Resource Use

Defra hits pause button on permits for new Energy from Waste development

Updated 14 May 2024: 

The Government has announced a moratorium on environmental permits for certain types of waste incineration facilities in England, effective immediately.

Minister of State Sir Mark Spencer MP issued a ministerial direction to the Environment Agency (EA) on 5 April, which prevents the EA from approving or rejecting applications for environmental permits for waste incineration received on or before 4 April.

Waste incineration plant in Cardiff, WalesThe EA must also refrain from determining whether an application for a waste incineration environmental permit received after 4 April 2024 has been duly made.

The moratorium expires on 24 May, but could be withdrawn earlier. During this time, Defra will investigate the role of waste incineration in the management of residual wastes, considering whether England’s waste incineration capacity aligns with government environmental targets.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay excused himself from the process after openly committing to fighting the development of a new energy-from-waste facility planned to be built in his constituency, North East Cambridgeshire.

Which facilities are affected?

The ministerial direction applies to facilities whose primary purpose is energy recovery. This includes Energy from Waste and Advanced Thermal Treatment plants.

The moratorium covers approximately 5.2 million tonnes of incineration capacity that has been granted planning permission but has yet to secure an environmental permit to operate. This includes sites such as the Boston Alternative Energy Facility (1,200,000 tonnes) and the EMERGE project in Nottinghamshire (525,000 tonnes).

The moratorium also includes proposed developments that do not yet hold planning permission from the relevant planning authority.

Exempt from the moratorium are hazardous or clinical waste incineration facilities, small waste incineration plants, incinerators seeking a permit variation for an existing environmental permit, significant permit variations for incinerators seeking to develop carbon capture and storage provision, and facilities whose primary purpose is the recycling of materials.

‘The start of a comprehensive moratorium’

Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), praised Defra’s recent announcement: “We are witnessing the start of what we hope will be a comprehensive moratorium on new waste incineration capacity in England. This follows similar moves in Wales and Scotland.”

“For years UKWIN has been gathering evidence about how the over-provision of incineration has been holding back recycling in England. Wales banned new incineration capacity three years ago and is now achieving 66 per cent recycling. Scotland’s recycling rate rose to more than 62 per cent since introducing their moratorium.”

“We hope this move, together with other measures, will support England to improve upon last year’s 43 per cent recycling rate. UKWIN hopes the Scottish Environment Minister will now also direct the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new permits for any incinerators that have yet to be built.”

According to their Incineration Overcapacity Briefing (2023), UKWIN expects England’s incineration capacity to exceed available feedstock by 2.6 million tonnes in 2027 and by 7.4 million tonnes in 2042, even if no additional incinerators are built.

‘Unnecessary and unwelcome’

Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Jacob Hayler, commented: “The instruction by Defra to pause the determination of environmental permits for vital, high-performing, infrastructure is both out-of-the-blue and raises procedural questions that are likely to impact business confidence in the UK.”

“Energy-from-waste facilities provide a vital public service and continue, after decades of use, to offer the safest and lowest-carbon viable treatment solution for the nation’s rubbish left over after recycling, at a time when England still sends millions of tonnes of residual waste to landfill and a further 1.5 million tonnes abroad each year.”

“We understand that an EfW capacity study has been undertaken by Defra for some time now, so this unilateral measure to pause permit applications appears to be an unnecessary and unwelcome piece of political theatre.”

“In practice, a two-month pause is unlikely to have a significant impact on projects in the context of, what is typically, a lengthy permit determination process - but our industry and investors will undoubtedly be keen to understand the motivations as well as the scope and outcomes of the Defra study that has prompted this pause."

List of sites affected

The moratorium covers around 5.2 million tonnes of incineration capacity that has been granted planning permission but has not yet secured environmental permits to operate:

  • Boston Alternative Energy Facility (1,200,000 tonnes)
  • Medworth (625,600 tonnes)
  • Tees Valley ERF, Grangetown (512,000 tonnes)
  • Redcar (450,000 tonnes)
  • Longridge Road Energy Centre at Red Scar, Preston (395,000 tonnes)
  • Shelton Road, Corby (357,000 tonnes)
  • TEGCO Immingham Ltd (320,000 tonnes)
  • Newfields Industrial Estate, Hull (320,000 tonnes)
  • Grimsby (226,000 tonnes)
  • Gretton Brook Road, Corby (154,000 tonnes)
  • Reading Quarry (150,000 tonnes)
  • Houghton Main Colliery, Barnsley (145,000 tonnes)
  • Kidderminster (75,000 tonnes)
  • Parley (50,000 tonnes)
  • MedwayOne Energy Hub 

The following sites, which have not yet been granted planning permission, may also be impacted:

  • North Lincolnshire Green Energy Park, Flixborough (760,000 tonnes)
  • Canford Magna, Dorset (260,000 tonnes)
  • Portland Port (200,000 tonnes)
  • Archers Fields, Basildon (150,000)
  • Thornton-Cleveleys (120,000 tonnes)


Related Articles