Waterbeach Energy from Waste (EfW) FAQs

Amey’s proposals for an Energy from Waste (EfW) facility on its existing waste management park on a site already allocated in the County Council’s adopted Minerals & Waste Plan, accessed from the A10 trunk road opposite land allocated for housing, makes the Waterbeach site the very best place to locate this essential infrastructure.

It reduces overall waste vehicle movements to a minimum, and being co-located with other existing waste treatment facilities – which include a landfill site, materials recycling facility, mechanical and biological waste treatment and composting facilities – ensures the maximum value can be recovered from every tonne of waste generated by households and businesses in Cambridgeshire. Co-location optimises recycling, maximises value recovery and local economic benefit whilst minimising landfill and the environmental impact of transporting waste.

We run a similar facility in Allerton, North Yorkshire and more information on this plan can be found here https://www.amey.co.uk/about-us/amey-in-your-area/north-east/allerton-waste-recovery-park/

Cambridgeshire County Council had allocated the Waste Management Park as a site for an EfW facility in its Minerals and Waste Local Plan. This was done in full recognition of the site’s location in relation to an ancient monument and the typical size of EfW facilities.

The County Council’s planning officers supported Amey’s proposals for an EfW on the allocated site; however, Councillors rejected the proposals on just two points – impact on an ancient monument and visual impact (specifically of the chimney stack).

The benefits hugely outweigh the landscape impacts. Amey is asking the Government’s Planning Inspectorate to review the decision by the County Council to refuse permission for the development of an EfW facility at the Waterbeach Waste Management Park. The appeal has been lodged and process commenced, as indicated below.

The process is like a normal planning application process, where the proposals are submitted along with evidence, issues are narrowed down through discussion and remaining issues are considered. However, rather than a Planning Committee ‘hearing’ the case for and against, a Planning Inspector does, on behalf of the Government.

The appointed Planning Inspector will then write a report and make their decision – either to uphold the original CCC decision (refusal) or overturn the decision (approval). As the decision was ‘recovered’ by the Secretary of State (SoS) with responsibility for planning, the Inspector’s report is issued to the SoS, who makes the ultimate decision.

The SoS can accept, reject or amend the decision made by the Planning Inspector. All decisions must be made on planning issues.

On the first point, Amey had agreed a comprehensive package of mitigation to invest in improving and enhancing the ancient monument and long-term viability of Denny Abbey Farmland Museum, and this commitment to invest in the local area and community remains.

On the second point, the chimney stack is required to be a certain height to ensure compliance with strict environmental and health protection regulations, and with much of the county being relatively flat the impact of a vertical structure would apply to almost any site that may be selected for EfW or equivalent heat and power generation. Amey has sought to minimise and mitigate the impact of this essential infrastructure through proven technology (reducing the stack height required by regulations to 80 metres) and building design (improving local aesthetics of the main building alongside existing industrial buildings on Amey’s Waterbeach site and the adjacent Technology Park).

Concerns have been raised that the chimney will be ‘taller than Ely cathedral’. Ely cathedral is over 12km away and will remain prominent in the landscape. The Cathedral is 66m at its highest point; however, it sits on a hill which is around 20m above sea level, unlike the EfW site which is around 3m above sea level.

Emissions and air quality are not considered to be issues in the context of the planning appeal. However, we do acknowledge public concerns about air quality.

All waste treatment facilities including EfWs are heavily regulated and closely monitored to ensure compliance with stringent regulations enshrined in EU and UK law. Strict limits are in place which are designed to protect human health and the environment, regulated in the UK by the Government’s Environment Agency.

The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee during the planning application process for all waste treatment facilities. They raised no objection to the proposed EfW. Before any facility can be operated, it must obtain an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency, which is subject to a separate consultation process.

As a statutory consultee to the Waterbeach EfW planning application, Public Health England had no significant concerns regarding risk to health of the local population from potential emissions associated with the proposals, providing the operator takes all appropriate measures to prevent or control pollution, in accordance with relevant technical guidance or industry best practice.

Their position statement on EfWs and health effects can be found here – in summary, Public Health England has “reviewed research undertaken to examine the suggested links between emissions from municipal waste incinerators and effects on health. While it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects from modern, well regulated municipal waste incinerators with complete certainty, any potential damage to the health of those living close-by is likely to be very small, if detectable. This view is based on detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that modern and well managed municipal waste incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants."

Every year homes in Cambridgeshire generate around 400,000 tonnes of waste; currently around 50% is recycled, and Amey is responsible for recycling a large proportion of the county’s recyclable materials through its recycling and composting facilities at Waterbeach, which will continue. Residual waste left over after recycling and mechanical & biological treatment is currently landfilled. Space at Amey’s landfill site will run out in the next 10 to 15 years.

If nothing is done, in future this residual waste will have to be transported by road to other landfills within Cambridgeshire or exported further afield, out of the county or out of the country.

In 2018, approximately 94% of waste treated at the site was from Cambridgeshire, 4% from Northamptonshire, and 2% from the Isle of Wight/North Yorkshire – other Amey sites.

The planning application supported by officers but refused by Cambridgeshire County Councillors included a planning condition which sought to ensure that in the future at least 70% of the waste for the EFW is sourced from within the defined catchment area. Amey welcomes this condition.

The proposed EfW facility at Waterbeach is sized at 250,000 tonnes per year in order to manage the waste left over after recycling – recovering value from the waste that cannot be recycled and accommodating Cambridgeshire’s growth agenda, which will see 75,000 new homes built in the county. The EfW facility would generate enough electricity to power 63,000 homes. It would reduce carbon emissions by more than 35,000 tonnes per year compared to landfill.

Each of the 75,000 new homes proposed to be built in Cambridgeshire over the next 20 years will on average generate around 1 tonne of waste each year, meaning Cambridgeshire will have another 75,000 tonnes of waste to manage annually.

The new facility would help to manage the proportion of this waste that cannot be recycled. Around 50% of Cambridgeshire’s household waste is currently being recycled, and Amey is confident that rates of 60% can be achieved, in line with the best performers in the UK and Europe. However, this still leaves a significant proportion of waste to be managed.

Amongst other policies, new homes won’t be able to connect to the gas grid from 2025 and alternative energy sources for heating new homes will have to be found. The EfW can provide a sustainable and reliable source of heat.

Landfill sites across the country are filling up and there is a clear shortage of waste treatment infrastructure in the UK. In 2018, the country exported over 2.5 million tonnes of waste to other EU countries, used to generate electricity and power local heat networks.

This option means all the benefits of recovering energy from waste are lost to the UK economy and to local communities and is a practice which may not be able to continue depending on the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU. Notwithstanding, the Netherlands recently proposed to impose a tax on imports of residual waste for energy recovery.

The proposed EfW facility would be ‘heat ready’ and provide a major opportunity to support the building of better, more sustainable homes that could benefit from a heat network – 11,000 new homes are proposed on land adjacent to Amey’s facility.

Providing heat to support a local network as well as generating electricity would significantly improve the overall efficiency of the facility, and provide a secure, long term source of heat for local homes and businesses. Providing heat to the 11,000 new homes and other buildings proposed on land adjacent to the facility would significantly increase the efficiency of the proposed EfW and reduce the carbon emissions by an additional 8,850 tonnes per year.

A recent report by Cambridge Econometrics estimated that the lower costs of heating via district heating systems would be expected to reduce the occurrence of excess cold within dwellings. On average, the ‘Housing Health & Safety Rating System’ tool, constructed by BRE and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, estimates that the incidence of medical harm due to excess cold is 1 in 320 homes per annum (equating to 34 in 11,000 homes). Each harmful outcome that is avoided saves the NHS an estimated £17,000.

The economic contribution made by the existing waste management park and the additional £200 million investment in the EfW facility is significant. Independent consultancy, Cambridge Econometrics, studied the potential impact of Amey’s existing operations and proposed EfW and found that adding the facility would deliver substantial economic benefits.

These include: £45m in Gross Value Added (GVA) from construction within the local area, over 870 construction jobs (with approximately 300 on-site); and 48 new roles in non-construction in South Cambridgeshire (include 35 new full time-equivalent roles on site), adding 10% to the Park’s existing GVA of £27m per year. Installing and supplying a local heat network would bring even more economic, environmental and social benefits to the local area.

Amey is seeking to maximise local spend through working with and expanding its local supply chain. This is why Amey held a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event in conjunction with the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, attended by over 45 local businesses.

Amey is part of the local community and wants to build on this through committing to further future investment. Amey supports eligible local community projects through the Amey Community Fund, with over £5.5 million invested to-date. Monies raised for this fund are generated through landfilling waste which will diminish over time as less waste is landfilled at Waterbeach.

In response to this, Amey is proposing a new fund generated by waste treated via the EfW facility. A proportion of the proposed £50,000 per annum fund would be used to support energy efficiency measures for homes near to the facility that may not be able to connect to the heat network, amongst other good causes.

The existing education centre incorporated into the Waterbeach waste management park helps local schools, businesses and community groups to understand more about what happens to their waste, how to create less waste and recycle more. Amey has recently invested in this new website to promote the 4Rs of waste – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. This positive contribution to information and education will be further enhanced through the EfW facility, if our appeal is successful.