Tuesday, 12 February 2008

What a Waste!

About 3 years ago Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside Councils began negotiations as to whether all 3 authorities could come together with the idea of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill sites every year. The position was simple; to continue to throw away rubbish at the current rate was expensive and was damaging the environment. Even by increasing recycling targets by 50% by 2020, 185,000 tonnes of non recyclable waste would still have to be disposed of.

As a result of this collaboration, the South Tyne and Wear Waste Management Partnership (STWWMP) emerged with Gateshead as the lead partner. The group would work together to minimise the amount of waste sent to land fill sites, and also meet recycling and composting targets.

Everything up to this point is fine; increase recycling levels, reduce waste, plan for the future – all admirable and excellent concepts. However, the details are in the “fine print”, and that’s where the problems really start.


The two preferred measures for disposing of this rubbish basically involve burning it.

1) “Energy from Waste” – household and industrial waste is burned to produce heat or power. However, the process still produces CO2 emissions, and any heat utilised will only supply nearby factories or small community housing developments. Would you actually want to live or work near to a rubbish incinerator that burns the waste from 3 large urban and industrial Boroughs?

2) “Mechanical Biological Treatment with Aerobic Digestion” – oh dear, in plain English this means preparing the rubbish prior to burning, or preparing it prior for landfill. Either way it will have to work at full capacity to cope with Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside waste requirements.

One of the main issue’s with either of these developments is that it will have to be built somewhere. My view is that it will be constructed in either Gateshead or Sunderland as both have large areas of unused land currently available. Equally however, South Tyneside could easily accommodate the plant via compulsory procurement/purchase or through existing holdings.

I suspect that the communities directly adjacent to the developments will fight tooth and nail to block planning permission.


Documents show the project will cost in the region of £1.6 billion. If this figure is arrived at using the same accounting procedures used for the Dome, Wembley Stadium, the Olympics (in other words for anything bigger than a shed!) then it will rise to £2.5 billion. Sunderland is the only council I can find who have offered a figure re their contribution - £772 million. The rest will come from Gateshead and South Tyneside.

Approaches have been made to Defra for PFI credits or funding, but all 3 Boroughs are suspiciously quite on whether any money or funding has been secured.

Realistically, rate payers in all 3 Boroughs could be landed with a very hefty bill.


The process has already started, with firm discussions taking place at Cabinet levels for the last 2 years. A Sunderland City Council document outlines the following timetable;

2009 - technological and logistical (i.e. where to build) decisions finalised
2010 – 2013 - building developments completed
2012 – 2013 - waste processing to begin

So there you have it – all done and dusted in a maximum of five years. The “stakeholders” agreement between Sunderland City Council, Gateshead Council and South Tyneside Council has already been signed.


If we can no longer put our waste in landfill sites, what then can we do with it? Leaving this issue till last, let’s look at a couple of other points first:

1. The cost – if the figure of £1.6 billion is being mooted today, on current evidence it could have doubled to a staggering £3+ billion by 2010. Costs of this magnitude attract their own problems – exorbitant consultancy fees, management costs and salaries, dubious contract awards, inflated land prices. When it comes to previous contracts of this nature, the “prospectors” always win, with the public footing the bill.

2. Location – would you want to live near this plant? Would you want your children to go to school near one of these “incinerators”? I anticipate massive public resistance with regards to this development regardless of where it is built. The recent public outcry at a Sunderland City Council meeting was merely the opening gambit in this battle.


3. The Environmental Case – all the evidence points to the fact that burning rubbish in any form is bad for the environment and also inefficient. However, the Councils “evidence” doesn’t supply an alternative for rubbish which cannot be recycled. To be honest, my knowledge in this area is very limited. I assume it is no coincidence that Council documents have not listed any other alternatives. I would therefore appreciate any information from the Green fraternity on this issue. If you have any comments on this point on any other issues raised by the STWWMP, send them to the email address below. I’ll either acknowledge them as full posts, or incorporate them into the comments section.


Without a doubt, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of pounds will have already been spent on this project without even a brick being cemented into place with the infamous silver trowel! Clearly, the voters in Sunderland are already awakened to the dangers of the project. Not only have they already mobilised themselves, but they have the support of the Conservatives and Independents, who with political foresight, have acknowledged the need to combine forces to take on another Labour dominated Council. I suspect that Gateshead will not be too far behind with its opposition.

So what of South Tyneside? To date the project has cruised through various committee stages without anybody paying it too much attention. Hopefully this post will raise the issue’s profile.

This Borough has some very selfish Councillors who would be happy to have their political kudos and CV bolstered by the building of this incinerator in South Tyneside. For that reason alone we must keep an eye on the issue.

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