On Tuesday 11th February, Sharon secured a Westminster Hall debate on Waste Incinerator Facilities and raised her concerns about the planning application for a gasification plant to be built in Hillthorn Park.
You can watch the debate here >
You can read the debate here >
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered waste incineration facilities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. Here we are again, talking about what for some of us in the Chamber seems to be our favourite subject lately. We have had similar debates, including one held just last month—I spoke in it, and other hon. Members present attended—but I wanted a much longer debate, to give everyone who wants to speak the opportunity to do so. The issue is particularly relevant for me due to a planning application for a waste incineration gasification facility in my constituency at Hillthorn Park—the appeal process against it is due to start a week today.
Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Yes—wow, that was quick!
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I congratulate her on securing this debate. She mentioned the appeal process. Constituents who contacted me about this debate are concerned that the voice of the local community is heard throughout the planning process. Does she agree that that is essential for large projects such as this?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I will come on to the 10,800 of my constituents who have been in touch with me. They signed a petition, and they certainly want their voice to be heard.
I wholeheartedly oppose this planning application, and I will come to the reasons why shortly. Before I do, I thank hon. Members present who will be expressing their opposition—I assume it will all be opposition—to waste incineration facilities.
On Saturday, I held a public meeting about my local planning application, to give constituents an opportunity to express their opinions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) said. It was well attended, despite the short notice—I arranged it only the week before—and people came from across the community and the political spectrum, with Labour, Lib Dem and Green councillors and activists in attendance. As this debate shows, this is a cross-party issue, and I am pleased to see colleagues from all parts of the House.
As I said at the public meeting on Saturday, which was attended by more than 100 people, no one in that room was in favour of a gasification plant being built in our area. In my 15 years of being an MP, no other issue has galvanised so many people and brought them together against something in the way this issue has. It really is a community movement, with campaign groups such as No Monster Incinerator in Washington or Washington and Wearside Against Gasification leading the way to oppose the application by informing local residents and getting signatures on petitions. As I mentioned, 10,800 people have so far signed a petition in opposition, which I presented to Parliament last month.
Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
I thank the hon. Lady for organising that meeting and the debate today. To pick up on what she said, does she recognise the expertise in highly technical matters that has been built up in communities by the groups she mentioned? They scrutinise legislation and regulations closely. In my constituency, the Docks Incinerator Action Group has drilled down into the detail and caused real problems to the proposers of a development.
That is an important point. I will come on to someone without whom I and most of the campaigners would not have been able to launch such a strong and informed appeal against this decision, making a world of difference.
I am so proud to represent and work with people who show such determination and community spirit. Like them, I oppose the planning application and will be speaking at the appeal process, which begins next week. I also thank the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network and Shlomo Dowen, in particular, for his work and support on this campaign. We could not have got this far without his expertise—a point the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) touched on.
As the shadow Minister for public health, it would be remiss of me not to point out the public health implications of gasification and incineration, which need to be taken into account. In the planning application in my constituency, we still do not know what technology will be used, even though the application has reached this stage. We know that the technology has never been used in the UK before, although we are told that it has been used in Japan, a country with very different safety standards and regulations from the UK.
The lack of information and transparency from the planning applicant does little to allay the fears of my constituents and me. On Saturday, constituents told me that young families were moving away from the area because of the fear of carcinogenics, diseases and birth defects. My constituents should not have to live in fear of being test subjects for something such as that.
Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. In my constituency, an incinerator is due to be built near our local primary school and a number of local houses in Torry. Does she share my concerns about the potential public health impact on residents and the children at that school?
I absolutely do. In our previous debate, I spoke about how nine primary schools in my constituency, as well as many thousands of homes, are within a one-mile radius of this development. That is unacceptable, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Also, a technology that has never been used in the UK before is not welcome in Washington and Sunderland Wes—or, probably, in any of our constituencies.
Surely a technology that is expected to release millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide during the anticipated lifetime of the gasification facility should not be backed by the Government. Indeed, that is a direct contradiction of the Government’s policies on climate change and waste processing. For every one tonne of plastic incinerated, approximately two tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, therefore contributing to climate change, whereas, perversely, one tonne of plastic in landfill releases zero CO2, so incineration cannot be and is not the solution we seek—it has to be more recycling.
Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on an important issue. She just mentioned recycling. Does she agree that much more needs to be done to encourage more recycling so that we do not have, or reduce, the need to rely on incineration or landfill?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. More recycling has to be the solution; it will never be landfill, and certainly not incineration. How does the Minister expect to meet the Government’s climate target of being carbon neutral by 2050 if planning applications for waste incineration continue to go ahead?
A recent study by Waste and Resources Action Programme Cymru found that 75% of commercial and industrial waste sent to incineration or landfill in Wales is recyclable. With recycling rates flatlining, will the Government consider introducing a tax on incineration, as promised in 2018, to address climate harm and encourage recycling rates? There is a precedent, as that is what the landfill tax aimed to do. Surely it is counterproductive to have a landfill tax to deter burying plastic, which causes no CO2, but not to have an incineration tax for incinerating plastic, which causes masses of CO2.
Another issue that neighbouring MPs and constituents might not yet have fully realised exists is that, due to the prevailing winds, the people to the east of our proposed site, in Sunderland and South Shields, may also find themselves harmed by the plant. I hope that this debate will help to alert a bigger audience across the wider area to the impending threat that is being discussed just a few miles from them.
Sunderland City Council is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030—a target that will be totally scuppered if the planning application for Hillthorn Park is approved. The problem is the emissions from not just the plant but the 110 HGVs that will work around the clock to ship waste to it.
Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case. Does she agree that the issue is not just the incinerators but all the traffic that comes with them to transport the waste? That adds to pressure on local roads, which is concerning because of CO2 emissions.
Absolutely. Residents raised that point on Saturday—especially those living around the proposed site, who will be bothered by the congestion, extra fumes and mess from those heavy goods vehicles. The HGVs are supposed to be strapped and covered, but every day stuff flies off the lorries that go to the other waste recycling plants in my constituency.
In 2017 I attended the planning exhibition for this plant. I was told that living next to it would be 40 times safer than living next to a major road. I find that dubious, to say the least, but surely, in time, with greater numbers of greener vehicles, that would not be such a defence, even if it was true. We should be going forwards, not backwards, so that argument cannot be valid. Local roads in Washington are already congested, with the added problem of HGVs parking up alongside roads and drivers leaving their litter—perhaps I will have a full debate on that issue another day. That shows how problematic some nearby businesses already are to the people of Washington and Sunderland West—they are not all the best of neighbours.
A constituent told me on Saturday that he could not have his windows open or sit in the garden on some days because the noise and pollution from nearby roads was overbearing—that is without the extra 110 HGVs per day. Constituents have raised similar issues over the years about the smell and vermin from nearby waste processing sites such as Teal Farm. The last thing we need is another contributor to the problem.
My constituents and I know that the Environment Agency is a little toothless in tackling the problems that waste processing sites cause. We are rightly concerned that any issues arising from this gasification plant will bring just more of the same. If the planning application is approved, my constituents fear that their houses will suddenly become worthless; because of all the concerns I have mentioned, no one would want to buy a house next door to a plant such as this.
It is not known yet who will use the energy generated from the gasification plant. It was thought that Nissan, which is almost next door to the site, would use it—a pipe from the plant to Nissan was visible on the plans when I saw them—but, as far as I am aware, no such agreement has been made. Sunderland City Council is keen to work with Nissan to negotiate a safer and affordable means of generating energy, so there really is no need for this plant at all with regard to Nissan. I should make it clear that the Sunderland City Council planning team rejected the plant and is making a strong defence against it. We are all united against it, from politicians to the council, residents and everyone else.
The chair of the Teal Farm Residents Association wrote to me recently. He said:
“Over the years, the environment and landscape of this region has suffered greatly and we are just starting to move on from the effects of all of that not just environmentally but also the health and well-being of the community.
The region now boasts some old and new landmarks which we are justly proud of, from Penshaw monument to the Spire bridge.
We don’t want an ecological eyesore to become the new ‘landmark’ which tells visitors they’ve reached Sunderland and we don’t want the health and welfare of residents to be jeopardised by having this proposal inflicted upon them. This is a proposal which is unwanted and unnecessary.”
It is exactly that: unwanted and unnecessary.
There are no benefits to be reaped from this planning application. There would not even be huge numbers of jobs created, as only 35 new full-time jobs are being offered. But the jobs pale in comparison to the public health concerns and climate change challenges. I hope I have made it clear, even in these brief comments, that the gasification plant at Hillthorn Park in Washington must be opposed, and I will continue to do just that.