Viridor Peterborough Waste Incinerator Plans Raise Infant Mortality Fears

07:07 Thursday 30th August 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: Peterborough will be getting a multi-million pound incinerator to deal with waste in the city. That’s despite concerns from opposition councillors and local environmental groups. A special meeting was held last night with a coalition of councillors (who) weren’t happy when the City Council announced the waste management company Viridor as to be the preferred bidder. Now David Harrington is the leader of Peterborough Independent Forum and we can speak to him now. Now you’re one of the councillors to call in the decision. Why did you do that?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Well basically we thought that we needed to demonstrate that we had an opportunity to make sure that all of the councillors .. because you’ve got to remember, a lot of the councillors that sat on that committee last night, in fact four of them, were never involved in the early process, going back to 2007. So for us that were involved, right from the very beginning, we felt that we needed to make sure that they were very aware of what the programme has been over those years. So that was number one, to make sure that all the councillors that are present on the City Council are aware of what has been happening in the past, leading up to this.
ANDY GALL: Are you happy with the answers that you got from the meeting last night?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Well there was no surprises to what came out of the meeting. Apart from the theatricals that we had from both sides, it was to be expected what we got. But I think what we’ve got to remember is that Peterborough is a very small player in a very big casino. And this is what is the concern of some of us councillors, is that we’ve set our limit on what capacity this plant will run at. Now Viridor have expressed that they wish to make that a greater capacity. Because we know that it’s going to have to take in commercial waste. Now it begs the question that if it has to take commercial waste to make it profitable, why didn’t we make it larger capacity. Because if we probably had allowed a larger capacity, it would have probably been more advantageous for Peterborough.
ANDY GALL: So were you more critical about, not that it was .. the plan was for an incinerator, as opposed to other options that were considered, but just the size and the expectations of the role of the incinerator?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Yes. I think we have to accept that we have got to have a facility of some kind. And I’m not an expert, and a lot of my fellow councillors are not experts. We don’t pretend to be. And I do appreciate the difficult decisions that the Cabinet Member have to face.
ANDY GALL: I’m just going to bring in another guest. It’s Chris York, local environmentalist, who isn’t happy with the plans. Did you attend the meeting last night?
CHRIS YORK: Yes I did. I was actually appalled at the attitude of some of the officials and the Conservative councillors towards other councillors. It was just like a game to them really. People sniggering and laughing when valid questions were asked about health issues for example. And I had several Conservative councillors sat behind me, laughing and sneering when Councillor Nick Sandford was shot down in flames basically. Nobody took it seriously. It was just all one big financial game.
ANDY GALL: Well let’s try and take it seriously now then.
CHRIS YORK: Well we need to.
ANDY GALL: What is it specifically that you don’t agree with with these plans for an incinerator?
CHRIS YORK: Well basically, since I’ve been involved with this, since about 2006 with a couple of environmental action groups, our concerns were that there was lack of consultation. There was no openness about what the proposals were. We were told we were getting an energy from waste facility. We weren’t told it was going to be an incinerator. OK. Maybe back in 2006, given the fact that you didn’t have the competition out there that you have today, you didn’t have the technology available back in 2006 that you have today, so at the time, it may have been a financially viable option, given the state of the financial markets. But this decision that they’ve made now, nobody can give us any guarantees on the revenue streams, on the house load of the incinerator itself, which can be as much as 20% of the energy that’s produced to run the plant. The financial market, they’re looking at selling the energy to make £1 million a year to put in the Council coffers. Now in Corby for example, I’m not going to go into detail, but in Corby, they’re struggling to sell the energy that they’re producing, because it’s cheaper to buy it off the grid.
ANDY GALL: Do you know what though Chris? I get the impression that with this incinerator, it’s a situation, an opportunity for both sides, you can paint a positive or a negative picture, can’t you? It’s difficult for those of us who are listening on the sidelines to try and grasp the real currency of the story, and see where the truth lies. I’m just going to bring David Harrington .. back in. David, do you appreciate the Council needs to do something to deal with the waste?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Yes. I think we’re all appreciative that something has to be done. But as the previous speaker just said, options now are much greater than they were in some respects, and of course financially, the market has changed dramatically in the last couple, three years. So, as what was said, what was viable then is not necessarily viable now. Now we looked in the very early days at collaborating with neighbouring authorities, Cambridgeshire being obviously the obvious choice. Now that was dismissed. Now there is a growing evidence that Government are persuading, or trying to persuade, local authorities to collaborate on projects such as these. So we would have probably now find ourselves we could make a very strong case for making it more viable for Peterborough to ahve a combined plant with another authority. But that is now not considered. But it may be that that would be just what could be the answer to it now. So these things have never been looked at since 2009. The last review of this was in 2009, three years ago. So a lot of things are saying, and economically the markets have changed dramatically.
ANDY GALL: So you’re critical then that these plans haven’t been reflective of the changes within the ..
DAVID HARRINGTON: No. The Council have a duty. They have a statutory duty to make sure that they are getting and maintaining the best value they can for the local taxpayer.
ANDY GALL: We’ve got a statement here from Peterborough City Council that you can both hear. Commenting on the announcement. Councillor Matthew Lee, Deputy Leader of Peterborough City Council said, ” I am very pleased that having given the proposal further consideration, the majority of my fellow councillors recognise the importance of going ahead with our planned energy from waste facility. The practice of burying waste in landfill in Peterborough will virtually be a thing of the past, once the new facility opens, which will be good news for the environment and for the city’s taxpayers” He goes on to say. “At the same time, we’re not letting up on our desire to increase recycling in Peterborough. Quite the opposite. Which is why we’ve just announced that we’re starting a food waste collection service, starting in October.” Chris York. If you just have a moment to come back. We’re short of time.
CHRIS YORK: Yes. Sure. My concern, and the concern of other people, is the fact of the health risk involved in this. Now I’ve got evidence here. Unfortunately last night I was only given three minutes to speak. Four pages of evidence here from other incinerators, such as in the West Midlands. The infant mortality rates are up extremely high, and I believe all the councillors were given a map that shows in close proximity of incinerators in Wolverhampton, and in Dudley, you’ve got red areas where you’ve got high infant mortality rates there. Not only that, in Peterborough we’re probably the second lowest life expectancy in the whole of the region. In fact, the figures are that the average life expectancy for men is 77.2 years.
ANDY GALL: We have to be a little bit careful though Chris about bandying statistics around.
CHRIS YORK: Well. the thing is .. with all the dioxins and all the chemicals and all the pollution coming out of an incinerator, there’s a lot of health concerns. We have a lot of respiratory problems in this country. They’re getting worse. We’ve got medical health experts telling us that we need cleaner greener air. We need greener cleaner energy solutions. And an incinerator isn’t the way to give us clean green energy.
ANDY GALL: And just quickly David, briefly as well, do you think it’s a done deal now?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Well we are going to be discussing, my opposition coleagues and I, over the weekend, how we can possibly counter this. There are various options open to us. We can call an extra meeting of the Council. These are things that we are considering at this moment, so earlier next week we’ll probably be releasing a statement to what our response will be.