Myth or Fact – you decide

An alternative view of Allerton Waste Recovery Park (AWRP) Newsletter Issue 2

The new ‘Mythbusters’ section creates some myths of its own!
A common strategy in PR is for industry and government to portray itself as ‘having the facts’ and its opposition (usually the public or campaigning groups) as not having the facts and often as being emotional rather than rational in their opinions. Allerton Waste Recovery Park (AWRP) is trying this strategy now – the newsletter derides the arguments of its critics as ‘myths’ and its own arguments as ‘facts’, especially in its new Mythbusters section on page 2. But belittling reasonable concerns in this way is inappropriate, because industry and government often get their facts wrong and because AWRP’s critics do have plenty of facts at their disposal – they have done extensive research into the history and policies of waste management (something that NYCC and AmeyCespa might like to do a bit more of to get some better and more up-to-date ‘facts’ themselves).

But more importantly, all predictions of the future – like AWRP’s oft-repeated “£320 million savings” – are never ‘facts’, no matter who argues them; they are necessarily based on guesswork and assumptions. This is especially the case when they deal with economics, as we have learnt the hard way in the recent credit crunch. Nobody has a monopoly on the ‘facts’ – and AWRP would do well to acknowledge this.

‘£320 million savings’ – fact or myth?
To show this, let’s ask where this ‘£320 million savings’ figure comes from. It’s the amount that the council would spend on landfill tax if we continued to landfill all our waste for the next 25 years! Now, who would do something so daft, when we know that landfill tax is going to go up a lot in the future? But the problem is, we don’t know exactly how much or when. So ‘£320 million’ is a cooked-up figure, and rather than make ‘savings’, it’s far more likely that taxpayers will end up paying through the nose for this facility. Why? Because, according to the Government sponsored WRAP survey, the cost of incineration is higher than any other form of waste management, with the highest year-on-year cost increases for new incinerators as well.

The glossy world of consultation – or is that merely legitimation?
All this consultation is so comforting and friendly though, isn’t it? AWRP hopes we’ve had the opportunity to come and meet them during their first round of public exhibitions. “Don’t worry if you missed them”, they say, because they will continue over the coming months. They even thank us for our contributions to help improve their proposals. Surely this consultation isn’t only legitimation and an attempt to ‘tick the PR box’?
So what has the impact of all this consultation been? Well, on the back page, we see four questions that the public asked. Question 1 is about monitoring air quality. What a great idea! It seems that AWRP hadn’t thought about this themselves, although perhaps a company planning to open a huge incinerator to burn the vast majority of the county’s waste should have done, or at least realised that the Environment Agency might require this as a condition of granting them permission to emit pollution via a 80m chimney. Good on us for identifying this one!

Size does matter
Question 2 was about why the incinerator has to be so big – twice the size it needs to be to handle the amount of household waste we produce. AWRP respond by shifting the blame for this oversizing to the “comprehensive waste predictions for City of York and North Yorkshire” and say that waste is going to increase because population will increase. Have they not read the 2007 Government Waste Strategy that commits to cut household waste per person by half by 2020 compared with 2000 levels? In sticking to the old targets of 50% recycling, have AWRP and the councils missed the news about Scotland agreeing to recycle 60% by 2020 and the Welsh Government setting targets of 64% by 2019-20 and 70% by 2024-25?

Question 4 is about why the chimney is so tall. The new diagrams show that it will be higher than York Minster, but nowhere near as elegant, unfortunately. And it doesn’t take a diagram to tell us that Drax and Ferrybridge are visual eyesores from tens of miles away. It would be more helpful to show how the chimney will loom above the landscape that surrounds the site – the rolling green fields of the Vale of York – rather than against a remote ridge.

So, after all these consultations, all we have is a vague promise to look at reducing the chimney height. What a lot of effort for AWRP to attend all these meetings and listen to all our pesky questions, when all along they have got pretty much everything about this scheme spot on anyway – well done, AWRP! But hang on, isn’t it actually the job of the Environment Agency to decide how tall is safe enough for the chimney?

Welcome (sort of) to the ‘I’ word…
Question 3 is about the I-word. In response to criticisms about the first newsletter avoiding the word ‘incineration’, this newsletter does let it in – but only on the very last page, where it says that the proposal involves “not just an incinerator” but a set of processes, including recycling. Unfortunately, the description of these processes on the front page still avoids the ‘I’ word entirely.

It’s a different matter for the equally specific (and fairly technical) term ‘anaerobic digestion’, which is given front-page billing. But this is also described as creating energy from waste, just like incineration. So why not use both terms – and on the front page? The ‘fact’ is – if we may ‘mythbust’ too – AWRP know that the incinerator is the most contentious aspect of their proposal, so they are still hiding it behind other, vaguer terms and hoping we don’t spot it.

What about health and emissions?
It is reassuring to see that AWRP will be required to comply with stringent criteria laid down by the UK and EU Governments. No doubt that’s put our minds at rest. Pity that they didn’t try to answer the questions that have been asked by the public about monitoring nanoparticles – those pesky little particles of pollution less than a tiny micron in size that some people now think can cause major health problems. But then, perhaps the chimney is going to be so tall because it could have “acute health impacts” (to quote an AWRP representative at one of their consultations) if all the toxic stuff didn’t disperse in the high atmosphere and instead fell to ground near the site.

What’s in a name?
What (or who) does the name ‘Allerton Waste Recovery Park’ stand for? Nothing, yet, because it is not a separate company or financial entity, merely a name by which AmeyCespa organises all communications about its Waste PFI contract proposals. But it is trying to become a brand by using the term ‘park’ to evoke a green and rural landscape, rather than the ‘brown’ industrial technology that will form the proposed facility. A name like Allerton Waste Management Facility wouldn’t sound half as sweet – but it would be nearer the ‘facts’.

Commercial waste is a commercial problem
AWPR acknowledges that it will take in considerable commercial waste, but says that local taxpayers will benefit. We have no evidence of this because all commercial details of the deal (including the price we will pay per tonne of waste – the ‘gate fee’) are still confidential, even while ‘public’ consultation is supposedly going on about a ‘public’ sector investment.

AWRP claim that North Yorkshire and York are awash with commercial waste, so they should be given a chance to profit by burning commercial waste along with our household waste. But all this investment is for our municipal waste strategy, isn’t it? And where is the guarantee that AWRP can actually secure extra waste? There are plenty of other incinerators in the pipeline that will compete for the business and maybe they will undercut AWRP’s prices? But because all the financial details of this deal remain ‘confidential’ and hidden from local taxpayers and voters, we can’t judge the financial risk for ourselves.

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