RESIDENTS are campaigning to block controversial plans for a renewable energy centre they fear could damage their health and ruin their quality of life.

The £35 million scheme, dubbed ‘the incinerator’, on the former steelworks site in Consett, has sparked major concerns about the potential for creating unpleasant smells.

The proposed facility, which stands at 22 metres, with a 50-metre stack, had led to fears over the impact on nearby residents and the landscape, as well as traffic and noise levels.

The organisation behind the plan argue it will stop rubbish from being buried in landfill sites for generations to come and generate cheap, environmentally-friendly power.

A planning application has been submitted for the plant at Hownsgill Industrial Estate, near Delves Lane, with Durham County Council.

Project Genesis, which is developing the former industrial site, has said the energy recovery facility will generate renewable energy to power the equivalent of 8,000 homes.

But residents have said they feel ‘betrayed and dismayed’ by the organisation.

Christine Thomas, who is one of the residents leading the “Say No To Consett Incinerator’ campaign, said: “It’s a kick in the teeth for us.

“We trusted Project Genesis to regenerate our town and make it a better place for us to live since the demise of the steelworks, and the irony is that this incinerator will be detrimental to our health, the prices of our homes, and the aesthetics of our landscape.

“It’s also concerning that the planning authority registered and renamed the application to energy from waste facility and supporters still insist that it is not an incinerator.”

The group believes the Heritage Consett and Sunderland Railway Path will be adversely impacted with the development being visible along much of its length.

The Northern Echo:

Members of the  the “Say No To Consett Incinerator’ campaign

Helen Corbett-Hope, who moved to Consett with her young family because of the beautiful, natural surroundings, said: “We were delighted to find a home so close to the Coast-to-coast cycle path, offering a relatively peaceful, green setting.

“As parents of an autistic child who suffers from anxiety, these qualities were paramount to us; his sensitivity to noise and smells would not be upset, and on days we want to stay close to home or he refuses to get into the car, we have the wonderful cycle track on our doorstep so he can get the fresh air and exercise he needs to regulate himself, in natural surroundings.

“If the incinerator goes ahead, all of those qualities that drew us to our family home will be completely jeopardised. The negatives for our family, and all residents to Consett and the surrounding area, cannot be substantiated by the implied positives.”

Concerns have also been raised that residents have not been consulted in accordance with legislation and best practice.

Emma Watson, 42, who is terrified for the health of her five-year-old daughter, said: “Only a handful of residents directly facing this proposed monstrosity received notice from them and if it wasn’t for social media the rest of us may not have found out.

“Project Genesis said that they couldn’t have a public meeting or forum to discuss this with us due to Covid-19 and seem oblivious to the fact that they could have arranged an online meeting which is what the rest of the world has been doing over the past year.

“Instead, they tried to pass this through without fully consulting the residents knowing full well how outraged the people of Consett would be.

“The people of Consett will fight this all the way for our children, our future generations, and our town.”

Nearly 4,000 residents have joined the campaign, which has seen them signing a petition, writing objection letters, organising leaflet drops in and around Consett, and displaying protest banners and posters throughout the town.

Niamh McDonald, a local resident and undergraduate student at Newcastle University, said: “As a young person who has grown up in Consett hearing stories of the Steel Works and ‘red dust’, I think an incinerator in our town would be very damaging.

“We need to be able to celebrate but move away from our industrial heritage and invest in a green future for our town.

“We can’t let this incinerator go ahead and take Consett backwards by 50 years.”

The Northern Echo:

North-West Durham MP Richard Holden

Residents are being supported by North-West Durham MP Richard Holden.

He said: “A large number of my constituents have contacted me objecting to the proposal.

“I am 100 per cent behind the campaign and have supported our great new Delves Lane councillors, Michelle Walton and Angela Sterling who are at the forefront of it.

“I’ve raised the issue in the incinerator debate in parliament and have visited the site personally, spoken to local people about it,

“I have written to over 1,000 householders about it and will continue in this vein.

“In the end though this will be a decision for Durham County Council and I will continue to pass on the issues my constituents raise to them.”

The council has said the matter will be dealt with by a planning committee but no decision is expected before July.

Councillor Alex Watson, who represents the area on Durham County Council, and is on the board at Project Genesis said the Energy Recovery Facility is fuelled by non-hazardous commercial waste which has been treated and made into ‘sealed bales of fuel’.

He said: “It is transported in sealed vehicles to the proposed ERF and when the doors are open there is a vacuum that pulls the air in making sure that any smells is contained within the plant.

“The bales of fuel then go into a furnace and incinerated at very high temperatures.

“There is a very technical filter system cooled by water which ensures that all the ash drops into a receptacle which can be used for other purposes.

“There can be no harmful emissions being emitted from the 50-metre chimney, but what will be visible is the steam caused by the cooling system.

“No smells and no dangerous emissions.”

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Alex Watson 

Cllr Watson said the Environment Agency are mandated by Government to ensure all industrial facilities of this type do not pollute air or water.

He said the Environment Agency has reviewed all technical information and data and has no objections.

Cllr Watson said: “The delivery of the ERF, if approved at planning, will enable an adjacent 7MW Solar Farm to be delivered as well as a district heat and power grid.

“The combined effect of the energy facility and solar field will power and heat the equivalent of over 10,000 homes with low carbon heat and power.”

It is understood up to 60 jobs are proposed during the construction period with a further nine operational jobs set to be secured once it opens.

A spokesperson for Hownsgill Energy Centre said: "Project Genesis has and continues to deliver long-term investment and community benefits to Consett and the surrounding area, and this is well known and positively regarded by local residents. 

"Unfortunately due to Covid, we have been unable to hold face-to-face consultations and public engagement to discuss the benefits of the proposed energy recovery centre, and therefore a lot of untruths, rumour and misleading information is now beginning to circulate.

"Once it is safe to do so, we will be looking to arrange this.

"We fully understand that there will be questions from local residents, and we welcome this conversation.

"We have carefully planned and researched the facility (proposed for an existing industrial estate with development capacity as a strategic employment site), and carried out in-depth assessments as part of the application which answer residents' concerns. There will be negligible noise impact, no black bag or organic refuse will be used and no toxic or harmful smoke plumes.

"Dry waste materials will be shredded and baled for transport elsewhere, and the building will operate under positive pressure so to avoid any odour.

"Simply put, we can no longer turn a blind eye to waste materials produced in our very own community going to landfill and buried for generations to come.

"This is a serious problem and Project Genesis believes that by using local waste to generate local renewable energy, ie heat and power, the community will greatly benefit.

"We will be able to offer Consett households a discounted green power supply via a new local community energy company, whilst at the same time injecting £35m plus investment into the area, creating up to 60 jobs and contributing to Durham County Council's and the Government’s net zero strategies."

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