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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the incineration of industrial and commercial waste.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and to see many Members from different parties, and indeed from across the UK, at this important debate. I know that the issue that we are debating is of great concern to Members across the House, and I hope we will hear some of their points during the course of the next hour.
Looking out towards the east of Cardiff today, one can see the waters of the Severn estuary stretching into the distance and, not far from our brand new Eastern High School, a large wind turbine—visible evidence of the green transition that we all want to see to renewable energy and renewable sources for the future. Now, imagine planted right next to that a huge industrial burner, complete with a chimney of pretty much the same size as the wind turbine pumping out yet more carbon emissions, and a trail of heavy goods vehicles delivering waste while providing their own blast to local air quality with diesel fumes, PM10s, particulates and so on. What a contrast and, fundamentally, what a contradiction. Worse still, it comes as part of a chain of proposed incinerators running from Swansea to Barry, to Splott in my constituency—where we already have an incinerator that I opposed—right through to Monmouthshire and across the water to Avonmouth, and in many other clusters across the UK.
I want to set out my total opposition to the proposals for the so-called energy recovery facility—it is, in fact, a huge industrial-scale burner—for the Rumney and St Mellons area in the east of Cardiff. The proponent, Môr Hafren Bio Power—businesses always choose these greenwashed names to cover up what they are up to—is essentially an arm of CoGen, a well-known company that is involved in these activities and based in Stoke-on-Trent. Interestingly, the main director, Ian Charles Brooking, has a series of other commercial interests, from rubber crumb companies to food products, as well as multiple variations of the Bio Power brand that are planning lots of speculative burner applications across the UK. An allegation has been made to me that CoGen and other companies will probably end up burning their own industrial and commercial waste—how convenient. I have been pleased to join thousands of local residents across the area in making our opposition known over the past six months, and we have been supported by colleagues on our local council and from across the parties.
There are many reasons why this facility is completely inappropriate, and I shall touch on them before I go into the wider issues. The first is about emissions and traffic. Much is made of the treatment of emissions through burner chimneys, but, given the climate crisis we face, the carbon emissions from such facilities make a crucial difference. I have already mentioned the emissions from traffic, and we are talking about potentially hundreds of vehicles going to and from the facility to deliver waste.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I represent a neighbouring constituency. According to a recent Birmingham University study, air quality in Cardiff is the fourth worst in the UK. It is even worse than in London. Does he agree that allowing the incinerator to be built not only risks moving our city further up the league of shame, but undermines the hard work that has gone into Cardiff Council’s wide-ranging transport and clean air green paper, which is currently out for public consultation?
My hon. Friend and neighbour makes a crucial point. The proposed facility would represent a contradiction to the excellent and forward-thinking paper on air quality in Cardiff that the council put so much work into, and to which I hope residents will contribute. The facility would sit in opposition to that direction of travel.
There are many other issues, including the financial viability of this prospect; whether waste can be burned there commercially or whether things will be shipped in, which I will return to; the proximity to schools and residential locations, including a Travellers’ site; the traffic and the HGV movements, because despite being next to the south Wales main line, they will not be using rail; the visual impact of the clustering of existing incinerators in the area; the failures in the consultation process; and even a GDPR breach that the company has been involved in.
The hon. Member is making a very good point. Does he agree that when we talk about building incinerators, we are talking not just about the incinerators themselves, but about their effect on traffic and all their other potential unintended consequences, which make them so unwieldy and inappropriate for places such as Cardiff?
I am reluctant to make this point to my hon. Friend, because I am a good friend of his. Is he aware that many of us who have specialised in this area over the years think that energy from waste is absolutely part of the answer to climate change, when it comes to the waste that towns and cities create and do not want to take responsibility for? Is he aware that modern energy from waste can be excellent in scooping up that stuff, bringing us energy and stopping us exporting waste all over the developing world?
My hon. Friend and I take slightly different approaches to this issue. In the waste hierarchy pyramid, which will be familiar to many people, incineration of waste is only just above landfill; indeed, there is some controversy about that. The key thing is that we need to reduce the waste that we create in the first place, so that we do not have to burn it, put it into landfill or export it, as he suggests.
I will make a bit of progress, then I will happily take some more interventions.
Ultimately, the decision on this particular project is a devolved matter, and I hope that Welsh Ministers, the Planning Inspectorate for Wales and Natural Resources Wales will listen to the growing cross-community and cross-party opposition to the proposal. However, the implications of a wider policy on the incineration of waste and, most critically, on whether we continue on the path of wasteful waste production and climate-changing linear economy or revolutionise the way we live our lives, are a matter for the whole of the UK and globally. I hope Wales will uphold its own responsibilities to future generations, but this is part of a wider context. I do not want Wales to become a dumping ground for waste from other parts of the UK or further afield. I am sorry to say that sometimes it feels, particularly in my area, as though that is an issue. We saw what happened with the mud from the Hinkley nuclear sites, and we have seen other incinerators being built in the area. When we look at the history of Wales, we can think back to the dark days of Tryweryn, for example. We do not want that sort of relationship between Wales and the rest of the UK.
I will not give way to my hon. Friend, because I have done so already. I will give way to others shortly.
I thank all my constituents who have raised concerns, and I thank the various campaigning organisations who have provided evidence for the debate.
My main concern is that we do not know about the end destination of our household waste. Stuff gets incinerated or recycled, but it may actually go further afield or get dumped at sea. Does he agree that an onus or a legal obligation on councils to disclose the end destination of household waste would be a way forward?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady’s point. Indeed, a lack of data on that is an issue I will come on to very shortly.
It is clear that this is a topic we need to talk more about, given the climate emergency that we face. In 2016, the commercial industrial sectors produced 41.1 million tonnes of waste, which is some 18% of all waste produced in the UK, but there is no clear published breakdown of how waste from those sectors is treated. The average UK incinerator produces approximately 230,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. To provide a comparison, 200,000 tonnes of CO2 is equivalent to 6.1 million cars driving from Cardiff to London per year. That is quite an extraordinary comparison. In Wales alone, there are already 10 sites for proposed incinerators, nine of which are in south Wales, where two are already located.
I support much of what the hon. Member has said, and I have sympathy for the communities living near incinerators. Barry in my constituency has been battling this issue; it was one of the first things I challenged nine years ago on being first elected to represent the Vale of Glamorgan constituency. Does he recognise that the Welsh Government took a conscious decision, back when my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies and I were Assembly Members, to prioritise incineration as a means of dealing with waste, and that has led to the string of incinerators along the estuary that he talks about?
The right hon. Gentleman makes his point. He will know that one of the strongest opponents of the Barry incinerator is the Assembly Member for the Vale of Glamorgan, Jane Hutt, who sits in the Welsh Government. She was with me at the protests outside the Senedd, making her views clear alongside many of my other friends. It is good that concern is being raised across the political spectrum. In fact, the Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee in the Senedd, Mike Hedges, has made it clear that he thinks there should be a moratorium on incineration.
I am going to make some progress, because I am conscious of time. Lots of people want to make speeches—[Interruption.] I will let my hon. Friend intervene before the end of my speech, but I want to make some progress.
The lack of data is crucial. I have been asking a series of parliamentary questions over the past few months about this issue, and there appears to be a lack of data and no strategic approach for locating incineration facilities, in relation to travel times, emissions from travel and so on. For example, there is apparently no clear information available on how much waste travels between England, Wales and Scotland, on how much waste we are exporting and importing, or on the emissions caused by transporting waste by road to incineration locations, including the differences between, for example, transferring things by rail and other means. If we do not take that holistic picture of carbon and other emissions into account, how can we make strategic decisions?
The proposed incinerator in my constituency would lead to as much as 200,000 tonnes of commercial waste being burned each year, and it would operate 24 hours a day in a predominantly residential area. Where would the waste come from? How far would it travel? What is the impact of clustering incineration facilities? I hope the Minister will be able to explain why that information is not recorded at a UK level and made available so that decisions can be taken, whether by the UK Government or by devolved Administrations and councils.
I am also concerned—I hope the Minister can answer some questions on this—about why the UK Government have been promoting, in their UK Trade and Investment “GREAT Britain” strategy, overseas investment into CoGen and the facility in my constituency? In a glossy brochure on the energy investment portfolio, the former Secretary of State, Dr Fox, asked for investment in the proposed incinerator in my constituency. Again, that seems to be at odds with what the UK Government are saying overall about carbon emissions. We are hosting the Conference of Parties this year. Given their position, why is that going on? Why are they actively promoting this facility, which has not even received planning permission yet?
My hon. Friend knows that I was a councillor in Wales many years ago, so I know a bit about Wales. I have to ask him the acid test question: what is the answer to all the waste that is generated in south Wales? Most of the local authorities have low performance in recycling; the national average is certainly not good. Will the waste be exported to my constituency, or to Indonesia or some other country? What will he do to take responsibility for that waste, which he has a moral duty to deal with in some modern way?
Actually, Wales has extremely strong targets and good performance on recycling. This is industrial and commercial waste, and it is not clear that all of it will be coming from Welsh sources. That is an issue that I have been raising. It looks like it will be shipped in from elsewhere. Unless we can be clear about where that waste is travelling from, how can we take strategic decisions about how it should be dealt with? I certainly feel that three incinerators located within five miles of each other in my area of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan seems like overkill. Why are they not being shared out fairly across the country?
I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for securing this debate. He is making some powerful points, especially about Wales leading England in recycling. Does he agree that it is crucial that the views of the local people who will be affected by the incinerator are taken into account? After all, it is their lives, communities and homes that will be affected, and we must take account of that.
I absolutely agree. I thank my hon. Friend for her support of the campaigners. The issue obviously affects her constituency, in locations such as Marshfield, Peterstone and elsewhere. I am glad that she will be supporting the campaign and meeting the campaigners and others.
I want to touch on a few more issues before concluding, but I am conscious that others want to speak, and of course we want to hear from the Minister. One of the big arguments that is often made for these plants is, “Well, they’re going to generate combined heat and power and they are going to give all this energy back to the grid.” However, the reality is that, although there are 40 energy-from-waste plants in England, only eight currently operate in combined heat and power mode. In fact, the official CHP list includes the Viridor plant in Splott in my constituency, but, although the plant might be enabled for combined heat and power, it is not currently providing that. Viridor told me that the plant cannot export as much energy to the national grid as it is capable of doing, because of infrastructure issues relating to the feeders—I do not understand the technology behind it—and the technology that would allow it to export to the grid. It is not even being used in that way.
I hate the sort of “jam tomorrow” promises that developers often make—they say, “This facility will contribute to district heating, cheaper bills and provide energy into the grid,” when the ability to do so is not there, and the benefits may not be realised for many years. Such contracts often lock in councils and Administrations for 20 to 25 years. I hope that in 20 to 25 years, we will have made a dramatic transition to a more circular economy and will not be producing the type of waste that needs to be burned or sent to landfill, and yet we are locking ourselves into a model for dealing with waste that is not the worst, but is one of the worst.
Incinerators such as the one planned in my constituency emit more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than any other fossil fuel source, including coal. As well as the emissions from the traffic coming to and from the site, and potentially other emissions coming out of it—there is a lot of controversy about that—there is also the issue of what happens to the ash. Incineration is not a complete replacement for landfill, because the ash has to go to landfill, potentially in a soluble form. There is much concern about the risk to water courses, lakes and water supplies. Incineration is not some sort of magic panacea that solves all our waste problems. As I said, we need to address the production of waste in the first place. The idea that incinerators such as this are some sort of magic solution is very far from the truth.
What are the alternative ways forward? As I said, I think we need to be looking much more at creating a circular economy and reducing waste in the first place. We need to understand that there is a difference here: we have a landfill tax, but we do not have one on incineration. Where are the incentives to recycle more and produce less waste in the first place? I am aware that the Treasury considered that in 2018 and said that it would be willing to consider an incinerator tax once more infrastructure had been put in place. Will the Minister update us on where the Government are on their thinking on that, particularly given the example that we will need to set this year as we approach the crucial COP conference? What are the Government doing to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be incinerated or go to landfill?
There is a whole bunch of challenging issues here. There is a very clear case against the proposal for my constituency, but it sits within the wider issue of the responsibility for waste and how we deal with it. Obviously, there is a lot that we can do on an individual, personal level. I urge those at the top of businesses that are sending vast amounts of commercial and industrial waste to incinerators to reconsider their business practices.
There is also the uncertainty around Brexit. Some of our waste usually travels via Europe, so perhaps the Minister can update us on how the import and export of waste will be managed after
The negative impact of incinerators cannot be ignored. Burning waste into our atmosphere is simply not the solution to coping with waste. Skyfill does not replace landfill. My message to CoGen and Môr Hafren Bio Power is this: we do not want you in south Cardiff. I hope that the Welsh Government and others will listen to the many people from across the spectrum who oppose the project.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate Stephen Doughty. He and I have not historically agreed on much, but we certainly agree on this. I will not pretend that I am bringing expert views to the debate, but my impassioned plea to the Minister is this: please can we get our policy on industrial-scale incineration right?
I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who met me last week to discuss this issue. I appreciate the constructive manner in which she engaged with it. We have an ambitious plan to reach net zero by 2050, and everyone in the Chamber—I hope—is committed to clean energy generation and waste reduction.
Just last week, in the room next door, we had a giant Womble carrying a placard and insisting that we recycle, re-use, rethink, and that is absolutely the direction of travel in which we must move. All over the country, however, from Cardiff South to Romsey and Southampton North, there are proposals for yet more incinerators that are, in many cases, dressed up as energy producing waste plants. As we heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, in many instances that energy cannot be put into the national grid. The connections are remote and, in some cases, the energy is like a Trojan horse—it is presented as clean, green way to heat the local town, but is actually far from being that.
We have to account for the true cost of those facilities, the impact on air quality, the emissions from heavy diesel vehicles driven many hundreds of miles to bring waste from far afield, and the current policy, which allows CO2 from biogenic sources to be ignored in the context of climate change. At best, only 50% of the energy generated from the facilities can be considered renewable, and we should be extremely concerned about the other half. That 50% of energy comes from burning fossil carbon—plastics—and emits as much pollution and CO2 as coal-fired energy. Would we really consider building new coal-fired power stations?
Of course, there is a baseline: to keep running, the giant incinerators have to have enough fuel source. While industry urges us to believe that there is more than enough industrial and commercial waste to exceed the demand generated by the monster incinerators, we are seeing a sea change in public opinion. People—especially young people—are coming to understand that we cannot continue to consume and dispose at the same rate as we have been.
Even the big supermarkets are coming on board. Last week, Tesco—and this week, Sainsbury’s—announced a reduction in packaging, particularly plastic packaging. Corporates are not paying lip service to their need to minimise waste. They are actually getting involved and ensuring that they do it. Businesses small and large across my constituency recognise that this is not just good for the environment, but good for their costs.
I am conscious that we have only a little time, but I will turn to the reason for my attendance. In my constituency, the American conglomerate Wheelabrator plans a giant energy-from-waste facility. It will be twice the size of Winchester cathedral, but with none of that glorious building’s architectural merit, and with chimneys that would reach 80 metres high. The facility would be built between the beautiful Test Valley villages of Barton Stacey and Longparish.
One of Wheelabrator’s arguments in favour of the facility is that by using Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs methodology for calculating carbon impact, the applicant can claim that the project will be a net gain on CO2 equivalents, compared with landfilling the same waste. However, DEFRA, among others, recognises that the results from that model are sensitive to the type of waste incinerated. In other words, a small change in the ratio of biogenic and non-biogenic carbon sources can reverse the impact from a net positive to a net negative. The analysis carried out on commercial and industrial waste to justify those results dates back to 2003. That is incredibly out of date, but is the only source from the UK that can be relied on.
So much has changed, and continues to change, since 2003. Far greater efforts than ever are being made ensure that we remove green waste and food waste from the waste streams and, although there is still a long way to go, we are getting better at removing recyclates, and we will continue to improve.
Aside from the specifics of the massive plant that is planned at Harewood, we need to pause and rethink our strategy on incineration. Time does not allow me to examine in detail the issue of air quality and the balance—I use that term loosely—that the applicant must strike between the visual impact of tall chimneys and the need to make them high enough to disperse the emissions over a less concentrated area. In Test Valley, we are blessed with exceptionally good air quality, which means that the chimneys might not need to be as high. That of course means that more pollutants can be released without breaching Environment Agency limits. What sort of horrific equation is that? Applicants are able to get away with emitting more because the air quality is currently good. Surely our aim should be to work with the Environment Agency to reduce those limits and seek an overall improvement, not the lowest common denominator.
We need to improve regulations to make them tighter, rather than having applicants rely on the emissions set out within existing regulations, which I raised in the Queen’s Speech debate a couple of weeks ago. Although I recognise the specific needs of local authorities, this debate is about commercial and industrial waste, not municipal waste, so we have to consider commercial operations and whether it is fair, as the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has said, to have a landfill tax and not an incineration tax. Incineration is simply not an environmentally sustainable way to tackle waste management. It may be better than landfill in the waste hierarchy—only just—but to allow incineration to proliferate simply does not address the climate emergency that we all agree exists.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty, both for securing this important debate and for his excellent speech to set the scene.
In 2017, a planning application for a gasification plant to be built in Hillthorn Park in Washington was submitted to Sunderland City Council. Since then, approximately 10,800 people have signed petitions opposing the plant—I presented one of them to the House last week.
Many of my constituents have contacted me about the planning application, and it came up a lot on the doorstep during the general election, so I am left in no doubt about how my constituents feel. Never in my 15 years as an MP have I seen an issue galvanise my constituents in such a way. They are totally against it. I share their concerns and join them in opposing the application. Although the planning application was submitted almost three years ago, we still do not know what type of gasification technology will be used if it is approved.
I am told that some of the options have never been used in the UK or in Europe. The technology has, however, been used in Japan, which has very different safety measures from the UK. Does the Minister think it right or fair for our constituents to be used as guinea pigs to test a new technology? Would she be happy if this took place in her constituency? I am sure that her constituents would not. My constituents are concerned about the short-term and long-term health and safety of those living around the plant.
The proposed site is as close as 100 meters to homes, and there are nine schools within a one-mile radius. Those communities will bear the brunt of increased traffic and the associated pollution, and they will be most at risk should anything go wrong with the plant, bearing in mind that the technology is totally untested in this country. The plant would not even be a great future employer—only 35 full-time equivalent jobs would be created. Basically, I can see no positives at all in the building of the gasification plant in my constituency—only many negatives.
The planning application is in direct contradiction to the Government’s own policies on climate change and waste processing, and the proposed plant could be expected to release millions of tonnes of CO2 —my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned that risk—within its anticipated lifetime. Undoubtedly, that will have a negative impact on our environment and on climate change. What assessment have the Government made of the impact that waste incineration could have on climate change?
I am happy to report that the planning application for this gasification plant was rejected in July last year by the local planning and highways committee. However, the application is up for appeal by the applicant, Rolton Kilbride, and the appeal will start on
I have already written to the planning inspectorate and the national planning casework unit to request that, in the event that the application is approved, the Secretary of State recovers the appeal. If that request is approved, it will then give the Secretary of State the final say on the application, which I will lobby her strongly to reject. For now, it is a waiting game for me and my constituents, but I remain absolutely committed in my opposition to the plant. The health and the lives of my constituents should not be gambled with.
I will continue to work ceaselessly with constituents, campaigners and local councillors of every party—they all oppose the plans—to oppose the building of this plant. It must not be allowed to happen, and the united voices of all local people must be heard and heeded.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate Stephen Doughty on securing this debate.
The contributions we have heard so far were made by Members who face the threat of an incinerator being built in their constituencies. I am in the unfortunate position of representing a constituency that lives in a shadow of the massive Beddington incinerator. I hope to give a perspective of what it is like once such things have been built.
The incinerator was championed, in an extraordinary show of arrogance, by an out-of-touch Lib Dem council, which has shown a total lack of ambition in tackling air quality in Sutton. Thanks to its complete incompetence, the incinerator is now an eyesore on the landscape that we can see from every single corner of the constituency. In 2018 alone, bearing in mind that it was not fully operational at the time, it pumped more than 21.5 million kg of CO2 into the local atmosphere.
I am a local councillor and my group and those of other parties—but not the Lib Dems, unfortunately—campaigned to put additional air quality monitoring next to the site. That would have given local residents the assurance that if emissions were breached, they would have full access to the data—I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth for the good point he made about data—so that swift action could be taken in reporting the issue to the Environment Agency. At least that would give people some peace of mind that the air they breathe is safe. Time and again, however, shamelessly, the Lib Dem council has continued to oppose that proposal and to spout the benefits of a so-called “energy recovery facility”.
I stress the fact that it is not just the incinerators that are significant; there are other consequences to having one in the area. As we have heard, they have a potential impact on recycling rates. As the UK Without Incineration Network has rightly pointed out, for an incinerator to be anywhere near commercially viable, waste often needs to be imported and sometimes even non-recyclables are burned. They also have an impact on traffic and air quality. The route to Beddington incinerator on my patch of Carshalton and Wallington is already congested. Rubbish from four south London boroughs is taken along Beddington Lane, which leads to the incinerator. They all take their waste to that incinerator, all against the backdrop of seemingly endless roadworks that never seem to be completed but are meant to help Beddington Lane cope with the capacity.
The final impact is on energy bills. The Beddington incinerator is one of a few with an operational decentralised energy network, which in Sutton we call the SDEN—the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network. It is a way to justify having an incinerator in the constituency, because it creates energy to heat local homes. The development of New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, in my constituency, is connected directly to the incinerator via a series of pumps and so is being heated by the Beddington incinerator.
That SDEN, however, has trapped New Mill Quarter residents in an energy scheme that they cannot get out of. They are not allowed to go on the open market to change their energy provider and, I am told, the cost of their energy bills is at least three times higher than the highest market average currently available. That is completely outrageous. Thankfully we now have a price cap under energy legislation, but we are pushing it to the limit for our New Mill Quarter residents, many of whom were not told about the energy scheme when they were being sold their house.
Now that we are unfortunately stuck with the Beddington incinerator, I hope the Minister will agree that the council should heed our calls to put additional air-quality monitoring on Beddington Lane and not let Viridor hold itself to account. The council should also get on with delivering its promises of proposed farmlands in the area, which are supposed to offset some of the damages. It should also improve Beddington Lane and allow New Mill Quarter residents to go on the open market to change their energy provider, if that is what they want to do. We need to be so much more ambitious in tackling air pollution.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there must be detailed scrutiny of the impact that incineration has on the surrounding environment as a result of the harmful pollutants and emissions released into the atmosphere, and of the impact of exhaust fumes from the increased traffic bringing waste to the site? An incinerator has been proposed for my constituency, in Marley. The site is located right next to playing fields, community assets and residential property, and in the bowl of a valley. If the proposal is not able to contribute any positives for health and wellbeing, does my hon. Friend agree that it should be disregarded altogether?
I will be brief in my response. I totally agree with my hon. Friend—I could not agree more. We need to be a lot more ambitious about tackling air pollution. All I can say to the local authorities of other hon. Members fighting incinerators is that I hope that they will succeed where Lib Dem Sutton has unfortunately failed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie.
Clarion Close in Llansamlet, in my constituency, is on the Swansea Enterprise Park, at the heart of a small community. About 7,000 people live there, and the proposed site is close to a local school, Ysgol Lonlas, and to the Swansea Vale nature reserve. My great concern is about the effect of the incinerator on air quality, which is already a serious issue in Swansea. Only yesterday, the local press reported that Swansea has one of the highest PM2.5 levels in the UK, due to heavy industry in the city and the surrounding areas. PM2.5 are the tiny particles that cause the air to be hazy and, because they are so small, they are able to penetrate people’s respiratory and circulatory systems with ease. Those pollutants are incredibly dangerous and potentially fatal, in particular for vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with illnesses.
Llansamlet is located between the M4 and two other major thoroughfares through Swansea. Consequently, that further affects the air quality in this part of the city, and asthma rates among residents are disproportionally high. We do not need the threat of further health implications from an incinerator in the area, and I have no doubt that those living in the area would agree with me resoundingly.
We should be looking at recycling and reusing as much as we can, and at finding alternatives to waste incineration whenever possible. The proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which would have brought clean green energy to our city and further afield, was scrapped in the previous Parliament. However, I have already been in touch with the new Minister in the Wales Office to invite him to Swansea to discuss the tidal lagoon again. We must stop ignoring environmental issues and start looking at what can be done to halt the climate catastrophe that we appear to be hurtling towards. We need to target spending on clean, sustainable and low-carbon projects. Building these toxic towers to incinerate waste is not the answer, not for now and certainly not for the future of our children, our towns and cities, and our planet.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate Stephen Doughty on securing this important debate.
There are of course policy differences between in England and Wales. In essence, the backstop for this issue and the challenges faced by all our communities, certainly in Wales, is planning policy. My request of the Welsh Government and the regulators is therefore for consistency, not only in the policy itself, and in its interpretation and consideration, but from politicians as well.
It is easy for politicians to stand up in a public meeting, wherever that might be in our constituencies, having played a part from the outset in setting the policy in place that has led to the position we are in now. I am pleased to say that my position on incineration has been consistent from the time I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales, when I represented South Wales West, which includes the Swansea East constituency. Carolyn Harris will remember the Crymlyn Burrows incinerator that later burnt down. That sparked my original interest, which led me to oppose the Welsh Government’s policy, which is instinctively in favour of incineration.
The original debate in the Assembly, post the 2001 application in Swansea, was about trying to set some parameters for the consideration of those applications. It led to the policy, which led to proposed developments not only in Swansea and Cardiff, South and Penarth, but in Llanelli and in my constituency.
The Biomass UK No.2 Ltd plant has been proposed in Barry, but the way it has been treated has been wholly inconsistent. On this occasion, the local authority’s planning committee unanimously rejected it, only for that to be overturned by the Welsh Government’s Planning Inspectorate because it had to follow the policy that the Welsh politicians had put it in place. This is a 10 MW power station that did not have an environmental impact assessment and, significantly, was not considered a development of national significance, which it would have been had it been considered consistently with the policy here in England, which I believe was the intention at the time.
In the very limited time left, I want to underline the risk of planning creep. Originally, the application would have been for clean wood. That policy has changed, yet the Welsh Government are refusing to consider it again as a development of national significance under the changed criteria. My request is that we have consistency. Also, as hon. Members from across the House have pointed out, the policy and recycling rates have changed in a positive way; therefore, the policy that gives rise to these incinerators also needs to change.
This issue hit the headlines in Northern Ireland when the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed and a decision was taken by the permanent secretary to allow an incinerator to go ahead, after a Planning Appeals Commission decision deemed the application acceptable. At that time, Mrs Justice Keegan ruled that that a senior civil servant did not have legal power to give the green light to the major waste disposal facility at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk, following the collapse of devolution, leaving the application waiting for the new Minister. Many of the questions about that have been raised by the hon. Gentleman.
We have to find a method of waste disposal. We create the waste and we have to get rid of it—that is a fact of life. How do we do that? We encourage councils to recycle using the carrot and stick approach: if they recycle, that is great and they may win an award, but if they do not, there will be financial penalties. I understand and agree with encouragement. My council has been proactive and has met every target it has set; every new target it has set, it has met that, too. We all know how it goes: glass in one bin, plastics and paper in the other one, and green waste. This issue is above and beyond that.
It is not clear how we deal with the issue of burning waste, but Government must lead the way. Controls must be in place to address the issue of landfill and the lack of space, but also to ensure that any incineration that takes place is done in the right way and is as environmentally friendly as possible.
Figures were published in the weekend press about air quality in the United Kingdom. The number of deaths has risen. The proportion of deaths in Northern Ireland due to air quality is higher than the UK average. We have a serious problem in Northern Ireland, as we do in the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree with my colleague the Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots, about waste incineration in Northern Ireland. He said that he did not believe that burning waste was necessarily damaging to the environment, but that incineration
“requires an awful lot of waste and there are better ways of dealing” with it. For him, the issue was clear. He highlighted the fact that European countries with some of the highest green credentials use incineration. I agree that it is uncertain whether Northern Ireland needs an incinerator of this scale—that is probably the case in many parts of the United Kingdom, as hon. Members have mentioned.
We put so much pressure on our local councils, yet this debate and the ongoing issues at home show that there must be clearer guidance from the Minister. We look to her for a positive response. I hope that direction and guidance comes from this debate.
This debate is about incineration and energy from waste, and the way in which we can dispose of our waste in an inefficient and climate-friendly way. We have heard from a number of speakers in what has been an excellent debate, particularly on the role of very large incinerators in dealing with waste in future. We heard from my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty—whom I congratulate on securing the debate—who is particularly concerned about the effect of a very large old-style incinerator plant on his constituency, local residents and air quality. There is a question of whether the waste will be attracted to the plant, which is not a municipal plant but a commercial plant—I understand that a municipal plant is already in place in the city.
That is a good example of the crossroads we have come to in waste disposal and resource management in this country. Do we continue to go down that route of incinerators taking an increasing part of our waste, or do we move to different modes—much more environmentally friendly ones, I would argue—of dealing with our waste in future. That might resolve the problems raised not only by my hon. Friend but by my hon. Friends the Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and others, and a number of Members who raised similar issues about the role of incineration in our waste management arrangements.
Although I cannot say anything specific about the application for the incinerator near Cardiff—that is a matter for the Welsh Government—it is quite clear that, although it was the case that incineration was an improvement over previous waste disposal arrangements, it is decreasingly apparent that it is something we should pursue as a fundamental part of our future waste disposal activities. We can see what happened with landfill and other forms of waste disposal. There has been a rapid trajectory away from landfill, down by 64% since 1999 and now at about 20% of our waste disposal. There has been a rise in incineration, with 9% of waste dealt with by energy-from-waste or incineration plants in 2001 and 41% now. A substantial part of our waste is dealt with by those means.
In the middle of that, we have the imperative of the waste hierarchy. I think all parties agree that our aim in waste policy—the trajectory of our policy—should be to move up that hierarchy from disposal, through other forms of recovery, to recycling, preparation for reuse and, of course, prevention, which is the highest point of the hierarchy. Our aim should be to move consistently up the hierarchy so that waste is recycled into another resource or, ideally, does not enter the waste stream at all.
Old-style incineration is right at the bottom of the hierarchy, marginally above landfill. There has been considerable success over the years in removing waste from landfill. That is important for addressing climate change, as it leads to a substantial reduction in methane emissions, which are avoided by not using landfill in the first place. However, moving just to the next stage up in the hierarchy is a little like a landlord responding to someone complaining about getting wet in their house by putting a tarpaulin on the roof. It is a bit better, but it is not a solution to the problem. We need to be much more imaginative in moving up from those solutions.
There will always be some residual waste that needs to be dealt with by disposal means, but what we mean by “residual waste” is a big question. The plant that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned will take a large amount of so-called residual waste, but in many instances it will not be real residual waste; it will be stuff that people have not bothered to recycle. Only 8% of plastic film, for example, is recycled—most of it goes into residual waste—but most of it could be recycled and ought to be taken out of residual waste. Real residual waste is a fairly small proportion of the waste stream, which suggests that a policy of introducing very large incinerators to collect that waste would fix us in place on the waste hierarchy rather than move us up it.
A second point that I think is—
Indeed, Mr Hosie. I understand that. I hope to make my second point very briefly so that the Minister can respond.
I am particularly concerned that, if we have any sort of energy-from-waste facility for residual waste as we move up the waste hierarchy, we should ensure that it recovers the maximum energy possible, including heat for combined heat and power. At the moment, the scheme that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned does not have that facility. In their waste strategy, the Government commit themselves to ensuring that all new energy-from-waste plants are in the category of “other recoverable”. That suggests that those plants will have to have combined heat and power facilities to maximise energy recovery, and that they will not be incinerators with a bit of hobby electricity attached to them. I would be grateful if the Minister assured me that that will be her policy for the future of energy from waste, and that she will pursue that in considering what happens with energy-from-waste plants. Among other things, that would ensure that plants that do not have that sort of facility are not normally regarded as suitable to receive planning permission.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I do not think I have had the pleasure before. I commend Stephen Doughty, who referred in particular to a proposed incinerator in his constituency, for securing the debate. The fact that so many colleagues took part in the debate shows what heat this subject generates, from Carshalton and Wallington to Strangford and everywhere in between.
I must point out right at the outset that waste and managing air quality, which was also touched on, are devolved matters. I cannot comment on the specifics of the waste strategy in Wales or how policies in Wales influence the case for the plant that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; I can give my views only on what we are doing in England. However, I was heartened to hear the intervention of the former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend Alun Cairns, who pointed out that it was the Welsh Government that prioritised incinerators of various types. That perhaps should be taken into account.
I do not have much time, so let me first tackle a few misconceptions to ensure that I answer some of the questions that were asked. I want to clarify that the scheme mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth was part of a £5 billion portfolio of energy investment by the UK Government. That was in 2018, when the site was owned by CoGen. The project was removed from that list when its proposed technology shifted from gasification to incineration. We must not spread misconceptions. I just wanted to point that out.
Similarly, I think the hon. Gentleman suggested that we export a lot of waste from England to Wales. Obviously, where to site the plant in Wales is a commercial decision, but I would point out that in 2017, for example, nearly 60,000 tonnes of Welsh waste went to landfill in England, and 70,000 tonnes went to incineration.
I also want to clarify the position on PM2.5 emissions, which another hon. Member mentioned. Emissions from waste incineration represented 0.02% of PM2.5 emissions in the UK in 2017. A much higher amount—15%— came from transport. I thought that clarification might be useful.
I want to set the record straight: as my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes highlighted, our focus as a Government is on “reduce, reuse, recycle”. We are sticking to that, as well as to the drive towards an ever more circular economy, which many Members touched on. That means extracting maximum value from our resources, then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of their lifespan. Through that, we seek to minimise the amount of waste that goes to incineration or landfill, which certainly are at the bottom of the waste chain.
However, needless to say, there is commercial and industrial waste classified as municipal waste. I agree entirely with the shadow Minister that much of it ought to be recycled. That is why the forthcoming environment Bill, which I hope everyone present will support, will include far-reaching measures to drive us towards a circular economy. We will also introduce legislation to increase the separate capture of business waste, promoting high-quality recycling. That will include food waste from the catering sector, for example, which will have to be captured separately and, wherever possible, diverted from landfill or incineration into anaerobic digestion.
I have so little time, so I hope my right hon. Friend does not mind if I do not.
We are going towards high-quality recycling, but clearly we have residual waste. That is dealt with in a number of ways, which include landfill, incineration with energy recovery and export as refuse-derived fuel. Landfill is the least favoured option. Policies aimed at diverting waste away from landfill mean that, in addition to recycling gains, the volume of waste being treated at energy-from-waste plants has increased. Of course, however, the aim with all the measures in the waste and recycling strategy is to bring that down.
Energy-from-waste plants are regulated by the Environment Agency and must comply with strict emissions limits set in legislation. The agency assesses every application for a new plant to ensure that it will use the best available techniques to minimise emissions and will not have a significant effect on local air quality. The Environment Agency will not issue an environmental permit if the proposed plant would have a significant impact on the environment or harm it. Once operational, energy-from-waste plants are closely regulated and constantly monitored. The views of Public Health England about the potential health effects of such plants are also taken into account, because safety is paramount.
The Government have been very clear about maximising the resource value of waste, including residual waste. That is why we are working to ensure ever greater efficiency in these plants. Waste-to-heat plants were touched on; the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has a fund to move towards heat networks. I know the shadow Minister will welcome that, because it is something he is particularly interested in. If Mrs Hodgson would like a little more information about that particular technique in the plant she mentioned, I am happy to get my experts to advise her.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (