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Energy-from-Waste Incinerators

Volume 512: debated on Thursday 1 July 2010

We support modern energy generation from waste where local communities want it and where it makes good environmental sense. It is the responsibility of local authority managers and planners, and the local authorities themselves of course, to decide on the best waste management arrangements in their areas. Recognising the concern that incineration can raise, the Government are committed to a huge expansion in energy from waste using anaerobic digestion, and we are taking steps to drive progress and greater ambition in that area. In Germany, for example, combustion recovery energy-from-waste plants provide 7.5% of renewable energy.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In light of the policy, does he understand the concerns of my constituents in Shepshed, who are facing the building of an incinerator at Newhurst quarry, which is both a site of special scientific interest and on the edge of the national forest, as well as another possible incinerator not 6 miles away? Will he encourage local authorities seriously to pursue alternative waste management strategies?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The latest scientific evidence on the health effects of modern municipal waste incinerators—this might be reassuring for her constituents—was reviewed independently by the Health Protection Agency. Its report, published in September 2009, concluded that although it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects completely, any potential damage from modern, well-run and regulated incinerators is likely to be so small as to be undetectable.

I commend to the Secretary of State the report on energy-from-waste issues by the New Local Government Network, which I had a hand in writing a couple of years ago. In particular, will he consider ameliorating some of the concerns that residents can have about incinerators, even the new generation incinerators? Although, as he says, they can be quite successful, local people get very concerned about them. Given the controversies that can arise, giving back to local residents the proceeds from the sale of some of the energy generated could make them slightly more palatable.

That is certainly an interesting model. It has been tried with other schemes, such as with wind turbines. I know of a wind farm in the highlands where that was the case. It certainly helps to get local support for particular schemes. However, fundamentally it has to be a local decision for the local authority. Local authorities know very well that we want to recycle first before going through to waste and energy recovery, but very high rates of recycling and energy from waste can co-exist. In the Netherlands, for example, there is a 65% recycling rate with 33% energy from waste. Local authorities must make their own decisions on this, but if they get the waste hierarchy right they can get the whole mix right.