Government accused of putting plans for rubbish incinerator near Stewartby before people’s health

Incinerator facility produces electricity.
Incinerator facility produces electricity.

The Government has been accused of putting the interests of a giant multi-national waste management firm before the health of thousands of Bedfordshire residents in a row over a massive rubbish incinerator.

More than 2,000 local people objected to Covanta’s controversial plans to build the multi-million-pound “energy from waste” plant bordering the Marston Vale Forest beauty spot at Stewartby.

Campaigners claimed noxious fumes could trigger health problems, including heart and lung disease, cancers and asthma in the surrounding area.

They argued that 600 trucks rumbling through the leafy country lanes every day would cause terrible damage to the local environment and wildlife.

But now following a “technical assessment”, the Environment Agency has revealed it is “minded” to issue a permit to develop the Rookery South Pit site, although there will be another consultation period running until October 23 before a final decision is made.

Angry Nicola Ryan-Raine, of Bedfordshire Against Covanta Incinerator (BACI), said: “This would seem to imply that the commercial interests of a large American multi-national company outweigh the health and environmental concerns of local residents.

“We are concerned that despite a record number of objections during the first consultation, the Environment Agency continues to forge ahead with a second consultation.”

The development is a joint venture between operators Covanta, which has its HQ in New Jersey, and British firm Veolia UK, who will provide 480,000 metric tonnes of municipal, commercial and industrial waste.

This will be burnt at the plant – as big as the Cardington airsheds and with a chimney as tall as Big Ben – to produce 50MW of low carbon energy, enough to power 65,000 homes.

The two companies claim they will create new jobs and bring a range of “local community, employment, infrastructure and environmental benefits”.

Veolia senior executive VP Estelle Brachlianoff said: “This project will contribute to increased landfill diversion and help the UK meet its carbon reduction commitments.

“It will also create direct employment and boost the local supply chain as well as helping meet our future energy needs.”

Covanta’s head of corporate development Matthew Mulcahy added: “The facility will provide a vital outlet for the sustainable disposal of residual waste and deliver clean, renewable power to the grid.

“It will also be designed to export steam to support a local district heating system or additional economic development projects.”

But campaigners claim the disadvantages to local residents’ health and the environment far outweigh any advantages – and they have accused the Environment Agency of not publicising the second consultation period properly.

They say they were only given eight working days notice of a “public drop-in session” at the Marston Vale Centre, which was held on September 20.

And they are angry because a leaflet advertising the huge waste-burning incinerator shows a picture of “a lovely white building without a chimney, not giving a hint at its purpose”.

A spokesman for BACI said: “We believe the EA will view a low attendance at the drop-in day as a lack of continuing public interest in the Covanta Incinerator permit rather than their own desultory approach to the advertising of the event.

“We observed and reported a catalogue of errors during the process of the first consultation including out-of-date guidance documents, withdrawn/archived procedures and actual consultation document errors.

“Now it appears the worrying trend of inefficiency is set to continue.”