Swansea incinerator rejected after Extinction Rebellion protests

Councillors in Swansea have rejected a planning application by waste management company Biffa for a new energy-from-waste (EfW) facility.

At a meeting of the council’s planning committee yesterday (Tuesday 7 May), the application was rejected unanimously, despite a recommendation for approval from planning officers.

Swansea incinerator rejected after Extinction Rebellion protestsThe small-scale incinerator was planned for an unused warehouse on the site of Biffa’s Swansea depot in Swansea Enterprise Park in the suburb of Llansamlet. In its planning application, the company said that the £5-million facility would process an annual 21,000 tonnes of non-hazardous commercial waste from existing customers. It also claimed that 15 new jobs would be created on the back of the development.

Residual waste collected by Biffa in Swansea is currently transported to the Trecatti landfill site in Merthyr Tydfil, over 30 miles away. Biffa stated that the incinerator would result in a reduction of 1,050 vehicle movements to the Trecatti landfill if waste could be treated onsite by Biffa.

Extinction Rebellion protests outside Biffa’s Swansea depot

Local residents were unhappy with the proposal, citing fears about pollution and the visual impact of the development. Activists with the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion gathered outside Biffa’s depot on Tuesday morning, and a public consultation into the proposal also received a huge number of responses, with more than 2,500 objection letters being sent to the council.

Local resident Jacqueline Warden wrote: “I wish to strongly object to this planning application on the grounds that the risk to the health and wellbeing of the human population, wildlife and ecology of the surrounding area would be too great.”

The Welsh Government was asked to call in the application, which would have meant that the planning decision would have moved to a national rather than local level. Planning applications are usually only called in if they have wider impacts beyond the local area – the government ultimately decided that the decision should be left in the hands of Swansea Council.

Swansea’s planning officers recommended that Biffa’s proposal be approved, after the local health board and the Pollution Control Division reported that the incinerator would not have “any significant impacts” on the environment. However, Cllr Paul Lloyd, Chair of the Planning Committee, said that “public opinion [was] taken into account” and that “the committee felt that there would be a visual impact on the nearby residential area and nature reserve, plus it would be close to a 500 pupil school.”

Is incineration the right solution for waste?

At the planning meeting, it was reported that a Biffa representative said it was “not sustainable” to keep transporting waste to landfill, describing the incinerator as “good for society and good for the economy”.

However, in addition to local concerns, there are wider issues about the growing use of incinerators to process residual waste. Back in 2018, a Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warned that further investment in EfW would stunt the UK’s recycling rate. Professor Ian Boyd said that incineration would encourage the production of residual waste: “If you are investing many tens of millions, hundreds of millions, in urban waste incineration plants – and those plants are going to have a 30- to 40-year lifespan – you have to have the waste streams to keep them supplied.

“If there is one way of extinguishing the value in materials fast, it’s to stick it in an incinerator and burn it. Now, it may give energy out at the end of the day, but actually some of those materials, even if they are plastics, with a little bit of ingenuity, can be given more positive value.”

A Biffa spokesperson said that the company was “disappointed” with the decision and would be “reviewing our position and next steps over the coming days”. It is not yet clear whether it will be lodging an appeal.

Swansea Council’s Head of Waste Management has been contacted for comment.

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