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‘Democracy in peril’ warning after campaigners ignored over waste plant

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Westbury’s mayor, cllr Mike Sutton, says that ‘democracy is in peril’ as campaigners are continually ignored by Wiltshire Council on decisions affecting the town.

This follows the news that the call-in request for further scrutiny of the recently approved gasification plant has been declined by central government. The facility, which has been protested against by local people and opposed by local councils, has now been given the green light to go ahead.

Last month, The Minister of State for housing, Kit Malthouse MP, decided not to call in Wiltshire Council’s decision to grant planning permission to Northacre Renewable Energy’s Advanced Thermal Treatment (ATT) plant, despite a request from MP Andrew Murrison, a detailed call-in request from Westbury Gasification Action Group (WGAG) and opposition from Westbury Town Council and other local councils.

The government found  no grounds to call in the application and proposed that more decisions are to be ‘made at a local level where possible’. 

Mayor of Westbury, cllr Mike Sutton said, “As with most of the residents of Westbury who had campaigned and protested against the negative effects of the gasification plant, I was disappointed at the decision by the Secretary of State not to call in the application for public scrutiny but hardly surprised.

“The whole history of the application and subsequent approvals has been one where the comments and wellbeing of the people of Westbury have been ignored and where those managing the planning process have been determined to push through approval – no matter what the consequences for the residents of our town.

“There have been three separate applications regarding this plant and had they all been dealt with at the same time, they could have been scrutinised more effectively, although the way the unitary authority (Wiltshire Council) has dealt with the matter does not inspire confidence that the outcome would have been much different.

“I quote from the minister in his letter, ‘the government believes that decisions affecting local people should be made by local people and not by government’. Nothing could be further from the truth as the unitary authority refused to listen or take note of Westbury objections, as indeed it has with most planning decisions affecting the town these past few years; massive new build with no associated infrastructure which were for the most part ignored by Wiltshire Council, despite objections from Westbury Town Council.

“There have been many examples this past year when local residents have been energized on such matters as the closure of special schools, health centres and the gasification plant and democratically have taken those protests and pleas to Wiltshire Council, only for all their arguments to be dismissed and nothing changed to reflect their concerns. Democracy itself is in peril when citizens using democratic means of argument and protest are continually ignored and then people look for other outlets which we all hope will not happen.

“Local decisions made by local people? We wish!”

Andrew Murrison MP said, “I’m grateful to the minister for looking carefully at this to see if he can intervene. Even now I urge the planning authority to see what it can legally do to reflect the concerns of residents, including insisting on the strictest conditions of operation on this unwanted, unnecessary and completely inappropriately located plant.”

Campaigners against the gasification plant say they will continue to fight and represent the community.

WGAG campaigner, Margaret Cavanna said, “We’ve had two huge disappointments in the last couple of weeks. The news regarding the extra conditions Wiltshire Council will have to place on NRE is slightly more positive.  As a result of a detailed call in request we made to the Secretary of State, and the work by Andrew Murrison MP, they will have to meet more stringent requirements e.g. the operation will have to be climate positive, contributing positively to climate change, and feedstock will have to be regulated to minimise environmental impact.  The worry is the reliance on Wiltshire Council to enforce the conditions.  

“It’s the sad reality that the incinerator is now more likely to be built.  But there is still hope on various fronts; Northacre Renewable Energy still need to apply to the Environment Agency (EA) for an operating permit and the EA may organise public meetings for questions and submissions on this; a moratorium on new incinerators, or an incineration tax, could be imposed by government; or the penny could drop with the developers that opposition is not going away.  They have no ‘social licence’ in the community to build this here.”

Dan Gmaj, campaigner and member of WGAG said, “From my observations over the last year I can only conclude that the Westminster ‘circus’ has sadly delegated our community’s health and responsible recycling to the ‘clowns!’ A few encouraging checks have been added to the planning conditions, however, the failure to call-in this ATT gasification project is a massive opportunity lost, to link up nationwide action on climate emergency and current thinking on UK waste strategy.”

A spokesperson for Northacre Renewable Energy said, “We are pleased that the Secretary of State has decided that there are no grounds to call in the recent decision by Wiltshire Council. 

“Northacre Renewable Energy will become an invaluable element of Wiltshire’s waste and energy infrastructure. It will generate enough renewable electricity to power 46,000 homes, while removing the need for thousands of long distance lorry journeys, by providing a local solution to non-recyclable waste. 

“We are now able to plan for the construction of the facility and will work closely with local stakeholders and the community, to ensure we minimise any negative impacts, and maximise the benefits, through construction and eventual operation of the facility.”

3 Responses to ‘Democracy in peril’ warning after campaigners ignored over waste plant

  1. Russell Hawker

    July 2, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    This Mayor should know better than to keep on talking rubbish like he does.

    Planning decisions do not involve “democracy”. Democracy has nothing to do with the decision process which, by law, follows a legal procedure that takes account of relevant factors including planning law and planning policies.

  2. Jane Pilgrim

    July 8, 2019 at 9:55 am

    The Mayor is correct. Law and decision making must take the peoples views in to account They have blatantly been ignored. This situation is wrong on every level. Wiltshire Council are complete bullies who think they can over rule the Majority. We shall see?

  3. Dan Gmaj

    July 13, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you and ‘Well Said’ Mike Sutton! 🙂

    Local Councillors need to challenge more and call out the obsurdities as described!

    My comments in full:

    “Council make poor recommendations that not only defy belief, but also defy multiple Core Policies of their own making!”

    1) The ‘Hills Group’ ATT Call in:

    “From my observations over the last year I can only conclude that the Westminster ‘Circus’ has sadly delegated our community’s health and ‘Responsible Recycling’ to the ‘Clowns!’ – A few encouraging checks have been added to the planning conditions, however, the failure to call-in this ATT Gasification project is a massive opportunity lost to link up nationwide action on Climate Emergency and current thinking on UK waste strategy, Central government simply ‘donned its blinkers and washed its hands’ of overall responsibility, instead suggesting that such matters should be handled at a local level. Of course, our genuine local thinking is ‘THE WRONG PLANT IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME’ as Our MP Andrew Murrison has also stated citing the ‘Precautionary Principle’. Sadly for our region however, when Westminster say ‘Local’ what they mean is accepting a poorly assessed decision from a Wiltshire Council ‘Strategic Planning Committee’ being fed poor recommendations that not only defy belief, but also multiple Core Policies of their own making! it is all predictably unfortunate and wholey unsound! – We will of course, continue to fight and represent our community!”

    2) The 11km Grid connection Trench:

    “The way in which the strategic planning process has been used to ‘divide up’ the pieces of this privately funded infrastructure, assures that seemingly ‘credible’ approvals can be made in ‘isolation’ of the bigger picture. So, we were unsurprised by the outcome. A ‘unanimous decision’ to approve, was however, a genuine disappointment! The process on the day showed a clear predetermination by the committee of nine (One independent, one Lib Dem and seven Conservative councillors) to accept the case officer’s recommendations, regardless of the quality and level of opposing arguments. It proved a process clearly unfit for purpose, as rather than address the stream of Wiltshire Core Policies (just as one example) that would be contraveniend by ‘Approval’ when they were read out one after the other by the WGAG representation. Only a single, inadequate in itself, ‘reply to one’ was made by the case officer and soon after, the ‘Chair’ moved to approve!
    I’ll say it once more! The Wiltshire Council process has, on the issue of the #ATT gasification Plant for Westbury, simply been unfit for purpose! A waste of time, genuine human resources and the public money that funds it.
    Strategic Planning in Mendip will shortly be faced with a decision that covers the seven kilometer section in Somerset. We await the outcome before considering our next steps to ensure that our communities are listened to!

    3) A few words on renewable energy:

    “Much has been made in Hills Group / NRE press releases on BBC and mainstream media about ‘Renewable Energy’ and in the Chippenham Council Chamber last week, we were ‘Yet again’ subjected to such a statement, on this occasion read out by Chief Executive Mike Hill himself. Councillors and even Government ministers have been fooled by poor definitions of ‘Renewable’ in the past, so, Just for the for the record. ‘Renewable Energy’ is not: Having a 25 year licence to burn High calorific waste from anywhere (on our doorstep) because that does not make the ‘Efw’ (energy from waste) genuinely renewable, it just means you can get more if it to replace what has been burnt already! (It’s hard to be subtle about that!)
    Genuine ‘Renewable energy’ (Ref – Wikipedia) is energy that is collected from ‘renewable’ resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.
    It is simply ‘folly’ to include ‘High Calorific’ or indeed any waste in this category. After all, humans technically renew themselves on a ‘human timescale’ don’t they, but I doubt that even the Hills Group would seek to get renewable energy from such a resource? Oh no! surely that’s not the kind of brave new world that the waste industry have planned for us, right!

    Please continue to recycle responsibly, be active and caring in your community and when you get the chance, hold your councillors to account for the decisions they make on your behalf!”

    Dan Gmaj

    (Resident / wgag member / Founder: Westbury Shed)

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