Meeting date: Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 14 March 2018
Agenda: Commonwealth Day 2018, Portfolio Questions, Procurement, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Incinerators, Public Health and Planning
- Commonwealth Day 2018
- Portfolio Questions
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Incinerators, Public Health and Planning
Incinerators, Public Health and Planning
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10364, in the name of Monica Lennon, on incinerators, public health and planning in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises the important role of the planning system in making decisions about future developments and the use of land in communities; believes that planning decisions should always strive to enhance communities and create high-quality, sustainable places that support the health and wellbeing of current and future generations; understands that planning applications for incineration and energy-from-waste proposals are attracting high levels of opposition from the public and that concerns over public health, traffic, safety and impact on residential amenity are commonly raised as grounds for objection by residents in Lanarkshire, as well as other parts of Scotland; agrees that increasing community engagement in the planning process is important and is concerned that the public does not feel adequately informed or reassured when presented with incineration and energy-from-waste proposals; understands that, at a local and regional level, there is apparent widespread public and political opposition to incineration and energy-from-waste planning applications, leading to concerns that Scottish Planning Policy and the statutory planning process is not affording sufficient protection to communities, and notes the calls, as a matter of public interest, on the Scottish Government to update the Parliament on the latest public health information and research that is available on incineration and energy-from-waste technologies, including the impacts on human health and how this informs the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Plan and the expectations of everyone involved in the planning process.17:07
I thank the members who have signed my motion, and I remind members in the chamber that I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, as is listed in my entry in the register of members’ interests. I also say hello to the visitors in the public gallery.
Planning decisions about the use of land and buildings can make or break a community. There is huge potential for the planning system to enhance communities by creating high-quality sustainable places that will support the health and wellbeing of current and future generations. However, the potential to protect and transform places cannot be realised without communities. Communities should be active participants in the planning process rather than passive consumers, and things should be done by and for them rather than to them. In too many cases, our planning system continues to fail on that front.
The best example that I can give of the importance of community in planning comes from my experience in Whitehill, which is a neighbourhood in Hamilton that I previously represented as a councillor and that I am proud to represent as an MSP for Central Scotland. Whitehill is a place where people look out for each other. The residents value green space, and they have fought hard for resources to reduce health inequalities. The community has also faced adversity—it recently lost its library as a result of austerity, and it is certainly in no mood to gain an incinerator.
A proposal for an energy-from-waste incinerator at Whitehill first emerged in 2013. I worked with other local councillors to ensure that people were aware of the proposal and of how they could have their say. Working under the banner of HERAG—the Hamilton energy recovery action group—residents in Whitehill and Burnbank, along with residents from nearby Bothwell and Uddingston and, more recently, from Blantyre, joined forces to campaign, giving up many Saturday mornings and week nights in the process. In May 2014, South Lanarkshire Council’s planning committee refused the application. The campaigners were jubilant, but the developer was defiant and submitted an appeal to the Scottish Government in August 2014. Twelve months later, the Scottish Government released its decision, confirming that the incinerator would be allowed to go ahead on the basis of national need. My constituents played by the rules of a plan-led system, but the Scottish Government decided that it knew better. Boosted by the appeal victory, the developer did not stop there. A second planning application was submitted, this time for a bigger and bolder form of incinerator, and the council is still looking at it.
In many ways, the experience with the Whitehill incinerator is a story about the power imbalance that exists at the heart of the planning system. The incinerator proposal was pursued by an applicant who was based in the Isle of Man. It did not comply with the development plan, it did not have support from local residents or from a single local councillor of any party and it did not comply with the Scottish Government’s own guidelines for incinerators. According to Scottish planning policy, incinerators should be at least 250m away from homes and other sensitive buildings. This one will be almost cheek by jowl with homes along Whistleberry Crescent and a site for Travelling people.
I will be clear: the approved proposal and the new proposal breach both the development plan and Scottish planning policy. That surely makes a mockery of the plan-led system, which we have had in Scotland for a long time, and undermines the participation of local residents who engaged in the process in good faith. The process has become a battle, similar to the process for the incinerator that was proposed by Shore Energy in the Carnbroe and Shawhead area, which Elaine Smith has fiercely campaigned against for years alongside campaigners from the MRAPP—Monklands residents against pyrolysis plant—group. Fulton MacGregor, as the constituency member, is also actively campaigning against that proposal.
Across Scotland, local decisions on incinerators are being overturned on appeal, despite the fact that genuine issues in relation to particles, air quality, health impacts, traffic volume and the compatibility of incinerators with residential areas have been inadequately addressed by the Scottish Government and its agencies. If a 250m buffer zone is not really necessary, and if the Minister for Local Government and Housing is prepared to allow incinerators to be built a matter of metres from people’s homes and residential caravans, why has the Scottish Government not updated Scottish planning policy to reflect that? Alternatively, if the minister stands by the current Scottish planning policy, will he explain, in winding up the debate, why the Scottish Government is prepared to compromise the safety and amenity of my constituents? I believe that they deserve to know.
Last year, a Sunday Herald investigative report by journalist Rob Edwards, which ran under the headline “Ash-heap nation”, examined fears about the proliferation of super-incinerators across Scotland. In the report, Dr Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland warned the Scottish Government to
“stop this rush to incineration before it is too late.”
If the Government is to push ahead with super-incinerators to meet national targets on waste, it must be clearer with communities about the health risks that incineration poses. Such a push cannot come at the expense of the health and wellbeing of those in some of our most deprived communities. If the Government is to continue with the current policy framework, it must publish updated guidance that identifies the impact of incineration with regard to pollution and human health. In addition, more consideration must be given to the location of development sites.
The decision to allow the Whitehill incinerator to go ahead came down to an interpretation that placed national priority ahead of local need and local circumstance. The remedy for the communities that are affected by the proposed incinerator lies in the hands of the Minister for Local Government and Housing, who could right a wrong instead of sticking to the position of his predecessor. He could, at the stroke of a pen, use the powers that are available to the Scottish Government to withdraw planning permission for the Whitehill incinerator. To do so would be to respect the views of four-year-old Lilygrace McGhee, whose handwritten objection letter voiced her concerns for the wildlife that lives on the site and for her friends who use Backmuir woods. Like me, she is worried that the incinerator will harm the health of the community.
Planning should drive up standards in place making and improve the public health of the nation. Incinerators that are situated in built-up areas and that violate development plans put that at risk. My plea to the Scottish Government is this: please do not turn us into an ash-heap nation.17:15
I thank Monica Lennon for bringing this important issue to the chamber. It is of significant relevance to my Uddingston and Bellshill constituency, and I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate.
The motion in Monica Lennon’s name mentions Scotland’s zero waste plan, and I will begin my remarks on that subject. It is right that we recognise the importance of the strategy and the leadership that it offers on waste management. Our excellent former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, in his ministerial foreword to the plan, rightly recognised that, under the Scottish Government, there had been a dramatic cut in the amount of waste that we throw away in landfill sites and that recycling rates had soared. With vigour, the Scottish Government has supported local authorities in their efforts to increase recycling rates.
Moving on from our record on waste management and recycling, I wish to focus on what is at the heart of the motion: incinerators as a form of waste management and their impact on public health in Scotland. As many members will be aware, my constituency currently faces the prospect of being hemmed in by incinerators on both sides, from the Whistleberry site in Whitehill, which is in my constituency, to the Carnbroe plans in the neighbouring Coatbridge and Chryston constituency, which I am sure Fulton MacGregor will mention.
The question is, what does that mean for my constituents? The answer is quite clear: it means a proposal for a flue stack of between 90m and 95m high at the Whistleberry site, which would dominate the local skyline. As has been mentioned, the site is very close to houses in Whitehill and Hamilton. Fly ash poses a very real risk to ground water, and it will potentially have an impact on public health by association through harmful by-products and emissions. The situation reminds my constituents of the Stealers Wheel song, but instead of
“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”,
it is incinerators to the left of them, incinerators to the right. It is utterly unacceptable, and I, along with my constituents, will oppose the proposals.
I am always heartened by the strength of the response from people in our communities that are affected by incinerators. As has been said, they have mobilised and formed action groups, including MRAPP and HERAG. I am delighted to work with HERAG to inform local people of the impact that Whitehill and other areas face as a result of the proposals. All those who are involved in those organisations have freely given their time and resources to campaign passionately, not only to inform the public but to share important information that often goes unnoticed. Their work is testament to the power of local people to campaign on issues that are important to them, and I pay tribute to them all for their work.
Monica Lennon made her point quite forcefully, and I am happy to join her in asking the Government—as I have done over the past year or so—to look at the proposal that has been submitted for a site in my constituency. It is too near Whitehill and must be opposed. I join Monica Lennon in asking the minister to look closely at the proposal and exercise his pen, and I look forward to hearing the speeches from other members.17:18
I thank Monica Lennon for bringing the debate to the chamber. Although I recognise that the motion highlights specific local issues, we need to set out the general context of incineration in order that we can properly review what is happening at Whitehill.
First, we must establish why we should not incinerate waste. It is widely established that the best way to deal with our waste—as it is commonly termed—is, first, to prevent it; secondly, to prepare it for reuse; thirdly, to recycle it; and, finally, depending on which waste hierarchy we use, to either incinerate it or send it to landfill. There is an argument that it is better to send waste to landfill than to incinerate it, because that at least potentially allows for the recovery of those valuable resources at some point in the future. If any incineration is going on, it should always, as a bare minimum, be combined with heat and electricity production.
One reason for that is that we do not want to continue digging up resources and transporting them halfway round the world to be put together, often under some of the worst and most horrendous labour conditions on the planet, after which products are shipped back to Europe, including Scotland and the United Kingdom, where they are used for a very short time, or sometimes not at all, and are then tossed in the trash and—ludicrously—burned after so much time has been spent on designing them.
Another reason is more practical. Local authorities often sign up to a contract with a waste company for up to 25 years in order to burn waste. The Scottish Government knows that it has set targets for those same local authorities to recycle waste. It is clear that we cannot both recycle and burn the same product, but some local authorities think that that is possible; I would like to hear their feedback on that. There is a risk that we will not meet our targets.
The state of play in Scotland is increasingly worrying. The Scottish Government has planned a twelvefold increase in incineration over the next five years. Since 2011, incineration has increased by two thirds, which is very worrying for us all. I urge a moratorium—I know that the Greens support us in this—on the building of new incineration facilities. That would stop the development of the incinerator to which Monica Lennon’s motion refers, but other incinerators have passed the point of no return, and we will need to live with the consequences.
My colleagues in Europe told me that they have one piece of advice for Scotland: do not build these plants. They have an overcapacity in that regard. If local authorities or others really want to burn stuff, they can duly export it to Europe, where people will happily burn it for them. The answer is not to do that in Scotland. I welcome Monica Lennon’s motion, and I hope that the Government will take a proper look at ending the use of incinerators once and for all.17:23
I thank Monica Lennon for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I first became aware of issues around incineration—which involves pyrolysis and the production of energy from waste—in 2009, when an application was submitted for a pyrolysis plant at a site at Carnbroe, as Monica Lennon mentioned. The communities of Carnbroe, Sikeside and Shawhead were, understandably, extremely worried about the proposed development, and they organised the MRAPP campaign. They are still campaigning against the incinerator, and I am pleased that Fulton MacGregor is supporting them, too.
I attended the first public meeting on the proposed development in order to hear the concerns, and I subsequently spoke at numerous public events in support of my constituents. Local families felt strongly that the construction and operation of a pyrolysis incinerator as a private business venture would have a negative impact on the quality of life of the many families who live in the large residential areas adjacent to the site and the families throughout the wider area. The waste reduction facilities in the Coatbridge area are more than sufficient, and the area has also suffered over the years as a result of landfill sites.
At the time of the original application, I stated that I was not prepared
“to stand by and allow my”
“to become the waste capital of Scotland”
“dumping ground for everyone else’s waste.”—[Official Report, 12 May 2010; c 26082.]
The council refused planning permission for the development, and that should have been the end of the matter. As Monica Lennon said, the MRAPP campaigners were pleased about that. Over the years, ministers have been keen to tell us that planning decisions should be taken at a local level. However, the case went to Scottish Government reporters, who held an initial meeting in 2010, when snow prevented local people from being able to attend—so much for local involvement. I presented on behalf of the community at a hearing over several days, which was a fun way to spend my February recess. The outcome of that process should have been a decision against the development, but that was not the case. Unusually, the council took the matter to court but, unfortunately, it did not win. Indeed, the Scottish Government refused to use its powers to step in and stop the development. That was unfortunate, given that the Government’s answer to my many questions on that particular facility over the years had always been that decisions should be taken locally. Indeed—I think that they should.
At the time, Maggie Proctor, who was a leading campaigner, said:
“We cannot, and will not, accept that this incinerator is necessary for Monklands.”
She went on to say of the company:
“Their only risk is financial, they are asking us to risk so much more.”
Maggie Proctor was, and is, deeply concerned about the health implications of this type of incineration, and rightly so. Someone who is living in Lanarkshire is far more likely than the UK average to be admitted to hospital with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Pollutants are known to aggravate respiratory conditions, including asthma. The reporters stated that there would be no significant impacts on human health but, given that these incinerators involve emerging technology, I fail to see how they could have been sure. Pyrolysis systems have not been around long enough to allow people to testify to their safety, and no plant can be failsafe. No one in the local area wanted to take that risk, given that schools and nurseries lay within a short distance of the site and hundreds of family homes were right next to it. An accident at a plant in Germany led to the pyrolysis gas leaking into the atmosphere, and residents had to be evacuated and taken to hospital for checks.
Friends of the Earth criticises the plants because it is difficult to know what exactly will be emitted, given that that information comes from the companies themselves. I suggest that it would be better for the environment if we focused on recycling and other forms of waste prevention, given that—as Maurice Golden pointed out—any type of incineration can undermine recycling efforts. After all, incinerators require a continuous supply of waste in order to make money.
In any Government waste strategy, environmental justice must be paramount. Worryingly, research has shown that more deprived communities bear a disproportionate burden of negative environmental impacts such as industrial pollution. Like Monica Lennon, I ask that the Government update its public health information on these technologies as soon as possible.
The biggest problem with the process is the lack of democratic accountability for decisions, especially when council decisions are overturned by the Government. Increasing community engagement in the planning process is of paramount importance; listening to the real concerns of local people, especially regarding incinerator proposals, must be a priority; and stopping the apparent presumption in favour of big business over communities is vital. Once again, I thank Monica Lennon.17:27
I thank Monica Lennon for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I will highlight an example of an incinerator proposal in my region, on the site of a former open-cast coal mine at Westfield, near Kinglassie in Fife. Westfield is a vast site that has lain empty since the last coal was extracted, in 1998. The land has gone to seed and the pits have filled up with toxic water. It is no surprise that the local community was initially enthusiastic to hear, in 2016, that plans had been lodged to redevelop the site into a renewable energy and recycling park. The master plan for redevelopment includes solar farms, glasshouses for horticulture, business units, a recycling centre and public access works. However, at the heart of the plan is a 20MW energy recovery facility—or, as the general public would more commonly understand it, an incinerator. The plans for the incinerator, which are buried in a 156-page planning statement, include provision for burning around 200,000 tonnes of waste per year, with an estimated 64 lorries a day visiting the site along narrow rural roads.
Constituents approached me just a few weeks before Fife Council was due to consider the master plan, and many of them had only just realised that the plans included an incinerator. I heard of community council meetings at which the developer presented plans for redeveloped lochs, local business opportunities and thousands of jobs, with not one single mention of the incinerator that was at the heart of the plan. People have told me that they feel duped and let down by the planning process. There has been no honest or open discussion about the need for an incinerator, only confusing language and green-washed promises.
The planning application for the development uses the failure to meet recycling targets as justification for building further incineration facilities. It states:
“Not only was the 2013 target missed by some margin, the rate of increase has effectively stagnated … Whilst the Zero Waste recycling targets are laudable, and remain the Scottish Government’s stated position, the reality is that they are very unlikely to be achieved.”
The application goes on to extrapolate how much waste will need to be incinerated in Scotland once a landfill ban is in place and if we reach a recycling rate of only 50 per cent. We must bear in mind that the application was approved in principle by Fife Council in October last year. Is the Scottish Government really happy with the interpretation of our struggle to meet recycling targets as a need to burn more waste rather than improve recycling rates?
I also have concerns about a glaring loophole in the regulations, which are covered by the “Thermal Treatment of Waste Guidelines 2014”. Those guidelines specify an exemption for
“Material with no prospect of being recycled due to severe and/or prolonged market downturn/collapse.”
That material could then be incinerated. Given that, at the start of this year, China stopped taking 24 different kinds of materials, including many plastics, it is only a matter of time before that vague exemption is enacted. It is clear that developers are relying on such regulatory loopholes to make the case for their applications to planning authorities.
Increasingly, it seems that such planning decisions are taken not by Government policy but by the speculative projections of private developers who are looking to cash in. If planning policy is to be truly effective and give local communities a fair say in developments, it must be led by robust, evidence-led Government policy that is free from loopholes that could lead to our best zero waste intentions going up in smoke.17:31
I thank Monica Lennon for bringing the debate to the chamber. As the site is less than a mile outside my constituency, I will centre my speech on my long-standing opposition to the proposed Whitehill incinerator, which is to be situated just over the border in Richard Lyle’s Uddingston and Bellshill constituency. The site may well be in another member’s constituency, but harmful emissions and pollution do not respect boundaries, nor will the associated health risks be confined to one single constituency. It is therefore entirely understandable, and indeed welcome, that politicians from different political parties and across various constituencies have united with local communities to oppose the facility in Whitehill.
I put on record my appreciation for the grass-roots work that has been undertaken by Blantyre and Halfway community councils, in my constituency, both of which have been instrumental in the campaign against the incinerator. As I highlighted in a parliamentary motion last August, Blantyre community council alone amassed more than 3,400 letters of objection as well as a 2,200-signature petition against the proposal after conducting an extensive campaign in the area over the summer. All of that was achieved, I am told, with representatives from the community council chapping the door of almost every home in Blantyre, and I was pleased to have been able to assist with their efforts.
Given the projected impact radius of the potentially harmful emissions, which is estimated at six miles, Halfway community council objected to the proposal, too. Its members embarked on a similar exercise to that of their Blantyre counterparts. Members of Halfway community council visited the vast majority of homes in the Cambuslang East ward, which is no mean feat, and they secured a further 600 objections.
In total, with the work of other community organisations and the Hamilton energy recovery action group, more than 6,000 objections have been lodged with South Lanarkshire Council.
I respect the work that the member has carried out in Blantyre. I wonder whether the member thinks that any of the proposed facilities should be built in Scotland.
I certainly do not want them built in Scotland, if Mr Golden is asking for my opinion. I think I have been quite clear about that in my speech.
Without the actions of the community, the developer, Clean Power Properties, would not have faced anywhere near the level of opposition that it has faced over the past few years, so everyone involved must be congratulated on their drive and commitment.
In my response to the application, I raised 12 separate points of objection. My objections included the proximity of the proposed facility to residential dwellings, which Monica Lennon has mentioned. The development would be situated approximately 50m from a residential site that is home to local showpeople—not Travelling people, but showpeople. There are several food and drink manufacturers and producers near the proposed facility, that may be adversely affected by emissions—in particular, Dunns, on Glasgow Road in Blantyre, in my constituency.
Regarding the specific technologies that the plant would utilise, the Whitehill incinerator is proposed to use pyrolysis and gasification, which, according to Friends of the Earth, would rely on a feedstock rich in paper and kitchen and garden waste. However, those materials are widely recycled by local authorities already, which begs the question why the incinerator is needed in Whitehill at all.
My constituents should be in no doubt: I am fully opposed to the proposal and, indeed, to a similar one in Monklands, on which I also lodged an objection earlier this month. I wish those who are campaigning against that development well. Our planning system plays a crucial role in the outcome of future developments and in ensuring that communities are properly engaged in the process. Given the sizeable number of objections to the Monklands and Whitehill incinerators, it is clear that local people are engaged in the process in this instance.
I agree with what many members have previously said. In my opinion, the Whitehill incinerator and similar proposals are not the answer when it comes to reducing landfill or to waste management. Richard Lyle’s constituents do not want it, Fulton MacGregor’s constituents do not want it and my constituents certainly do not want it. South Lanarkshire Council’s planning committee is set to rule on the application in due course, and I sincerely hope that the hard work of the Halfway and Blantyre community councils, and that of the other community campaigns, pays off.17:36
I, too, thank Monica Lennon for securing this very important debate.
Apart from dealing with Brexit, I have done little else but think about planning recently. Monica Lennon and I sit on the Local Government and Communities Committee, which is dealing with the Planning (Scotland) Bill—which I have to say is seriously flawed.
This debate raises a number of important matters that are part of our considerations. First, there is the role of planning, about which the bill says nothing. Readers are left with no idea of what planning is for. It should be about creating and protecting great places—places that enhance the health and wellbeing of their residents. Last week, I held a members’ business debate on the importance of the green belt, which dealt with that very issue. I need not go over that ground again, but those who know me are aware of my passion for protecting Scotland’s environment.
The second issue is that people feel remote from the decision-making process. There is no doubt that communities feel excluded from the planning system. The local issue that Monica Lennon brought up in her speech highlights that.
Clean Power Properties was met with opposition to its original plans for an incinerator on the site of the former Craighead school back in 2013, and a campaign was launched against those proposals. As members have heard, South Lanarkshire Council refused the application, but a decision was taken by the Scottish Government reporter in 2015 to overturn that. The Scottish Government thought that it knew best.
Clean Power Properties then came back with a revised application for something even bigger. It has yet to be considered, but I am on the side of the community, just like those who have already spoken in the debate.
That brings me on to the next issue: where the power to make decisions should lie. That is a huge issue at the heart of the Planning (Scotland) Bill. Is it right that a democratic decision taken locally can be overturned? Is it right that ministers can call in applications and overturn decisions?
I asked about that at the Local Government and Communities Committee last week, and a witness told me that ministers were “democratically accountable” and that they only called in major applications. That is not true. There is little trust in the system. We are considering how better to front load the Planning (Scotland) Bill, but it fails on that front.
The final issue is how we deal with waste, about which Maurice Golden is more of an expert than I am. We have called for a moratorium on new incinerators, and I am glad to hear Clare Haughey back that. However, we need to deal with our waste somehow, and we cannot go on dumping it willy-nilly in landfill sites, which are also controversial. Some time ago, as you may recall, Presiding Officer, I played a part in getting Glasgow’s massive landfill site on the edge of East Kilbride shut down to further waste. It sat in what was green-belt land and, in my view, was responsible for polluting a local wildlife reserve. It should never have been there but, if memory serves me right, planning permission for it was granted on appeal. Local politicians were overruled—there is a pattern here.
From South Lanarkshire to North Lanarkshire, we have plans for incinerators. What we do not want is for the area that we represent to become incinerator central. We need to trust the local politicians.17:40
I, too, congratulate Monica Lennon on securing the debate. I thank her for her excellent speech, which reflected her first-class knowledge of planning and, of course, her local community.
Discussions about town planning can often be framed in the negative. We usually hear about a planning decision because someone somewhere disagrees with it. For those seeking to obtain permission for an application and for those wishing to object to an application, the complex process can be long and confusing.
Of course, town and country planning plays a crucial role in the flourishing of our communities. The system allows, or should allow, for serious thought as to how land can be used in the long-term interest of Scottish citizens. Planning decisions therefore have the power to impact intimately on individuals’ lives. The stakes are high and the pressure is great.
Our aspirations for town planning are also high. We want it to deliver more sustainable places that can encourage economic growth, but without damaging the environment. We want it to deliver places that enhance and embrace Scotland’s beautiful natural assets, but which also connect us better than ever before.
It is from that point that the motion turns to the issue of waste facilities or waste incinerators. Billed as a method of supporting a circular economy—at least on the face of it—-the proposal to use our waste as a valuable energy source might seem positive, but it is not news to anyone in the chamber that, historically, we have largely taken a careless approach to waste. Growing momentum for recycling and re-use initiatives stems from a modern awareness of the damage that is being done to our planet and the dangers of climate change. There is a consensus that we need to be responsible users of our natural resources. That means efficiently reducing our waste output where possible. However, the opposition to the development of waste incineration suggests that there is more to the story.
From an environmental perspective, energy-from-waste facilities are promoted as sources of energy that can reduce our need for energy that is generated from fossil fuels. However, the extent to which such energy sources should carry the “renewable” tag is debateable. Current rules require that any recycling is first sifted, but those rules are useful only if robust enforcement is possible. Even if there are guarantees that waste will be separated in advance, the messaging is key. We cannot allow public enthusiasm for recycling to wane by appearing to present incineration as an alternative.
The emissions from facilities are a key sticking point for local communities. Evidence may suggest that the potential health effects for local residents are small, but a number of factors are at play, many of which are key considerations in planning applications. We have heard about those factors already in the debate—they include distance from local homes. A planning process that is incomprehensible and difficult to access will give residents little confidence that their health fears are being adequately considered.
It is worth noting that current assurances rely on the European pollution prevention regulations and the European Union’s waste incinerator directive. With Brexit looming ever closer on the horizon, it is imperative that those strict environmental controls for energy-from-waste facilities are not eroded.
Environmental initiatives are not there just to tick a box. Our efforts to improve the way in which we treat our environment are made because we want to protect our natural assets and improve the wellbeing of Scottish citizens in the future. We should not lose sight of that.
With such a contentious subject, the Scottish Government must continually ensure that incineration is as efficient as expected and remains justified on balance. It is necessary for decision making on energy-from-waste facilities to be as well informed as possible.
Difficult decisions are sometimes required, but it is crucial that communities are involved and listened to throughout the planning process. On issues such as this, we need to remember our goal. If the planning system is intended to serve the communities of Scotland as we want it to do, it is not sufficient for the “environmentally friendly” label to be used unquestioningly as an excuse to run roughshod over communities’ genuine concerns.
I again thank Monica Lennon for her initiative, and I fully support her motion and her campaign on this issue.17:45
I thank Monica Lennon for securing the debate.
It will come as no surprise that I will focus my comments on a situation with which I have had much involvement: the incinerator, pyrolysis plant or energy-to-waste unit—whatever members want to call it—at Carnbroe in Coatbridge, which has been mentioned already.
The historical facts of the case are what they are—Elaine Smith outlined them. Suffice to say that North Lanarkshire Council rejected the original proposal, but its decision was overturned on appeal by the reporter. Money was subsequently spent by North Lanarkshire Council on taking the matter to court; unfortunately, that was in vain, too.
Despite that, another fact holds true: there is no incinerator yet. There are a variety of reasons for that, but it is in no small part down to the efforts and dedication of the campaign group, Monklands residents against pyrolysis plant, ably led by Maggie Proctor—Elaine Smith mentioned her, too. When Maggie speaks to people, one of her key messages is to remind us that the areas that will be affected by such a development are not just the Coatbridge areas of Carnbroe, Sikeside and Shawhead, but many others for miles around.
That leads me to thank all political parties and politicians across North Lanarkshire for joining me in placing objections with the council. I include the MSPs for the neighbouring areas, Alex Neil, Richard Lyle and Clare Haughey; Neil Gray MP; and the Labour and Conservative list MSPs for Central Scotland. It would be remiss of me not to give a special mention to Elaine Smith, who, as my predecessor in the Coatbridge and Chryston constituency, fought the proposal for a long time.
When I was elected, the situation was well known to me. I had family and friends in Carnbroe and Shawhead, and I knew about the 6,000-strong petition, but I felt that I had a duty to test the matter. Last summer, I undertook a survey, over a very short space of time, in the area most affected. Nearly 500 households responded—I am keen to stress that that number of households responded. Their survey returns showed that many of those households contained two, three or four family members—members can do the maths. Almost all those people said that they had serious concerns about the building of the plant.
Following that, a community meeting was called with the developers, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the campaign group so that people could raise their concerns. Hundreds packed into Carnbroe primary school. I do not think that anyone could have left the meeting in any doubt about what people in the local area thought of the new proposals: they felt the same as they had always felt.
Having that information allows me to come to forums such as this in my role as MSP and say with full confidence that the people of my constituency do not want the proposal to proceed.
There are a variety of reasons why people do not want it, of which health inequality is by far the most prominent. Coatbridge already has a high level of health problems, including asthma, COPD and lung disease. I am delighted that the Scottish Government has targeted Coatbridge as one of the first low-emission zones after the major cities, especially as the road running through Whifflet, which is not much more than a stone’s throw from the proposed development, regularly exceeds the recommended emissions level.
People are worried that the chemicals involved will affect their health and that of their children. They are also concerned that the area could be made less attractive in terms of housing and being a place where people bring up their families. It could put people off the area. This all comes after I sought assurances from the Government that the new road networks around the M8 would bring economic benefit to the local area. What a shame if the only tangible thing that is brought is waste, feeding down the A8 and coming off at the Carnbroe junction.
On the history of the area, a recycling plant had to be closed down by SEPA at Shawhead—again, just a stone’s throw from the proposed plant. At this point, I should mention community campaigners such as Keirsten Smith, who helped to bring about that closure.
The group of which Elaine Smith was a member will be set up again, following the public meeting that I mentioned—although perhaps that has been overtaken by events. There is an application in place, for which objections had to be in by the start of the month. Hundreds of objections have come in, including from the MSPs I mentioned. The application, which will go before councillors, is an amendment to a previous application that had to be withdrawn. Questions were raised about whether that should have been allowed, as the proposal is clearly for a major new development, and therefore should have been subject to sections 35A and 35B of the Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. I have asked the Government a question on that matter, and I await a response.
The environmentalist in me leads me to take a particular view of the need for and usefulness of incineration but, despite that, I accept that a wider argument may be required. How many of them do we need? Where should they go if they are required? How should local communities be involved in the planning process? Those are all questions that we must answer.
I know that the proposed site is not the right place. The plant should not be in a heavily built-up and populated area with high levels of poverty and health inequality. It should not be in an area that many of us are actively trying to regenerate and where we are trying to encourage expansion—including the exciting plans for the Monklands hospital. It should not be in Coatbridge. The people do not want it, and they have spoken time and time again.
You must close.
For the good of the nation, the Government has taken on fracking, it has taken on the whisky companies and it is currently fighting a Brexit power grab. Carnbroe does not want an incinerator and, if we all stick together in our efforts to prevent it, we can succeed.
I am fully aware that the situation is with North Lanarkshire Council—it has nothing at all to do with the minister.
You must close.
I think that this is important, Presiding Officer.
It may well be important, but please close.
You blew it with that last comment, Mr MacGregor.
Margaret Mitchell is the final speaker in the debate. One of the reasons why I have to be so quick is that we have run out of time. To allow Margaret Mitchell to speak and the minister respond, I am minded to accept a motion, under rule 8.14.3, that we extend the debate.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Monica Lennon]
Motion agreed to.17:51
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in today’s members’ business debate about incinerators, public health and planning. I thank Monica Lennon for raising this important topic for debate.
The Hamilton constituency office, which I share with my colleague Alison Harris, is located just along from the former site of Craighead school, on Whistleberry Road. Over the past few years, as we have heard, the land has been the subject of a planning application for development of an energy recovery centre. They are, as Mark Ruskell said, commonly known as incinerators.
The first application was lodged by the developer, Clean Power Properties, in 2013. It triggered universal opposition from the local community and the local authority, South Lanarkshire Council, which rejected the planning application in 2014. Thereafter, the application was referred to the Scottish Government reporter, who found in favour of the developer in 2015.
As a consequence, the local community and the thousands of individuals who had recorded their opposition to the incinerator, including councillors and MSPs from all parties, felt that their justifiable concerns had been swept aside. Rather than the decision being taken locally by people who were well placed to assess the issues of concern, the decision making was centralised.
In 2017, the community was dealt another blow when Clean Power Properties returned with plans for an even bigger facility. As part of the planning application, the developer has applied for permission to build a 95m-high emissions stack. For those who are unfamiliar with Hamilton, that stack would tower over the 60m-high County buildings, which can be seen from miles around. For the local community, that simply means the bigger the plans, the greater the risks.
As yet, the local authority has not taken a decision on the latest application. In the meantime, the local community’s campaign of opposition continues, with the support of organisations such as the Hamilton energy recovery action group, the Bothwell Road action group, Hamilton Academical Football Club and the Hamilton Advertiser.
Elsewhere in Lanarkshire, the community faces a similar battle, and the Monklands residents against pyrolysis plant group has been battling incinerator planning applications in Carnbroe since 2009.
Pyrolysis and gasification is a new and developing technology, which divides opinion. What is certain is that there is little proof to corroborate the claims that have been made on performance, safety, the potential environmental effects and sustainability. It is a fact, however, that the incineration process, in whichever form, produces acid gases, particulates, dioxins, airborne heavy metals and ash residues.
For all the reasons that have been listed, including those concerning the health and wellbeing of future generations, the local communities’ opposition to the new incinerators must be heard and acted upon. It is essential that we, as elected members, continue to work together on a cross-party basis to support the local communities and the tremendous effort that they have put into campaigns to reject the incinerators as new technology whose effects have not been tested and remain unknown.17:55
I congratulate Monica Lennon on securing today’s debate, and I thank everyone for their contributions.
As everyone in the chamber is aware, it is not appropriate for ministers to comment on the merits of any individual application, because that might prejudice the outcome of the decision-making process. My response today will therefore focus on planning policy and the improvements that we are making to planning in Scotland, including through the Planning (Scotland) Bill, which is currently before Parliament. I will also touch on some of the waste policies that we have.
Scotland needs new development and infrastructure to support a low-carbon economy, and we need to work with communities so that that happens in a sustainable way. Our approach to waste and resource management focuses on development of a more circular economy, which means reducing leakage of valuable materials from the economy. We need to consume less, reuse more, repair more and recycle more in order to keep those materials in circulation for as long as possible.
That is why the waste hierarchy is at the heart of our waste legislation and policy. The hierarchy states, first, that we should use or consume as little as possible. If we absolutely must consume a product, we should try to reuse it. An example of that is our proposed deposit return scheme for drinks containers. If we cannot reuse something, we should repair it. If we cannot repair it, we should recycle the component parts of the product.
I wonder whether we could focus on whether the twelvefold increase in incineration is compatible with the circular economy that the minister has so adeptly articulated.
In 2015, mixed municipal waste—residual waste—that was generated in Scotland came to 1,982,396 tonnes. Less than 6 per cent of that was put to incineration, and that incineration was all done at two existing plants, in Dundee and Shetland.
We have done a lot of work with local authorities to try to make it easier for people to separate their waste properly, so that more can be recycled. Twenty-six councils have now signed up to the household recycling charter.
What we all put in our residual waste bags—the general waste that we do not put in our recycling bins—is collected and then sorted in order to try to remove anything that can be recycled. Sometimes, however, it is simply not possible to recycle materials, as folk are well aware. That might be due to very high contamination levels or to the poor condition of the materials, or it might be because there are not currently processors that are capable of recycling that material. What is left, which inevitably includes some biodegradable material, currently goes to landfill, in the main.
That will change in January 2021, when a statutory ban on biodegradable waste going to landfill is introduced. Therefore, that waste will move up to the next step on the waste hierarchy, which is energy from waste. That means that we will need some additional capacity. National planning policies require planning authorities to prioritise development in line with the waste hierarchy, and state that strategic and local development plans should allocate sites for future waste facilities.
The minister talks about extra capacity. Does that mean more incinerators?
Extra capacity does not necessarily mean more incinerators. I am not going to get drawn on individual applications, as I have said, because that would prejudice me in any future decision making. I have stated that we already have two incinerators in operation, in Dundee and Shetland.
As I have said, national planning policies require planning authorities to prioritise development. Planning and regulation are needed to ensure that communities and the environment are protected from the impacts of developments. We have a clear regulatory framework that extends beyond planning to ensure that decisions on waste facilities are made on the basis of good evidence as well as community views.
Will the minister take an intervention?
It will have to be very brief. I am taking the intervention only because Ms Lennon lodged the motion.
I am flattered.
I know that the minister has to steer away from talking about individual applications, and I understand that he is setting out an evidence-based approach. Given that the minister is privy to a lot of advice from officials and so on, could he allay the fears of our constituents? Would he like to live within 100m or so of an incinerator? That is what is facing the people whom we represent.
I can allow you a wee bit of extra time, minister. You have been generous with interventions.
If I give an opinion about incinerators, that might prejudice any future decision that I have to make. I apologise to Ms Lennon, but I am not going to rise to that bait. I have to be very fair in all that I do. Members of the public would expect me to do that. As folk are well aware, the ministerial code has a special section for the planning minister, and I do not want to fall foul of the ministerial code.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I am sorry, but I really cannot. I realise that we are now over time.
I have been very clear that planning should be done with people, not to people. Within our Planning (Scotland) Bill, which is currently being scrutinised, we have opportunities to ensure that people become more involved right at the beginning of the planning process, in order to avoid conflict at the end. That is what I want to happen. I hope that Parliament will scrutinise and pass the bill so that we get to that position.
I encourage many more folk to become involved in the planning system than there are currently, and I hope that we get to that point.
Thank you very much for allowing me the additional time, Presiding Officer.Meeting closed at 18:03.