‘Incinerator is not the only game in town’ - deal worth up to £300m could see East Anglian councils use new waste technology

The proposed site of the incinerator at Saddlebow. Picture: Ian Burt

The proposed site of the incinerator at Saddlebow. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

A technology which claims to boost recycling rates beyond 90pc could be used by 15 East Anglian councils in a deal worth up to £300m.

West Norfolk Council became the first authority last year to sign a contract, subject to several conditions, to send black bin rubbish it collects to Material Works (MW).

MW says it will make an announcement tomorrow on two West Norfolk locations for its first processor plant, and a facility to demonstrate the technology works, which is part of the council's conditions.

The technology uses a non-burning process and is said to turn rubbish into plastic.

And an umbrella agreement exists which allows 14 other councils to sign contracts with MW during the next four years should they decide they want to use the technology to treat their household rubbish.

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The councils which have expressed an interest include: Breckland; Broadland; Great Yarmouth; Norfolk County Council; North Norfolk; Norwich; South Norfolk; East Cambridgeshire; Fenland; Forest Heath; Mid Suffolk; St Edmundsbury; Waveney; and South Holland.

The more councils which agree to use the technology, the greater the value of the deal.

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A tender document states the final value of the contract is £300m, excluding VAT.

Norfolk County Council has said the work of MW will not affect the case for its near-£600m incinerator proposal at Saddlebow, King's Lynn, which is subject to an ongoing public inquiry.

Robert Billson, MW's managing director, said: 'We are delighted now to be very close to agreeing the location of Material Works's first local processing plant with the Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk and will be in a position to confirm where this will be sited shortly after the council's cabinet meeting [on Wednesday, April 9].

'Designs for the building are also very well advanced. We shall at the same time be announcing the location of the demonstrator plant, where we will be processing residual black bag waste on a smaller scale to show how the process works and demonstrating the remarkable efficiency of this process.'

West Norfolk previously noted in council papers that Broadland looked likely to be the location of the demonstrator plant.

There were suggestions, not from the council, that Rackheath was the intended destination.

But Broadland District Council officials say despite hearing of talks taking place with companies in its area, it was not spoken to about the matter by MW.

West Norfolk says it is confident MW will satisfy its conditions and two hurdles have already been cleared.

Brian Long, West Norfolk Council deputy leader and environment portfolio holder, said: 'We are gradually dealing with the conditions of the contract that the borough put down. An independent verification of the process – that piece of work is complete – and the financial due diligence work on what Material Works is proposing to do has been completed. We have had one or two difficulties in obtaining a site for housing the demonstrator site.'

Mr Long said the process had a low price and worked on the principle of not transferring waste too far away from the community where it is produced.

He added the council could walk away from the deal if the conditions were not satisfied, although he had seen the process demonstrated and he was 'quite convinced' the technology would work.

Mr Long said: 'I think all the other authorities can see the attractiveness of taking recycling rates up to these levels – not least the cost.'

The county council remains locked in a battle over its incinerator project, which aims to divert 170,000 tonnes of waste from landfill each year.

It could be hit with a bill of up to £20m if it breaks its contract with Cory Wheelabrator, the Anglo-US consortium chosen to build the plant. If the planning inspectorate refuses the first proposal, the council can request a second incinerator proposal be put forward by Cory.

County council leader Bill Borrett, who is also cabinet member for environment and waste, said: 'As has been ably demonstrated by the number of hold-ups the Energy from Waste facility at King's Lynn has had to go through and how many years it's taken to deliver, the Material Works initial timetable they published only last year is already woefully behind.

'We have a million tonnes of rubbish produced in Norfolk every year.

'The incinerator is not the only game in town.

'If the county council and Material Works come up with a good way of managing residual waste, it will become an important part of a mix of technology in Norfolk to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

'It's been presented as either one project or the other but it's not. I think both will be important and have elements to deliver.

'I can fully support the Energy from Waste plant and I can say I do hope it works out for Material Works – and they are not contradictory statements.'

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