End of the road for Hertfordshire’s big WtE plans?

Efforts by Hertfordshire County Council to develop a new WtE plant suffered a major setback in July 2019, following the government’s refusal of planning permission for a 350,000 tonne, 33.5 MW facility adjacent to the Rye House Power Station at Ratty’s Lane, Hoddesdon, 22 miles to the northeast of London.

hertfordshire Source: Bing Maps/Ordnance Survey. Find the site’s location at 51.753265, 0.013762

Plans for the Hoddesdon plant were drawn up in 2016 and approved by the council in 2017. However, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) ‘called in’ the application in February 2018, meaning a public inquiry needed to be held. This took place in the summer of 2018. The process ended in July 2019 when the Secretary of State rejected the application. He cited two main reasons: firstly, there would be ‘significant adverse landscape and visual impacts’, and secondly, the road access to the site is considered insufficient for the proposed volume of heavy goods traffic the plant would generate. The complete published decision can be read here.

The decision also spells bad news for Veolia, as Hertfordshire council felt it had no option but to terminate its 2011 agreement with the company on 8th August 2019. The failure of the Hoddesdon plan follows an earlier rejection by the government of a similar WtE project to be built by Veolia at New Barnfield, just to the south of Hatfield and to the west of Hoddesdon. While the county council gave the site the go ahead in 2012, the government overturned this in July 2014. This decision was confirmed on appeal in July 2015 and the project was cancelled.

Hertfordshire’s fruitless search for additional waste capacity has therefore now been going on for nearly a decade. There is general agreement on the need to reduce waste sent to landfill and deal with waste more locally, and broad agreement that WtE is the best option. But there is no agreement on where such a site might be located.

The county has very little local waste disposal capacity, and therefore an historic reliance on landfill and sending waste to other parts of the country to be disposed of. While only around 26% of Hertfordshire’s residual waste is sent to landfill, the tonnage rose by 21% in 2017/18, to 64,112 tonnes. Most of the remainder is sent to WtE plants outside Hertfordshire.

hertfordshire-graph Source: Hertfordshire Waste Partnership,Annual Report 2017/18

The diagram below shows where Hertfordshire’s residual waste is sent. The only major disposal site in the county is the Westmill landfill, to the northwest of Ware. This is operated by Biffa. It opened in the 1980s and is, according to Biffa, one of the busiest landfills in the country, accepting around 500,000 tonnes of waste each year. The vast majority of this is, presumably, from outside Hertfordshire. Two other landfill sites are used: Bletchley in Buckinghamshire and Milton in Cambridgeshire. Both are operated by FCC Environment. Three WtE sites are used: Ardley in Oxfordshire, Edmonton in north London (itself the subject of ongoing and controversial redevelopment plans), and Greatmoor in Buckinghamshire.

hertfordshire-waste Source: Hertfordshire Waste Partnership Annual Report 2017/18, page 41

What happens next is unclear, although nothing is likely to develop in a hurry following the termination of the Veolia agreement. There appears to be no other site or partnership in the pipeline at present. Existing arrangements can be rolled forward, but before long the issue will need to be revisited. Hertfordshire County Council has noted that the collapse of the Hoddesdon plan ‘…leaves us with a substantial problem as we’re running out of options for dealing with the residual waste Hertfordshire currently produces, and with 100,000 new homes expected in the county in the next 15 years we urgently need more waste treatment capacity. In the short term we will have to continue transporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste to other parts of the country for treatment which is expensive and bad for the environment.’

Interestingly, while the Veolia plan has been terminated, Ratty’s Lane is a well-established site for waste plants. Firstly, a smaller private WtE facility is being built there. This is a 10 MWe gasification plant, to be powered not by municipal waste but by RDF from the commercial and industrial sectors. This too has been subject to a number of delays, although not in this case planning-related. Work began in 2015 and, according to its developer, Bioenergy Infrastructure Group, the plant is currently expected to be operational some time in 2019. Secondly, Biogen UK has a 3 MW AD plant powered by food waste there. This has annual capacity of 65,000 tonnes and became operational in 2016. As I’ve mentioned before, small may or may not be beautiful, but it is far less likely to fall foul of planning laws.

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