Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require planning authorities to conduct a local referendum before considering planning permission for new large-scale waste recovery or disposal facilities which involve the recovery or disposal of waste from more than one county area; to provide that planning authorities and the Secretary of State must not grant planning permission if the result of such a referendum indicates that local people do not wish a facility to be developed; and for connected purposes.
In the last 10 years society has dramatically altered. Twenty-four hour access to rolling news and media and widespread and easily available access to the internet mean that today’s individual is far more enlightened in terms of information than ever before. People are more aware of what is happening within their own communities and where their money is being spent. If a community requires more homes, a school or a hospital, traditionally developers have worked with local councils and provided a solution.
One could argue that, via the process of democracy, local people have their views and concerns more or less met within the provision of the planning decision-making process, but that is not always the case. Often, despite extensive consultation, the wider community view may not necessarily reflect the opinions of those citizens whose lives and environment will be deeply affected and impacted upon by a decision that has been taken elsewhere and, ultimately, local people feel powerless to control their quality of life.
When we live with what is recognised as a broken society, it is important that the process is reversed and that local people are once again empowered. Local empowerment is vital when the objective of a Government is to roll back the boundaries of the state to reverse what we have today, which is a big state centralising power and local people who feel helpless. We need citizens to become more involved in how their communities function and are shaped, to become community shareholders by taking ownership for the residents of today and future families of tomorrow.
My party has already articulated the desire to establish local housing trusts, which will enable local people to get together, form a trust and dictate how local housing needs will be met. Local people will drive the local housing growth agenda. They will be empowered and in control. We have exciting new policies in education that will enable local parents to establish and run local schools. However, my Bill proposes a further approach when the need for larger infrastructural facilities is required in a local community.
An area of Mid-Bedfordshire, which incorporates the communities of Stewartby, Marston Moretaine, Brogbrough and Lidlington, has been targeted for some time by the Government for development and growth. Not surprisingly, people who live in that targeted area would like some say in how it grows. A proposed inappropriate eco-town has already been successfully fought off by engaged and active local residents. As a result of European legislation and the need to cease using landfill and to create energy-from-waste facilities, Rookery Pit, within that growth area, has been designated as the preferred site for an energy-from-waste plant. That has raised a number of issues.
A large American company—Covanta—has maximised the opportunity to enter a sham process of local consultation and public relations, to try to convince local people that it has in some way advanced as a preferred developer and operator. The company has even indicated to me and other people that it is talking to local planners, which is not the case. The fact is that many organisations may tender, and probably will do so, to build the energy-from-waste plant at that location.
Bedfordshire has an excellent recycling record and already recycles 44 per cent. of its waste. I am sure that the majority of people in Bedfordshire understand the need to cease landfill and to burn what rubbish is not recycled, thereby creating clean energy in the process, but they do not understand why Bedfordshire should process the waste for Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire or anywhere else—counties that are quite capable of providing facilities to cater for their own waste.
It is time for the people who will be affected by such a proposal to be not only consulted but given a vote and the power to decide how and in what way their community and environment will alter. There is strong local opposition to the Covanta proposal, which in no real way benefits the local economy but aesthetically damages the local environment. From many of the beauty spots in Mid-Bedfordshire, the Millennium park, Ampthill park and Houghton house and, indeed, the home of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), the Covanta proposal would blight the landscape, and all will be able to see the proposed development.
The hope of Mid-Bedfordshire’s economic growth targets being attained via tourism would be dashed in one planning approval. The already congested M1 and A421 would become blocked with the congestion and fumes from lorries carrying waste from other counties. They would use the same motorway junction as the traffic for the proposed Center Parcs site, which has yet to be built, and the assessment of the traffic on that junction has yet to be carried out. The size and scale of the proposed Covanta site make landscaping and disguise almost an impossibility even after five years of established growth and screening. The building would be half the height of Big Ben, which stands at around 80 metres high, and the chimneys of the proposed plant would stand at 145 metres. Mid-Bedfordshire cannot boast many hills, so I hope that the comparison with Big Ben and our flattish landscape provides some perspective on the visual impact that such a facility will have.
Therefore, given the enormous negative impact that a waste facility catering for more than the requirements of Bedfordshire would have on people living in and around the designated area, those people should be given a greater say in what happens. The Bill proposes holding a local referendum—the results of which the Secretary of State would honour—that would genuinely harness local opinion and allow a yes-or-no decision to be taken on the size and capacity of such a facility.
Facilities of Covanta proportions can be disguised in the wonderful, large-scale USA, but England is a fairly small island that is already becoming over-populated. We have no capacity for a facility of the size of the Covanta proposal. We have no spare air in Bedfordshire for errors of toxic fumes, we have no vista or horizon large enough to accommodate a facility the size of the Covanta proposal, and local people are running out of patience. Residents not only will have to deal with fumes and pollution from backed-up lorries on the A421, but will experience light pollution as the area will be plunged into almost perpetual daylight.
Very few jobs will be created by the facility and there will be very little benefit to the economy. Overall, one can only envisage a damaging and negative effect on the daily life of local residents. Residents do not say that there should be no such facility; they believe that a facility is required to deal with Bedfordshire’s waste, but not one of the size proposed, so they would like more say about what happens in their local area.
Question put and agreed to.
That Nadine Dorries present the Bill.
Nadine Dorries accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 April, and to be printed (Bill 102).