Westbury incinerator row: How did we get here? – BBC

By Dan O’Brien
BBC Wiltshire politics reporter

Image caption,

Protesters gathered outside a planning meeting to oppose the plans on 20 April

Plans to make a £200m incinerator to burn waste for energy have been met with fierce opposition.

Northacre Renewable Energy Limited (NREL) wants to burn non-recyclable waste to generate electricity for thousands of homes in Westbury.

The final decision about the development is being delayed until July, after thousands of residents and campaigners objected to the plans.

The mayor of Westbury said opposition to the incinerator had united the town.

Sheila Kimmins told BBC Radio Wiltshire reporter Dan O’Brien she had never seen the town “as united as it has become around this issue”.

“It would bring absolutely nothing other than add to the climate emergency, add to air pollution, add to traffic on the roads.”

She said the council was taking legal advice on its next steps.

Image caption,

Westbury mayor Sheila Kimmins said the incinerator would only add to the climate emergency

NREL has said there was no justification for Wiltshire Council to delay its decision further.

“Nothing has changed,” NREL director Alex Young said.

He told me “waste management facilities are required to deal with society’s waste after reduction and recycling, that’s a fact.

“The Northacre facility addresses that need”.

Incredibly complicated process

The Westbury site in Wiltshire is on an industrial park that has long been allocated for waste processing.

But the location has caused particular controversy, given it is just a few hundred metres away from Westbury.

The planning process has also become incredibly complicated.

It is easy to forget NREL already had permission to extract a different type of energy from the waste plant, known as gasification – a more complex and expensive version of incineration.

The current row is over whether NREL should be allowed to change that plan to a more traditional moving-grate incinerator.

Wiltshire Council provisionally approved the change in 2021, when it was passed up to the Secretary of State Michael Gove.

After his recent decision not to intervene in the process, Wiltshire’s Strategic Planning Committee is reviewing the plans again.

‘A last resort’

Councillors are hoping for more flesh on the bones after the government’s recent announcement of its target to halve the amount of waste going for incineration or landfill by 2042.

But without a policy to go with that announcement, council planners lack the detail they would need to base their decision on.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesperson said while it was preferable to using landfills, “we are very clear that incineration should be a last resort behind recycling and re-use”.

Defra also said officials were assessing how much incineration capacity the country would need in future.

Wiltshire Council plans to hold the meeting to decide the fate of the Westbury incinerator in July.

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