The Rookery South (Resource Recovery Facility) Order 2011 - The Rookery South (Resource Recovery Facility) Order 2011 Contents

Petitions 36 (Central Bedfordshire Council) and 38 (Bedford Borough Council

13.  The two petitions of general objection are close to identical and set out objections to the Order on five broad grounds: the compulsory acquisition of council land; the size and bulk of the facility; the perceived need to source waste from beyond Bedfordshire; the type of technology proposed for the Rookery South facility; and the impact on the Councils' functions as a landowner, local authority, local planning authority and highway authority.


14.  The first of those, the compulsory acquisition of council land, was the trigger for the invocation of the Special Parliamentary Procedure. The land in question is 'special land', but the Councils' ownership of it is restricted to there being vested in them the surface and top two spits of land below the surface in various plots on Green Lane, adjacent to the site. The Order would give Covanta powers to install, keep installed and maintain an electricity transmission line along a strip of that highway land.

15.  We chose not to restrict our hearings to matters to do with compulsory purchase. None the less, we were surprised that the case presented by the two Councils did not touch in any significant respect on the matter of the compulsory purchase of its land. Petitions Nos. 36 and 38 suggest that it is unclear whether the compulsory purchase of the land might adversely affect the two Councils' highway functions. In the absence of any direct evidence on that point, we concluded that there was clearly no case for Covanta to answer on it.

16.  A similar situation applied in relation to the fifth ground in the two petitions—the impact on the discharge of the two authorities' various functions as landowner, and local, planning and highway authority. No significant evidence was presented to us in direct support of the contention in the petitions that the Order 'seriously undermined' the discharge of those functions. Again, we concluded that there was no case for Covanta to answer in respect of that point.


17.  The case presented by the two Councils was focused much more strongly on the other three areas identified in petitions Nos. 36 and 38—the size of the facility, the source of waste for the facility, and the technology to be used. In each of these areas, substantial questions were raised, and we considered those as follows.


18.  The facility is of substantial size and, it was clear both from the evidence presented to us and from our visit to the site, that it would have a significant impact on the local landscape, being visible from a number of nearby viewpoints. We agree with the Infrastructure Planning Commission that the size and scale of the facility are important and relevant in assessing its acceptability.[6] We also agree that that size and scale are a major disbenefit.[7] However, it is equally clear to us that the area in which the facility is to be sited has a long history of industrial development and that the landscape contains other visual intrusions, albeit none on such a major scale. Indeed, it became clear in evidence that Central Bedfordshire Council has itself granted planning permission for construction of a single wind turbine near the proposed site. We have noted that, as outlined in paragraph 2 above, Covanta's proposed facility is classed as "a nationally significant infrastructure project" under the Planning Act 2008; by its nature, it would therefore be bigger than average.

19.  Although the size and bulk of the proposed facility were a significant factor in our considerations, we concluded that the Councils had not provided any overwhelming reason why the Order should not be permitted in light of the objectives set out in the two National Policy Statements under which permission was originally granted.


20.  We had considerable sympathy with the point that the size of the facility is likely to mean that it will source waste from locations beyond the county of Bedfordshire. The Order, indeed, would permit Covanta to source waste from any location, and not necessarily from within England or the rest of the United Kingdom, although an effective catchment area of six administrative areas surrounding Bedfordshire was much discussed during our hearings.

21.  We noted that all waste delivered to the site would arrive by road, in spite of the proximity of a rail line to the site. There was some discussion during our hearings about whether some or all of the waste could feasibly be delivered by rail rather than by road, but none of the four petitions from the two Councils proposed an amendment to the Order to that effect.

22.  We noted arguments about the challenge Covanta may face in sourcing enough waste to make the facility an economically viable project, particularly given the award of some municipal waste contracts in the area to other companies and the existing and proposed capacity in the locality. Those considerations are, however, a matter for Covanta and its financial backers rather than for us.

23.   In spite of some misgivings, then, about both the size of the likely catchment area and the impact of increased traffic both in the area surrounding Rookery South and beyond, we were not persuaded that the two Councils had demonstrated sufficient cause.


24.  Finally in the petitions of general objection, the two Councils argued against the technology to be used at the proposed facility. Covanta intend to build a power station with energy provided from waste. We noted arguments about the likely impact on local recycling, and that recycling is higher in the waste hierarchy than incineration is. We note on the other side of the argument, however, that the Covanta plant will provide the substantial benefit of a contribution to national energy policy, and that creation of energy from waste will divert waste from landfill, which is in turn lower in the waste hierarchy. Once again, we concluded that the Councils had not demonstrated sufficient cause.

6   Infrastructure Planning Commission, The Planning Act 2008, Rookery South Resource Recovery Facility Order: Panel's Decision and Statement of Reasons, 13 October 2001, para 5.49. Back

7   Ibid, para 5.58. Back

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Prepared 28 February 2013