Future of Colnbrook super-incinerator in doubt following Heathrow decision

The replacement of the Grundon incinerator at Colnbrook with a “like for like” facility on Green Belt may not be the foregone conclusion its owners hope for.

The Greatmoor incinerator is one of many now available close to Slough that did not exist in 2010.

The Greatmoor incinerator, which opened today, is one of many now available close to Slough that did not exist in 2010.

Incinerator operator Grundon issued a statement yesterday that it would attempt to seek a like-for-like replacement for its current plant following its demolition to make way for a Third Runway.

The statement comes as no surprise, having been referred to in a tripartite deal between Slough, Grundon and Heathrow agreed last year.

Slough Borough Council has previously demanded that a replacement incinerator be provided, while Fiona Mactaggart told Sir Howard Davies’ public hearings in December 2014: that “if the present incinerator is closed, then we will immediately have landfill, which we have managed to avoid over the last year”.

Although it will not be able to by-pass the planning process, Slough has already gone as far as to say it would seek to accommodate a a new plant on adjacent Green Belt land.  Ironically the Council has refused to unlock Green Belt to solve its housing crisis and is, instead, putting pressure on South Bucks to allow a “garden suburb” on its Green Belt to accommodate the town’s burgeoning population.  It resisted the incinerator during its original planning application and subsequent appeal in 2004.

The statement on Gundon’s website says:

“Lakeside Energy from Waste Ltd will now seek to ensure the Lakeside Energy from Waste facility – and the associated waste management and recycling facilities within the Colnbrook complex – can be relocated on a like for like basis at a nearby suitable site, with minimal disruption, as soon as possible.  

“We will work closely with Heathrow Airport Ltd and the relevant local and regulatory authorities to make sure these regionally significant facilities are delivered.”

Incinerators operational in the south-east are shown in grey; those currently in planning are shown in yellow; and those which have been refused (but which may come back on appeal) are shown in red.

Incinerators operational in the south-east are shown in grey; those currently in planning are shown in yellow; and those which have been refused (but which may come back on appeal) are shown in red.

The Colnbrook plant burns through more than 450,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste a year from businesses and councils – including Slough and others further afield.  Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell and the West London Waste Authority all send their waste by truck to Colnbrook to be incinerated.

Grundon’s materials recycling facility, waste transfer stations, clinical waste plant and offices, would also have to be rebuilt to make way for the expansion.

In Heathrow’s submission to the Airports Commission it revealed it had already been working closely with Grundon and Slough Borough Council and was preparing a “joint feasibility study” on moving the incinerator “a few yards further back” onto its Green Belt site:

“The land is already owned by Grundon, thereby removing a potential obstacle to its replacement. The site is directly accessed off the realigned A4 and therefore would represent no change to existing vehicle access arrangements. NATS have given an initial opinion that the site is suitable for accommodating the height of flue stack required (75m).”

HRH The Duke of Gloucester and previous Grundon CEO Richard Skehens, on the balcony of the Education Centre during its opening in 2010. That will now be lost under the tarmac of a Third Runway.

HRH The Duke of Gloucester and previous Grundon CEO Richard Skehens, on the balcony of the Education Centre during its opening in 2010. That will now be lost under the tarmac of a Third Runway.

But the planning process may not be so straightforward as the company is presuming.

When it opened in 2010 the Grundon facility was among just 25 in the country.  Today incinerators are commonplace around the UK, with many more in the pipeline.  Back in 2010 there were already concerns expressed that the UK would need to begin importing waste to burn as a result of improved recycling rates.  The warning was repeated in 2013, coinciding with the first fall in UK recycling rates in 30 years, with claims that an over-capacity in incinerators was looming.

With the Government insisting the air pollution will be a condition of Heathrow ever being able to operate a new runway, the exceptional circumstances which saw the incinerator being approved on appeal in 2004 may be far harder to justify now.

And the Heathrow decision this week coincides with the official opening of a new incinerator, owned and operated by neighbouring Bucks County Council.  The Greatmoor Energy from Waste (EfW) plant will be opened today (Thursday 27th October) by His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester.  The duke, pictured above, opened the Colnbrook incinator in 2010.

Greatmoor will treat up to 300,000 tonnes of residual waste each year and will generate 22 megawatts of electricity – equivalent to the electricity needs of up to 36,000 homes and adding to the abundance of capacity in the South-East for incineration.

The Airports Commission noted that the process for approval of a replacement incinerator was a major undertaking in its own right and could take many years:

“The planning and construction of an Energy from Waste plant is a substantial exercise in its own right, whose timescales are not substantially shorter than the delivery of new runway infrastructure. The process of planning and provision of an alternative facility would, therefore, need to begin soon after a decision to proceed with airport expansion”.

Three of the four lakes adjacent to Colnbrook Lakeside are set to be lost under the runway plan, along with the Education Centre.

Three of the four lakes adjacent to Colnbrook Lakeside are set to be lost under the runway plan, along with the Education Centre.

For its part Slough Borough Council, which has a Strategic Partnership with the airport, made a strong case to the Commission that it would need to be compensated for the loss of £4.5 million in business rates if the incinerator was not rebuilt in the borough.

The Council initially suggested that “reprovisioning”  might allow the possibility of “a more modern Energy from Waste plant making the best use of new technology” including anaerobic digestion and a reduced chimney height – but nothing further has been said on that proposal.

The existing incinerator would remain operational until mid 2023 while a new facility would require 3-4 years to commission.

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