Kicking Merthyr while it's down!

IssueApril 2011
News by Chris Austin

Anyone heard of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC)? No, neither had we until recently. It’s a Whitehall quango created to fast-track planning applications for projects “of national importance”. So what? Well, incinerators – dirty, environmentally unfriendly monstrosities that risk the health of surrounding communities – are not deemed “of national importance”. But airports, ports, and “energy from waste” (EfW) power plants are.

An EfW is essentially an incinerator – but it has an electricity generator bolted on! And anything that generates more than 50MW is termed a power station, and becomes “of national importance”, and attracts the attention of the IPC. But that allows incinerators to be fast-tracked through planning! Yep, you’ve got it. And guess who’s about to get railroaded?

Poor old Merthyr Tydfil again! As if the town isn’t suffering enough with opencast coal mining at Ffos-y-Fran and a huge landfill. Covanta Energy are proposing a 750,000 tonne incinerator, (oops sorry, “EfW facility”) at Cwmbargoed in Merthyr.

To speed up the planning process, Welsh Assembly government (WAG), local authority and community participation are all minimised. Additionally, the IPC have the power to ignore any representation other than that stated in “national” [UK] policy.

In essence, they can override Welsh and local policy and strategy. So at a time when Westminster is pushing “localism”, and Wales has voted to devolve law-making powers from the UK level, we have a quango in England dictating the future waste strategy for Wales for the next 30 years.

The IPC planning process is split into phases, and it starts with public consultation in the pre-application phase. This is when the community can register an interest and submit their objections to the IPC. But few people in Merthyr know anything about it!

And there’s only a few weeks left to register. With Coventa managing the consultation process, you would think the bias would be obvious, but not apparently to the IPC.

With support from Friends of the Earth (FoE), the commoners’ association, several Welsh Assembly members, some of the sharper councillors, local farmers, professor Paul Connett, and our local MP, Dai Havard, some Merthyr residents are organising resistance to the incinerator and the undemocratic process of fast-track planning.

Green jobs

Recent research published by FoE Cymru concludes that incineration is not a green option for handling waste nor an efficient way of producing energy. Meanwhile, around 3,000 new jobs could be created in the area through improvements in recycling and waste management, home energy efficiency and small-scale renewable energy development.

“This ridiculous proposal is bad news for Merthyr and Wales,” said Alyson Austin, of Merthyr FoE. “There’ll be very few jobs provided, about 65 long-term jobs at the plant, with only a fraction of these going to local people. A recycling and re-use operation would provide at least 10 times as many jobs, and be a true green solution.”

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