For a Government which has been espousing the virtues of incineration for some time and appears poised to do so again when it responds this summer to last year's favourable report on incineration by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (ENDS Report 220, pp 13-15 ), its decisions on major incineration projects are, at least superficially, distinctly puzzling.
In 1991, the Environment Secretary accepted an inquiry inspector's recommendation that planning permission for a hazardous waste incinerator in Doncaster proposed by Leigh Environmental should be refused. The main grounds were the risk of groundwater pollution and tainting of products in local food factories (ENDS Report 202, pp 17-20).
In 1992, the Environment Secretary also rejected two schemes to incinerate hazardous waste with sewage sludge put forward jointly by ITE and Northumbrian Water. The principal grounds for refusal were their unfavourable location within urban regeneration areas, coupled with doubts about the novel technology and the effectiveness of the flue gas cleaning system proposed (ENDS Report 214, pp 9-10 ).
However, a proposal by Cory Environmental for a hazardous waste incinerator at Seal Sands, Cleveland, received planning consent at the same time. But construction has yet to begin and the scheme seems unlikely to come to fruition, given the present state of the merchant incineration market.
ITE, a subsidiary of the US International Technology Corporation, received a further blow to its plans to enter the UK waste management market in April when the Environment Secretary refused its application for a 46,000 tonnes per year hazardous waste incinerator at Saltend, near Hull, overturning the recommendations of his inquiry inspector.
The crucial issues at the inquiry were the project's compatibility with the local development plan, its location in relation to regional sources of hazardous waste, and the proximity of a nature reserve.
The local plan reserves the area for activities which could take advantage of the special potential conferred by its proximity to the Humber estuary. ITE initially argued that it had opted for a site on the Humber in order to be able to obtain cooling water and to discharge effluent - but conceded during the inquiry that an estuarine location was not in fact essential.
Transport issues also weighed heavily against the scheme. Less than 10% of the special waste produced in the Yorkshire and Humberside region arises on Humberside itself, and at least 11,000 loads of special waste per year would have had to pass close to the centre of Hull along congested roads in order to supply the incinerator.
The third objection to the proposal proved to be its proximity to the Humber Flats and Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which also has international designations as a bird habitat. An official circular issued in 1988 requires proposals for development adjacent to SSSIs to receive rigorous examination, and the inspector rejected ITE's contention that this need not be done until its project came up for authorisation under integrated pollution control (IPC).
Although recommending approval of the project, the inspector noted that should the Environment Secretary believe that a rigorous examination of its impact on the SSSI must be carried out at the planning stage then this would tip the balance against allowing the appeal.
In his decision letter, the Secretary of State accepts that it had not been demonstrated that the site was unacceptable in principle in terms of its effects on the Humber. But, the letter goes on, "as the area is so important in conservation terms and so little is known about the wider land use impacts of this proposal, he considers that this lack of information must weigh against the proposed development." This, together with the other two issues, were what resulted in the rejection of ITE's appeal.
Meanwhile, Cory Environmental's proposal for a municipal waste incinerator at Belvedere, on the south bank of the Thames east of London, was turned down by the Trade and Industry Secretary on 12 April.
The project would be the largest of its kind in the UK, burning up to 1.2 million tonnes of waste annually and having an electricity generating capacity of 103MW. Although the inquiry inspector concluded that the scheme had distinct advantages in terms of waste management, power generation and greenhouse gas abatement, he recommended rejection of the proposal for two reasons.
One of these was that local roads do not have the necessary capacity. Between 434-576 daily vehicle movements were expected to and from the site, and these would have to be in part on roads barely wide enough to allow two heavy lorries to pass each other.
Secondly, the inspector concluded that the three-hectare site was too small to accept the development without causing unacceptable impacts on neighbouring buildings and footpaths or to accommodate desirable landscaping.
Responding to the verdict, Cory said that it has now secured additional land adjacent to the site and the approach road which, it believes, should enable both objections to be overcome. A fresh application is now being considered. Cory recently received an IPC authorisation for the incinerator.