On Wednesday 12th February, at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), Sharon Hodgson asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson a question about the proposed gasification plant to be built at Hillthorn Park.
You can watch the PMQ
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.
Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Jan-Feb 2020 number 124
Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report
The below information has been provided by UKWIN (UK Without Incineration Network) ahead of Sharon's Westminster Hall debate on waste incineration facilities on Tuesday 11th February.
- https://ukwin.org.uk/oppose-incineration/ - UKWIN's arguments against incineration
- https://ukwin.org.uk/facts/ - Recent incineration-related statistics, including how in Wales 74.5% of residual C&I waste was potentially recyclable (and in many areas across the UK more than half of what is in the residual municipal waste stream is recyclable), indicating we need to be investing in education and better recycling services rather than yet more incineration capacity
- https://ukwin.org.uk/quotes/ - Quotes about incineration, including from EFRACOM, the Government and the National Infrastructure Commission
- https://ukwin.org.uk/2020/01/30/mps-use-westminster-hall-debate-to-raise-concerns-about-incineration/ - UKWIN's account of what was said at the Westminster Hall debate on commercial & industrial waste on 28th January 2020
As before, you should be able to watch the debates live via https://parliamentlive.tv/ and UKWIN will post an account of the debate once the official transcript has been released.
You can read Sharon's work on opposing the gasification plant at Hillthorn Park here.
Constituents are invited to join Sharon on Saturday 8th February at The Hopespring Centre, NE37 3BD, between 10:30-12:30, to discuss the planning application. More details are available here.
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health, is set to hold the first of a series of public meetings that will take place in every area of the constituency.
These meetings will be open for all constituents to attend and focus on local issues in the area in which they take place. The first meeting will take place at The Hopespring Centre (Formerly the Top Club) Manor Road, Washington, NE37 3BD on Saturday the 8th of February at 10.30am – 12.30pm and will focus on the planning application for a proposed gasification plant at Hillthorn Park, in Washington.
‘’I was delighted to be re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, and I am proud of my record in standing up for all of my constituents.
‘’Whether it’s campaigning against the closure of Urgent Care Centres, or against the proposed Gasification plant in Washington – I will always do everything in my power to make their voices heard.”
Sharon’s constituents will be able to find details of upcoming meetings on her website, which will all be available as and when organised.
Notes to editors:
· All of Sharon’s public meetings will be open to all constituents.
Constituents will need to RSVP in advance of the meeting by emailing: [email protected]
· If constituents have issues that they would like a specific future meeting to focus on, then they can make suggestions by contacting Sharon’s office on: [email protected]
During a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday 28th January 2020, Sharon spoke about the planning application for a gasification plant in Hillthorn Park, Washington.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (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 18 February. I am sure that Members present will have no doubt that, based on my concerns—some of which I have raised today and many others I have not had time to mention—I plan to make strong representations to the planning inspectorate and to ask it to reject the application.
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.
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
I would like to once again thank voters in Washington and Sunderland West for re-electing me in the December General Election.
Whilst the national election result was not as I hoped, I remain as committed as ever to delivering for all of my constituents.
That means standing up for our local area and everyone who lives here.
One of my first appearances in the new Parliament was this week, when I presented a petition to the House of Commons signed by constituents who oppose the building of a gasification plant in Hillthorn Park.
Like thousands of my constituents, I am opposed to the building of this plant in our area.
The main reasons for my opposition to the plant are threefold:
1) The location of the proposed plant is close to houses and schools. It is these communities who will bear the brunt of increased traffic and associated pollution, and who are most at risk should anything go wrong with the plant.
2) The applicants have failed to satisfy any questions from myself and campaigners. We still do not know what technology will be used by the plant if building goes ahead, for example.
3) The proposed plant could be expected to release millions of tonnes of CO2 during the anticipated lifetime of the facility. This will undoubtedly have a negative impact on our environment and climate change.
As I said at the Planning and Highways Committee meeting in July, where the application was rejected, my constituents should not be used as guinea pigs; the health and lives of my constituents should not be gambled with.
Although the planning application was rejected in July by the Planning and Highways Committee, the application is now up for appeal, which will be held for 8 days from 10am on Tuesday 18th February at the Stadium of Light’s Montgomery Suite.
Because so many of my constituents have expressed concern about the planning application, I have written to the Planning Inspectorate and the National Planning Casework Unit to request that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government recovers the appeal, which if approved, will give the Secretary of State the final say on the application.
I will continue to work with constituents, campaigners and local councillors to oppose this plant and raise this issue in Parliament.
If you would like to get in touch with me about this issue, or any other concerns, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office on [email protected]. Please provide your full postal address.
On Wednesday 22nd January 2020, Sharon wrote to the Planning Inspectorate and the National Planning Casework Unit, requesting that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government recover the appeal of the planning application. If accepted, this will give the Secretary of State the final decision on the planning application and I will do all that I can to urge him to reject the planning application.
Click on the image above to read the letter
On Tuesday 21 January 2020, Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, presented a petition to Parliament signed by constituents who oppose the building of a gasification plant in Hillthorn Park, Washington.
Approximately 10,800 people have signed petitions opposing the building of the gasification plant since 2017, with people raising concerns about health and safety, the environment, congestion on roads and the affect on nearby house prices.
The gasification technology that will be used by the plant has not yet been decided by the applicant, causing concern about safety.
The planning application was rejected in July by the Planning and Highways Committee, but has been appealed by the applicant. The appeal will begin on Tuesday 18th February.
Sharon, who also opposes the building of a gasification plant said:
“The planning application for the gasification plant is deeply controversial and has led to many of my constituents writing to me to express their concerns.
“That so many people have signed petitions over the last three years proves just how strongly the people of Washington and Sunderland West oppose the building of this plant.
“I share their concerns and I am also opposed to the building of this plant. That is why I am pleased to present this petition to Parliament today. I will continue to take actions to oppose the building of this plant.”
The petition reads:
“The Petition of residents of Washington and Sunderland West Constituency,
Declares that the petitioners oppose the building of a Gasification Plant in Hillthorn Park, Washington.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to recognise the opposition to the planning application; and calls on the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to reject the planning application 17/02085/MW4.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.”
Sharon Hodgson has today handed over a petition from the Washington and Wearside Against Gasification group to the leader of Sunderland City Council, Cllr Graeme Miller and written to the Development Management Committee to reiterate her opposition to the planning application.
Sharon has supported the group whilst an MP and continues to as the Labour Party candidate in the upcoming General Election. Sharon passionately spoke against the planning application at the planning committee hearing in July.
Sharon said, "It is important people realise that, whilst we won the first round, we must be vigilant and prepare for the public enquiry taking place in February."
You can read Sharon's letter by clicking on the image below: