Frequently Asked Questions
I see the Covanta site from the Train on a regular basis. It appears that they are in full Construction mode. Why is this happening while there is still a Court Case outstanding?
Unfortunately – due to the very short lived IPC (Infrastructure Planning Commission) and the overarching need for any development that produces power (however ineffectively) at that time – Covanta was originally issued with a Planning Permit to build in 2011. The current Court Case is regarding the Environmental Permit is vital because this permit is required by Covanta in order to operate the building/s as an Incinerator.
Covanta released a Press Release in March 2019 announcing that they had received Financial Close – nearly 8 years after originally receiving planning permission. It was reported by various financial magazines that financial close occurred via NatWest, Natixis, Credit Agricole, Banco Sabadell, Investec and Siemens – and will be funded by a £280m 20-year senior loan priced around the 250bp mark.
In the same Press Release Covanta announced that Hitachi Zosen Inova will be undertaking the construction of the project under a “turnkey engineering, procurement and construction contract”.
I live in Stewartby and have recently received a letter from Covanta stating that they will be commencing some roadworks on Green Lane in the New Year. Does this mean that they are ignoring the legal case and pressing forward with the full Construction?
BACI is aware of the notice that some Stewartby residents have received regarding some roadworks on Green Lane. These works form part of the pre-commencement requirements of the Development Consent Order (Planning Permission Document) and Covanta’s responsibilities under the Section 106 Agreement (Agreement with the Local Authorities).
We understand that preparations regarding these roadworks under the Highways Section 278 Agreement (Agreement needed to apply to alter any public highway) have been on-going for some time and will have commenced prior to the current legal action by BACI. It is not clear if such drawn-out preparations are subject to a time-limit to actually commencing works.
The roadworks themselves constitute a very small part of the full Construction itself. Covanta has also pointed out to the EA (Environment Agency) that the access road and junction does not fall into the Incinerator’s plan boundary – but is part of the Rookery South Development as a whole. With this in mind – it is possible that Covanta has (or will have) an agreement with either Millbrook Power or the landowners O & H that involves some sharing of the financial burden of the junction works. BACI notes that there is a clause in the Section 106 Agreement that alludes to this possibility – but we are unable to confirm that this is the case.
It has been pointed out to us that the actual wording of the notice is somewhat ambiguous and can be read as though the full construction of the Incinerator will commence in the first quarter of 2019. As far as BACI is aware – Covanta has yet to secure financial backing for the project as a whole – which we understand will cost in the region of £400,000,000.
I am confused what the current situation is. Covanta do not appear to be building to the schedule stated in their Newsletters. Please can you give more information?
For those who did not see Covanta’s Newsletters – there have been 3 published since their renewed interest in the site and partnership with Veolia – and the various key dates that have been indicated are:
- March 2017 – the key dates were stated as “Construction late 2017” and “Fully Operational late 2020”
- March 2018 – a graphic indicated -Construction starting mid-2018 and Fully Operational late 2021
- Summer 2018 – key dates not revisited but stated that the roadworks on Green Lane in respect of the junction to the site access road was to start Autumn 2018 for six weeks. This planned work did not take place
The only work completed by Covanta so far – that does not form part of the Low Level Restoration Scheme for the pit as a whole – is the internal access road. This was completed in order to ensure the 5 years time-limit on their planning permit did not expire.
At the recent Baird 2018 Global Industrial Conference in Chicago – Covanta stated that the High Court Judicial Review had meant that they had put their plans for finalising the construction contracts and achieving financial close for the project on hold*
Covanta put out a press release that they intended to speak at 2 further Industrial/Finance Conferences in Florida – on the 29th November and one scheduled for 4th December – but further information appears to have been deleted from Covanta’s website and we do not know if they did attend/or will still attend these events.
Other third party reports on the current situation includes the online magazine Project Finance International who reported the following on 8th November following the original High Court Judgment: “…The project financing of the scheme has been held up by the legal process. The 585,000tpa, 60MW scheme will be funded via a £280m senior loan and a £120m equity bridge loan (EBL)” http://www.pfie.com/daily-news
Additionally – currently Covanta are tied into an agreement with Veolia – who will be the main supplier of the waste. We understand that this will be primarily be sourced from Industrial/Commercial clients. It is unclear what impact the changes in the timeline have on Veolia’s ability to have enough contracts ready to go at the right time.
Moving forward – BACI is in the process of asking for permission from the Court of Appeals to appeal the High Court decision. This is a continuation of the legal process that began with the Judicial Review. With the legal process continuing and the potential for appeal still outstanding – the project could continue to prove unattractive for potential investors.
*audio webcast can be accessed via http://wsw.com/webcast/baird53/cva/index.aspx . The section that mentions the UK and Rookery Pit starts at time index 12.55. If the audio file will not play – select “switch to another player” and then the HTML5 button.
What is the Appeal and what are the benefits of moving forward with this approach?
The Appeal is a continuation of the legal process that began with the Judicial Review. BACI is seeking permission to continue to a full hearing at the Court of Appeal.
If permission is granted – at the Court of Appeal – 3 Judges will revisit the High Court Judgment.
The main points that the BACI Committee considered regarding moving forward to appeal were:
- both our Barrister and Solicitor have stated that they believe there is merit in moving forward with the case
- the judgement contained elements that could be described as contradictory
- advice that the ruling High Court Judge is one of the most overturned of the Judges
- the reliance on actual ‘precedents’ in the judgement was weak – as although 2 Appeals/Supreme Court judgements were cited – one relied on the other as precedent
- the main precedent claim in question was judged in 2003. Our knowledge of the effects of pollution is growing every day – as is the amount of pollution we are subjected to
- the situation we find ourselves in is that the money already raised and spent on the High Court Case would effectively be lost unless we build on this opportunity to appeal
- the impact of Covanta’s plans will have such a profound and destructive effect on the Marston Vale and surrounds for 35 – 40 years and would mark the beginning of a re-industrialisation of the area as planning would find it hard to turn down other industries
- the timings involved in a Court of Appeal case would allow ample time to fundraise for the hearing stage – which we are advised is likely to be as late as the end of 2019. It was noted that the timings for the first step – which is the permission stage – is very tight
- Covanta have yet to come to financial close on the plant – see previous question for details
The advantage of being heard at the Court of Appeal is that judgements have the ability to create precedents for future claims. The precedent cited in our High Court Claim judgment allows a regulatory body such as the EA to have a certain amount of latitude and this effectively creates a lack of transparency in their decisions and the legal permits issued.
In this age of realisation of the effects of pollution – regulators should be held to account for their decisions and therefore both the decisions – and the legal documentation arising from their decisions – should be totally transparent and succinct in both intention and execution.
Pollution and waste are big topics at the moment and there are lots of changes happening around our understanding of what is needed long-term to start to make a difference for the future.
These changes could well have an impact on the economic value of operating Incinerators. Changes could include:
- change in the materials available for incineration i.e. less plastics
- change in the technology required to meet more stringent emissions levels
- initiatives that directly reduce profitability through actions such as an incineration tax.
Main questions from the public during BACI’s information stands at various events over Summer 2018
Isn’t it a done deal? Covanta are already building in the Pit
The majority of the work that has taken place in the pit was part of the Low Level Restoration Order – which includes stabilisation of the sides of the pits and construction of a draining solution including the large Attenuation Pond. This order was to be completed by the landowner to restore the land that was abandoned following clay extraction.
Covanta’s planning consent eventually came into force on 28th February 2013 and was valid for 5 years. To ensure this consent did not lapse – it was necessary for Covanta to commence part of the build defined on the permission. Covanta began work on the internal road past Rookery North into Rookery South as part of the requirement to implement the Development Consent Order.
What is the number of HGV movements going to be? Covanta has being saying that it is much less than you are stating
Covanta has recently stated the Bedford Borough Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee in July and in their Summer Edition Newsletter – that their ‘recent forecast’ and ‘current expectations’ number of HGV movements is lower than 594.
Whatever numbers that are conveyed at this moment in time – the fact remains that Covanta are in possession of the legal planning document which lays out what they can and cannot do. This document is called the Development Consent Order (DCO). This document states Covanta is entitled to have up to 594 (unspecified sized) HGVs movements per day to and from the site.
Extract from the DCO:
Will medical waste be burn at Rookery Pit?
Covanta stated at the Bedford Borough Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee in July and in their Summer Edition Newsletter that the facility will not process Medical Waste. However – Covanta have requested some medical waste codes be included as part of their Environmental Permit.
These codes are 18 01 04 – wastes from natal care, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease in humans (not subject to special requirements to prevent infection) and 18 02 03 – wastes from research, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease involving animals (not subject to special requirements to prevent infection).
From BACI’s research it would appear that the waste streams for these codes are most likely to include the waste classified by the Government as ‘offensive’ of animal faeces from collection bins and catteries/kennels, feminine hygiene wastes from collection bins, nappy wastes from nurseries and domestic type incontinence wastes.
Research also shows that Covanta has a ongoing initiative to expand current Environmental Permits for their facilities in the US – to be able to take more medical waste in particular expired medication (tablets etc).
How far away will the waste come from?
It was requested by the local authorities and others during the planning process to have an area which waste could be collected from defined in accordance with the proximity principle. However – the resulting Development Consent Order and the accompanying Statement of Reasons from the issuing department (the Infrastructure Planning Commission) does not define a catchment area.
This means that Covanta are free to bring waste to Rookery Pit from wherever they choose.
I am hearing conflicting information about the size of the Incinerator
The question of size has been challenged recently by Covanta. Covanta’s assertion that the site will only be 1/6th the size of Wembley Stadium would appear to be based on volume calculations. When we consider the size of something against something else we do not look at the volume. The Wind Turbine is bigger than Cardington sheds for instance – but what we look at is the overall perspective and its presence in relation to its surroundings.
Covanta states that they will only burn residual waste – is this correct?
Unfortunately despite requests from the Local Authorities – the definition of residual waste was not added to the Development Consent order that is the legal planning document.
At the time that planning was granted – the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) seemed content that the focus of Covanta’s waste stream would be contracting with Local Authorities for household waste.
Sometime after planning was granted – Covanta announced that they are partnered with Veolia – who we are told will providing the waste stream from various customers. Veolia’s main business is in the collection of industrial waste. Veolia also confirmed – as recorded in the minutes of a Community Liaison Panel (CLP) meeting – that the “the waste being targeted is comingled waste, residual waste was defined by the waste producer”
Do we need an Incinerator in this area?
The majority of Incinerators that are built in this country – are built with the support of the Local Authorities due to a need in that area.
The Covanta Incinerator at Rookery Pit will be a purely commercial venture and does not involve the local authorities. During the planning permission process both Central Bedfordshire County Council and Bedford Borough Council opposed the submission – leading ultimately to a Special Parliamentary Procedure being conducted.
Due to the size of the proposed output of (what was at the time) 65MW – the plant was seen as having national significance and planning permission rights were passed to the IPC (Infrastructure Planning Committee) – so local planning did not have a say apart from over the compulsory purchase of land which is why after planning had been granted by the National IPC – the case was taken to the Special Parliamentary Procedure who concluded in 2013 that planning permission should stand.
Covanta/Veolia have advised that the waste supplied to the Incinerator will be mainly Commercial waste.
Given the location in the heart of a Community Forest and right next to the Millennium Country Park – why did Covanta receive planning in the first place?
There were several factors that pushed the decision in favour of Covanta:
- the Marston Vale Trust had already received planning for the wind turbine ‘Marston Mill’ on its Forest Centre grounds. At a height of 120.5 meters it had effectively set the limit for any new proposals. At a height of 105 meters the Covanta chimney was seen as not as intrusive as it might have been.
- there was a clear message at the time that any proposal which included the production of energy was needed
- we were unfortunate that the Covanta Proposal was one of the first to be considered by the then newly formed Infrastructure Planning Committee (IPC). Due to the Localism Act 2011 the IPC was replaced by the Planning Inspectorate in early 2012 and only stood ‘judgement’ over very few proposals
Who are Veolia and how are they involved?
Veolia is an established French-based Waste Company who currently operate 7 Incineration (EFW) plants in the UK.
With regards to the Rookery Pit Site – BACI understands that Veolia will be:
- contributing to the Environmental Permit submission
- managing construction of the site
- the primary supplier of the waste for incineration
If Covanta does start operating the Incinerator – won’t that mean employment opportunities?
Despite the size of the development – Covanta’s figures given during a presentation to the Community Liasion Panel in July 2016 estimate only 40 – 50 permanent jobs will be created.