Special report: How will Norfolk deal with waste now the incinerator has been ditched?
Now the contract to build an incinerator at King’s Lynn has been cancelled, the county council is back to square one over how to deal with Norfolk’s waste.
The council voted on Monday, by 48 votes to 30, to cancel the contract with Cory Wheelabrator to build and run an incinerator at Saddlebow.
That has left taxpayers with a £35m bill, but even more money will need to be spent to find alternative ways of dealing with the county’s waste, with officers set to present cabinet with possible options next month.
Officers, in the report which came before councillors on Monday, stated: “All alternatives would be considered unless the county council changes its position of neutrality on treatment processes.”
So how might the problem of what to do with Norfolk’s waste be solved?
The council could continue to send most of its waste to landfill, either in Norfolk or elsewhere. A county council spokesman said: “The largest landfill in Norfolk at Blackborough End near King’s Lynn has potentially many years capacity and the council has landfill disposal contracts that run until 2016. “The council can use existing facilities elsewhere, including the possibility of agreements with neighbouring authorities.”
Mechanical Biological Treatment/Anaerobic Digestion?
A mechanical biological treatment plant - which would have used a process called anaerobic digestion to turn waste into a form of industrial compost - was almost built in Costessey after a bid to build an incinerator there failed.
But, in 2009, the council’s cabinet cancelled the contract saying it had become too expensive and shifted attention to the proposed incinerator in King’s Lynn.
However, waste industry experts say that the cost of such plants has since come down, so it could now be more affordable.
Officers have stated that using a mechanical biological treatment plant at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire could be an option.
Norfolk County Council has been having talks with Suffolk County Council about sending some of its waste to the incinerator at Great Blakenham, due to start working this summer.
The county council has already been using an incinerator in Kent and council leader George Nobbs has suggested burners in Lincolnshire might be able to take the county’s waste.
UKIP leader Toby Coke also commissioned a report from waste consultancy Eunomia last year looking at an alternative waste treatment bid received by the council.
That report stated the authority could save up to £88m over the life of the contract by sending rubbish to be incinerated in Amsterdam.
As happened when the Costessey scheme was scrapped, the council could yet look to another incinerator, although having been bruised twice now, officers and councillors may think twice.
In the council’s blueprint for how waste developed in Norfolk should be dealt with, a number of sites are deemed suitable for various forms of waste treatment.
A council spokesman said: “Monday’s decision does not in itself affect these site allocations, but of course there is nothing to stop private waste management companies from bringing forward development proposals for any of these sites if they believe that it is a good time to do so.
“They would still require planning permission. The allocations document gives an indication of suitable activities, but detailed applications would still need to be submitted, as at Saddlebow, giving people an opportunity to comment.”
Among them is land at Harling Road in Snetterton, allocated for a range of activities, including anaerobic digestion and energy from waste.
Bosses at Norse have previously said they had applied for that allocation to keep their options open and were not thinking of using the site for incineration.
And the Saddlebow site, which the council paid £2m for, remains available - although it could yet be sold off to help cover costs.
Peterborough-based Green Energy Parks has held meetings with Norfolk County Council officers and says it could treat Norfolk’s waste for £75 per tonne.
The company had competed for the initial Contract A back in 2005, when they came third.
Managing director Chris Williams wrote: “Green Energy Parks is established in Peterborough and we would like to extend our operations to include Norfolk. We are offering a flexible and complete waste solution to take all of Norfolk’s waste for £75 per tonne.
“GEP believes it has a workable solution for Norfolk’s waste, which would be acceptable to local people, while saving money compared to the Willows.”
The company would recycle suitable waste before using a process called gasification to produce electricity.
Officers, in their appendix to Monday’s report to councillors, acknowledge the Peterborough Green Energy Park could be an alternative.
Chester-based Material Works has signed a 16-year framework contract with West Norfolk Council to process around 30,000 tonnes of black bag waste and 5,000 tonnes of food waste per year, as well as 35,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial waste.
The company says it has secured £100m in funding to build an anaerobic digestion plant in West Norfolk, which would turn waste into an inert plastic. But the company has not revealed where the site and has yet to apply for planning permission.
David Harrison, cabinet member for environment and waste previously said he was “very sceptical” about the Material Works scheme which he said was “untested” technology which could take years to be up and running.
But Material Works says a planning application is due to be lodged in the summer, while managing director Robert Billson has previously said the company is also looking to build a demonstrator plant.
A spokesman for Material Works said: “Sites have been identified for the demonstrator plant and for the King’s Lynn plant. We are in discussions with each of the landowners.
“Once these are completed, we will start the consultation process for the King’s Lynn facility with residents and other interested parties that are local to the chosen site as part of the preparation of a Planning Application to be submitted in the summer.”
The company also hopes other councils in Norfolk and further afield will sign up “to maximise the recycling of the residual waste materials they collect.”
The Green Party wants to see a “zero-waste” policy in Norfolk, which would need to be developed in co-operation with district councils.
The party says that would need a shift away from a single industrial-scale solution, such as an incinerator, towards a mixture of more localised facilities for boosting recycling and reclamation, and mechanical biological solutions while helping householders produce less waste.
Green Party county councillor Andrew Boswell said: “What I think we need now is a reformed team at the council to work on an entirely new approach. Norfolk’s ‘Plan B’ for waste management could offer some imaginative new options that are both environmentally friendly and profitable to local companies.”
Tim East, Liberal Democrat councillor for Costessey, who fought against both incinerators, said the solution was smaller plants around Norfolk - in each district council area.
He said: “This solution would reduce the unnecessary transportation difficulties of one massive single-site plant and cut down on the costs. It would prioritise and localise both waste disposal and collection within a district.
“This idea or concept is predicated on this county improving its recycling rate to about 70pc. This is achievable as other counties and districts have already demonstrated.”
• How do you think Norfolk should deal with its waste? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.