Thursday, April 25, 2024

Unwanted, unloved and uneconomic, yet the incinerator lumbers on

It should come as no surprise to any of us that last week saw a story in the Northwich Guardian telling us that the firm building the monstrosity that is the Northwich Incinerator had collapsed into administration. Anyone following the saga as we have over the past twenty years will know that once again, the sheer stupidity of Government decision-making, planning, and subsidies has meant that this project rumbles on regardless.

From the very outset, when plans for an incinerator were first floated back in 1999, local residents said they didn’t want it. The economics of the scheme never really made sense and the sheer idiocy of driving hundreds of lorries a day, filled with waste from other parts of the country, to burn in Northwich, never made sense.

It was a nonsense back then and it’s still a nonsense now.

Like HS2, despite the scale of opposition and the dwindling economic sense of the project, Government officials are too scared to say, ‘we made a mistake’ and halt it in its tracks. Like HS2, this white elephant of a project seems determined to be completed, irrespective of how much money it costs and how many livelihoods it ruins.

Originally, the idea was floated by Ineos in the late 1990s, who had long had a base on the site chosen, but by the time it came to the Planning Inquiry in 2012, the project was fronted by a consortium of TATA and EON. These two have long since washed their hands of it and today, this nonsense project sits firmly with LSEP, the Lostock Sustainable Energy Plant, which is funded through a joint venture between Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and FCC Environment.

For those who missed the drama, when building work finally commenced it was a joint venture between CNIM and Clugston until Clugston went under in 2019. Then, in 2022, CNIM went under as well and you’d think that the project team behind this might have taken the hint at that point. But no, they ploughed on with LSEP taking it all over and now they have appointed Black & Veatch to bail them out. We’re not sure they realise just how unlikely this project is to be profit-making, nor the strength of local feeling against it that still persists.

Throughout it all, they continue to gaslight the local people with wonderful and oft-repeated phrases like “…which will support in levelling up the local economy by creating up to 600 jobs during the construction period” but neglecting to tell us that few, if any of those jobs will be local. They also continue to peddle the line that it will produce enough electricity to “power 125,000 homes” but again, fail to tell us that none of those homes will be local to the plant. If they had at least offered to provide discounted or free power to those living nearby, it might have been a crumb of comfort, but no, all the power they generate goes to the National Grid where we then pay through the nose for this expensive nonsense. They also conveniently omit that the original plan, the one which they pushed for at the Public Inquiry, was to “supply energy to Tata Chemicals Europe’s Lostock factory and the company is a partner in its construction.”

We gained a small crumb of comfort last December when Michael Gove knocked back their plans to expand the plant capacity from 600,000 to 728,000 tonnes a year, but don’t think for one moment that this will stop them trying again. Incinerators only make money when they are running at full capacity and they will do anything to secure additional waste streams; we expect them to try again to expand the plant, probably once the next election is over. But we are watching.

Remember, this capacity has nothing to do with the waste we produce. Cheshire West and Chester tell us in their strategy document that “The amount of waste the Council manages has reduced by over 8% since 2009/10 despite increases in the population” and when you look at the graph you can see that waste arising is definitely not going up. We’re doing our bit, we’re reducing, reusing, and recycling, yet we will end up being the dumping ground for the rest of the country’s waste.

So, despite our best efforts and the vehement rejection from the people of Northwich, here we are stuck with this white elephant that will immiserate the local population for the foreseeable future. Whilst this drama unfurls before our eyes, we need to make sure we hold those responsible to account both now and in the future.