GALL: Isn’t there a three day cooling off period now, after the announcement for the preferred bidder, that people can come forward with their issues? So you’ve got three days haven’t you to gather your thoughts and come forward with a coherent argument against it.
RICHARD OLIVE: Yes, but we still aren’t going to get the answers to questions. People still don’t know the details about this. We don’t either.
FIONA RADIC: My understanding is there’s a three day calling-in period for councillors to do that. I don’t think, in Peterborough, we are allowed, as members of the public, or as community groups, to call it in, unfortunately. Some cities do have that mechanism, but Peterborough doesn’t.


08:08 Monday 13th August

ANDY GALL: Now Matthew Lee is the Deputy Leader of Peterborough City Council, and joins us in the studio. So you’ve named your preferred bidder. What’s the process that’s going to take place later today then?
MATTHEW LEE: I’ve already signed the documentation which makes Viridor our preferred bidder. And we will now go through the actual documentation, and all of the legal stuff to make this project a reality. And I’m pleased to say that we do agree with many of the things that Friends of the Earth and the Green Party have to say. We do want to reduce .. er .. increase recycling. But we still have, at the end of that, however good your recycling is, a large amount of waste that we need to treat, both in an environmentally friendly way, but also in the best possible financial way for the City Council’s tax payers and residents of this city.
ANDY GALL: Well if this is a marriage relations between you and Friends of the Earth, I would say that there are still some glaring issues that you don’t agree on, which is what we will talk about in a few moments. But we want to know why you’ve chosen to go with Viridor over Kier as your preferred bidder.
MATTHEW LEE: Yes. We’ve been in talks and conversations with Friends of the Earth and the Green Party since 2009. You’ve got to remember that planning permission and environmental licences for this plant were granted in 2010. This has been a very long process starting in 2006. We’ve been doing this for six years. We’ve been as open as we possibly can. There are some commercially sensitive documents at the moment, and those, once we’ve signed all of the agreements within the next few months, those will become very public. So this has been a long-running consultation. And yes, we don’t agree on everything, but my role is really to take the advice of everyone that I can, including the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, and make the best decision, both environmentally for the city, but also for our residents. It’s costing us £3.5 million in tax every year just to bury our waste at Dogsthorpe. And that figure will continue to increase. So we have to manage it in a very responsible way.
ANDY GALL: Can changes be made at this, what is perceived to be now, a late stage?
MATTHEW LEE: It isn’t a late stage. This has been a long running process. We’ve taken the advice of many people in reaching the decision now. I appreciate that not everybody will agree with the decision. But, if I could just take one of the paths that the Green Party were talking about, which is an MBT plant, which sound very technical ..
ANDY GALL: It stands for mechanical biological treatment.
MATTHEW LEE: It does. Yes. So you put all of the what is black bin waste into this plant. But 50% of it comes out the other end. And in Cambridgeshire they have to take what’s left, the 50% that they put in, and they put it into landfill where it continues to rot and cause environmental damage. And Cambridgehsire probably had to pay about £3.5 million just to put that waste into landfill.
ANDY GALL: But it seems as though, Matthew to be fair, there’s advantages and disadvantages for all these schemes, isn’t there? If you’re talking about an incinerator, that’s going to produce CO2 as well, isn’t it? So you’ve got methane from landfill. You’ve got CO2 from an incinerator. Friends of the Earth say that the waste for Peterborough is decreasing. What’s your reaction to that?
MATTHEW LEE: The waste .. because we’re .. as the economy slows, yes, people produce less waste. Because as we buy less, we produce less waste. But the city is also growing, and we’ve got 90,000 tons of rubbish that the households dispose of each year. That’s going to grow to about 140,000 tons within the next twenty years or so. So we have to have a plant that can deal with all of that. But what you’ve also got to remember is in Peterborough, there’s only about a third of the waste from this city comes from residents. Two thirds will come from businesses like here in this studio, and commercial companies. So there is a lot of waste in this city. Now we the Council are building a plant, with Viridor, to deal with waste from residents. But there’s also a lot of other waste. So we will fill the gap, because obviously we need to build a plant big enough that will deal with all our waste, say over the next twenty years. There’s no point building a small plant now that in twenty years can’t cope with the residents.
ANDY GALL: But is there concerns that you’re looking at a form of technology which isn’t really at the cutting edge. Incinerator is something that sounds very last century really. What about PREL for example? Did you talk to them? And what if they come up with a technology that will solve all the problems that energy from waste can’t? Won’t it be embarrassing, if you find in a couple of years time you’ve got this ancient form of technology which you’re celebrating now?
MATTHEW LEE: Well I suppose the comparison would be a motor car. The technologies evolved at the same time, but you can’t go out now and look at say a Ford Vauxhall Astra, sorry, a Vauxhall Astra say, and say it’s got very many comparisons to a Model T Ford.
ANDY GALL: But what I’m trying to say is though if you’re looking at a form of technology as an incinerator as something that does produce CO2, and not take in full an understanding of what other forms of technology there are on the market, and that are coming on to the market, that could make an incinerator look like a very anachronistic form of technology.
MATTHEW LEE: Well what we did in the Council, we said actually we’ve got this much .. these thousands and thousands of tons of rubbish, and went to the private sector companies across Europe, and asked them to provide a solution. Viridor, for example, build MBTs and other waste treatment facilities. We asked the private sector to go across Europe and provide us with the best technology to deal with our waste here in the city. It’s a small plant. It’s designed just to cope with the waste from this city. This isn’t a ginoromous facility. And they came back with energy from waste. Because at the end of the day, if you look at in Manchester what they’re doing, they’ve had all these MBT plants, they’ve still got huge amounts of waste coming back out of them. And now they’re building an energy from waste plant to build that. So we’ve gone in with the best technology solution that the private sector and a lot of experts across Europe have suggested that we should do.
ANDY GALL: Is it right though Matthew that the energy from waste is only going to generate 21% efficiency? That’s a pretty inefficient process really, isn’t it?
MATTHEW LEE: Well I think what you’re doing is comparing it to a coal or a gas fired power station there. This is not a power station. This is a waste treatment facility, and we can .. At the end of the day you have to recycle as much as you possibly can, and then we have to deal with the waste. If we can also deal with the waste and produce electricity from that that will supply about 15% of the houses in this city with electricity .. so it’s a large amount of electricity .. it’s a very good thing to do. Otherwise that waste would just end up in landfill. It would be then leaching all of those contaminants into the environment through landfill. What we’re doing is taking into this energy from waste plant, and we are then producing energy and reducing the amount of waste that we have then at the end of the process.
ANDY GALL: I imagine the overriding concern though is for all involved is that it becomes a political issue, that you’re locking horns with the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, and wondering whether or not you can’t all come together. Apparently, so far, you haven’t all sat round a table and discussed the pluses and negatives of any of these ideas, and moved the discussion forward.
MATTHEW LEE: That’s just not true. Since 2009, Friends of the Earth and the Green Party have been meeting at the Town Hall with us. There’s at least four meetings a year.
ANDY GALL: Well what’s going to happen now? Because clearly Friends of the Earth and the Green Party aren’t .. they certainly don’t toe the line with your views, so therefore isn’t it important that you all get together again and try and hammer out some kind of understanding as to what’s best for Peterborough itself?
MATTHEW LEE: I absolutely agree with you. And that’s why two weeks ago I wanted to meet with Richard Olive. He asked for a meeting with me, and I was very pleased to be able to meet with him. Unfortunately he couldn’t make it. I’ve aked him again for any dates that he can provide, and I’ll make myself available to talk to him. We are supplying information to him. As I say, this has been going on since .. for six years now. And the planning permission, environmental licences, we’ve had those for a number of years. So this has been a long running debate. We’re never going to ..
ANDY GALL: Can you tell me now that you’re going to approach Richard again and see if you can all get round a table this week.
MATTHEW LEE: I think it was only two days ago I sent him another email just reminding him that I’m waiting for some dates from him. I’m not trying to be tit for tat here, but I’m delighted to be .. at any time .. to be able to talk to the Green Party. Even if we don’t agree, there are many things we do agree on. I appreciate they’re not happy about this, but genuinely I have to take what’s in the best interests for everyone in this city. We’ve got to be environmentally friendly, and we’ve got to save the council tax payer money. Compared to landfill, this plant will save us tens of millions of pounds.
ANDY GALL: How much will it cost to build?
MATTHEW LEE: About £75 million. So what we’ve done is compared actually continuing to send to landfill, although all our landfill will be filled full within eight years. We’ve done a comparison about continuing to send to landfill, or actually building this plant. So building this plant over the 30 years, costs us tens of millions of pounds less, and is environmentally friendly.