UK in a right Pickles over the Big Burn

Private Eye, Issue 1384

AFTER much prodding, communities secretary Eric Pickles finally made a decision on 6 January over a planned large incinerator in Tory Gloucestershire, supporting the planning inspector’s decision that dismissed concern about the health of those living around the incinerator as fluff. The inspector had decided it was right for Pickles to leave health concerns to the Environment Agency (EA) unless there was evidence to the contrary.

Pickles can no doubt rely on the EA to support a drive to the Big Burn if he needs to, to avoid whopping European penalties on landfill. The EA chair is Sir Philip Dilley, who until April was executive chairman of Arup Group, which designs incinerators. He still serves as a “trustee” at Arup.

Pro-business pro-burners
Another member of the EA board is Gill Weeks, who runs a boutique consultancy working for her former employer Veolia on the disposal of hazardous waste, recording an income of around £17,000 in the latest accounts. Veolia runs several incinerators – sorry, “energy from waste facilities” – across the UK.

Enthusiasm for an incinerator is not matched elsewhere, and Pickles has a dilemma as the election approaches. He is yet to decide on an incinerator in Norfolk, despite receiving the planning inspector’s decision last August. The communities secretary is caught between the pro-business pro-burners and those worried about emissions.

In 2013 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) decided to withdraw PFI credits, amounting to a £169m subsidy over the 25-year contract, from the Norfolk incinerator. But there was no lack of support for the project elsewhere: the “Green Investment Bank”, run by Vince Cable, agreed to put up £51m, while the other investment came from banks, including the taxpayer-owned Lloyds and RBS.

Infant mortality
Last October Defra also withdrew £115.3m in PFI credits from the proposed Hatfield incinerator in Tory chairman Grant Shapps’s backyard – a further sign of the government’s cold feet over the growing incinerator industry. A recent report from the Eunomia consultancy predicted that, just on current approved projects, by 2020 overcapacity would leave UK incinerators short of 9.5m tonnes of rubbish a year. That would require importing huge amounts of the stuff to maintain Britain’s “Binman of the World” industry.

Meanwhile, a large two-year study by Imperial College on birth defects around incinerators was due to report in March last year but has been delayed; preliminary results are to be published later this year. The study was commissioned to deal with colourful maps produced by Mike Ryan, a former Environment Agency worker, who in the spirit of British pluck had gathered the data himself and published his own maps online. He mapped infant mortality and congenital abnormality at ward level in towns – resulting in large red areas (for high mortality or abnormality) downwind of incinerators.