At least 250 people campaigning against a planning application to build a biomass incinerator on the former SquareD factory site at Cheney Manor Industrial Estate protested at the Civic Offices before the full meeting at Swindon Borough Council on Thursday 7 November.
Pure Green, an offshoot of Belgian firm Hippofan, wants to produce 50,000 tonnes of animal bedding using virgin wood and and also waste wood. However the application includes an incinerator to burn wood to power the production process which protestors say will pollute the surrounding area.
Residents from a wide area around Cheney Manor are concerned with contaminants emitting from the site, despite erection of two chimneys, one 25 metres high, the other 30 metres.
A paper petition of 1,700 names calling for the council to block the application was delivered to the council at the end of October. On 7 November a second petition of 700 names was presented to Deputy Mayor Teresa Page by campaign spokesman Paul Saunders.
Paul was given 5 minutes to address all the councillors before the meeting got underway and illustrated the campaign against the incinerator with an analogy contrasting Swindon’s past and present. He referred back to the famous steam engines built in the town’s railway works which six tons of coal an hour at full power and compared it to a hybrid Honda Car – also made in Swindon – which produces miniscule carbon emission.
He said the proposed biomass plant is simply burning the equivalent quantity of scrap wood producing even more CO2 for little gain; his point being we should be going forward with modern technology like Honda have, not backwards as Hippofan are proposing.
Rodbourne Cheney councillor Des Moffatt said: “The public reaction has been overwhelming and it was a brilliant turn out. The people I represent have behaved beautifully.
"People are very aware that planting an incinerator using a environmentally unfriendly process close to their homes and several local schools is unacceptable. We believe this plant could impact up to 60,000 homes."
Residents are also worried that the roads accessing Cheney Manor will become even more clogged with 30 to 50 lorries a day bringing in wood and removing burnet ash from the site.
Swindon Council’s planning committee deferred a decision on the Pure Green application in August when 150 people protested at the council officers, calling on Pure Green to hold proper public consultations.
Above, protesters at the Civic Offices on 7 November. All photos above and below by Richard Wintle of Calyx
Below Des Moffat sets out the background to the Pure Green/Hippofan application. Or see www.swin.org.uk
The Hippofan/Pure Green incineration proposal for Cheney Manor by Des Moffat
In 2010 local ward members were approached by Swindon Council’s administration in the shape of Cllr Foley to discuss a system of dealing with household refuse by converting it to either to Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), or using Pyrolysis to burn it.
I researched the issue and persuaded colleagues in the Labour Group to back the RDF solution which would mean waste being converted into fuel pellets to be used for power generation in plants outside the town
We had a public meeting in Western Community Centre in the autumn of 2010 and won public support for the RDF idea as an effective system of Pyrolysis ‘gasification’ is still in its infancy. Cllr Foley and I shared a concern to have a proven system not experimental method of rendering waste which was undeliverable at the time.
An RDF plant is being installed right now at Swindon Services Waterside Park refuse handling centre. The council can expect a net land fill tax saving of about £I million annually as a result.
In April 2013 a planning application was announced by Pure Green, a new offshoot of Belgian animal bedding firm Hippofan, with the backing of Forward Swindon, which I and others thought it to be a plant using pyrolysis and/or gasification.
Bill King and Terry Hunt, chairs of Whitworth Road and Rodbourne Cheney residents associations, contacted me saying ‘they intend to burn wood in oxygen, 60,000 tons of it a year.’
My colleagues and I went to what was then Swindon Commercial Services at Waterside Park to be told it was nothing to do with them and nobody had talked to them about the Pure Green plan.
We went to Forward Swindon to told: ‘Its fantastic, it will bring 50 jobs and millions of inward investment.’
We replied: ‘Do you know they are burning wood in oxygen to generate their power?’
Foreward Swindon replied: ‘Ahh, we don’t do the technical bits.’ Forward Swindon offered to arrange for the applicant to educate us and I insisted such education be made available to all councillors.
Development Control Officer offered kind words and sympathy. The said: ‘I am sure it will be all right, we have a lot of work to do on it; we will let you know.’
It was no time to take chances on what might or might not be an appropriate application and I wrote to the planning department calling the plan in – that is, requiring the decision to be made by the planning committee.
We then discovered that Swindon Borough Council officers had decided that an Environmental Impact Assessment was not required. It was not Development Control Officers who decided that, though under their retrospective influence the applicant was told he would need the appropriate licences from the Environment Agency.
A seminar duly took place attended by 15 councillors and council officers. There we established that Hippofan could and would burn waste composite woods including laminated kitchen furniture which of course is full of loaded with chemicals.
Just prior to my annual holiday on 19 July I asked for an update and was told that the application would not go to committee for some time yet. On return I asked for a progress report and did not initially get a clear answer. I suspected that officers were intent on recommending approval and did some preparation work for a public meeting.
As soon as the planning committee agenda was published for 13 August I called a public meeting in my own name to avoid contaminating the by-election taking place in nearby Haydon Wick. I was and remain determined to avoid this matter becoming a party political issue.
The public meeting on Friday 9 August was attended by a recorded 180 people and resident Paul Saunders identified himself and was appointed as a meeting spokesperson.
The planning meeting of the following Tuesday was attended by a recorded 180 people. In fact over 200 were actually there but many were unable to get into the council chamber. Paul Saunders reported that businesses at Cheney Manor, apart for NEXUS business centre, had not been alerted to the plan. In some chaos the committee decided that the Pure Green/Hippofan had to consult with affected people before a decision could be reached.
I with others including North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson met with two representatives from the applicant on 22 August and we were far from convinced with the response to our concerns.
Justin has made a clear statement on three separate occasions he does not support the application.
Labour group leader Cllr Jim Grant concluded, given that the ball was in the applicant’s court with their need to consult and in the absence of any input from them, that we could not just wait for their next move. To that end we created a steering group of all those people in leadership roles who had expressed an interest. As a result of number of meetings a constitution has been adopted, officers elected and a bank account opened.
We now have a Facebook presence with some 1,000 followers and an online petition with over 800 signatures, as well as a website: www.swin.org.uk
We also have a physical paper petition with 2,300 signatures at the latest count.
We have had two further public meetings, one aimed at the Rodbourne/Even Swindon area in the Even Swindon School attended by 200 people.
In late October we held a public meeting in Western Community Centre which had to be turned into two simultaneous meetings because some 400 people were there.
On Thursday 7 November we intend to attempt to lodge our petition with the full council as provided for in legislation. We are confident that our presenter Paul Saunders will be permitted to address councillors.
From there we will have a further meeting of the steering group to assess the position.
Right now we know that Hippofan have appointed new agents, they insist in referring to themselves as Pure Green and they have sought advice as to who they should consult to fulfil the Planning Committees reason for deferment. We are told they seek to consult on the original planning application.
The Environment Agency extended the period for objections to the granting of a licence to pollute for Pure Green, the title they also use. However that period has now passed.
We are intent on alerting all the business operating on the Cheney Manor Trading Estate as to the plans and our power point presentation for that purpose is well honed now.
We have provisional plans for a public meeting in Moredon Community Centre but that will embrace parts of the population not represented by us and we will seek agreement with the Ward Councillors.
From there I cannot say at this time but be advised we will not relax until this potential blight on the Cheney Manor area and the wider Swindon Town has been averted.