York Residents Against Incineration

York signs off the incinerator

October 19th, 2014

The Allerton incinerator project came before York Councillors at a Council Meeting on October 9th 2014 for what will probably be the last time.

It was an eventful meeting – the ruling Labour group lost overall control of the Council during the meeting as two Councillors resigned from the group. One of the rebels, Councillor Scott, along with the Green Party Councillors, voted against the incinerator plans, but otherwise the Labour group voted as they were told.

We circulated a briefing to all Councillors before the meeting, and various YRAIN campaigners contacted their Councillors and the Council Leader, but thanks to the machinery of party-politics, and the presence of the agenda of the hot-topic Community Stadium, no-one was going to look afresh at this. Apart from arguably the Conservatives who were in favour anyway.

The Lib Dems of course were in power when they signed us up to the North Yorkshire-led project (despite their pre-election pledge and indeed national policy), and so could not change their minds now. They’d already had a lot of political points scored against them (here’s one into an open goal from Cllr Fraser) in connection with a call-in over the Community Stadium project on which they’d apparently done a U-turn, so there really can’t have been any appetite for appearing to do another one.

Council Leader James Alexander spoke in favour of the scheme, clearly bitter about the withdrawal of PFI credits. He trotted out the usual li(n)e – this is the only alternative to landfill, and of course it will help recycling (it isn’t and it doesn’t). He conceded that it was in the wrong location – if it were near enough to housing to be able to use the heat, it would never get permission anyway.

The quality of debate was very low; Councillors’ attention was taken up with the matter of the Community Stadium on the same agenda, and compared to a hugely popular stadium project, waste policy looked even less interesting than usual.

So no-one noticed (or cared?) when Cllr Alexander said “if we didn’t go ahead with this scheme…we would have to continue with landfill, for which we don’t have the capacity to meet our requirements for the next few years” – contradicting his own waste officers who had reported that Harewood Whin (York’s landfill site) is leased until 2019 with the possibility to extend to 2029, and “due to landfill diversion targets and increased recycling … the most recent figures we have estimate that the operational lifetime of the landfill site could extend to 2027” [see para 53 of the Cabinet Report].

Councillor Ann Reid, who was the York rep on the Joint Municipal Waste Strategy Group and therefore was the Lib Dem who did the dirty on their manifesto pledges, also spoke in favour of the scheme. Councillor Dave Taylor (Green Party), a longtime opponent of the scheme, spoke against it. He called it “scandalous” that the Council hadn’t investigated other options, saying “if you wanted to buy something you wouldn’t allow the shopkeeper to flog you whatever he wanted to sell you“. He pointed out that the savings from the scheme were effectively comparing “the worst option with the second worst option – completely disingenuous“, and that the incinerator was completely overspec’d.

Councillor Joe Watt made a characteristically whimsical speech in which he wished for the good old days where he could just simply throw his rubbish “away” – poor fellow, stranded in the modern world with all its concern for ecosystems, carbon footprints and who knows what else. (He’s a Conservative – hardly needs adding.)

Councillor Healey, a somewhat sharper Conservative, also raised a note of caution (though not of sufficient pitch that he voted against it). He noted how once the incinerator had been put forward, it became the answer to all waste policy questions, characterising the approach of officers and Councillors as saying “we have a problem with waste – let’s do nothing apart from this“. He feared for the future of waste reduction and food waste policies – and with good reason. This project is so expensive that there will be precious little money left over for anything fancy like that.

You can watch the webcast from the meeting on YouTube.

It appears that for now, all avenues to stop the incinerator have been exhausted. The North Yorkshire Waste Action Group has conceded defeat. The websites of both groups will stay up and we will chart the progress of this ill-fated scheme.

In the same week as the meeting, a group of MPs released a review of PFI waste contracts like the Allerton Park project, concluding what we’ve been saying for years – they are in general, astonishingly bad value. No-one in York was listening.

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