Around 400 new recycling facilities need to be built in the UK by 2020 to cope with the increasing amounts of waste being diverted from landfill, according to a recent report published by the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group. But objections to such facilities by local people are becoming an all-too-familiar story which inevitably begs the question: where are all these new facilities going to go if no one wants them in their back yard?
More alarming for the industry is that this opposition is not limited to large landfill sites and incinerators. Sometimes much smaller recycling facilities, actually designed to divert waste from landfill, are the subject of fierce local campaigns.
Nowhere is this more true than in the village of Small Dole in West Sussex. Focus Recycling, a small and relatively new recycling company, has plans to develop an ex-sawmill on an industrial estate into a construction waste recycling facility - but not if local residents get their way.
“Yes, there is already a large landfill site in the area. But the landfill site represents everything that a company like Focus is trying to avoid”
The situation in Small Dole is an interesting one, not least because it demonstrates the level of local opposition that can exist to such facilities. The residents’ concerns about what Focus Recycling intends to do are not totally unfounded because the village has been home to the huge Horton Landfill site, currently operated by Viridor, for the past 40 years. Perhaps it is not surprising that they wouldn’t want another waste management company opening its doors in their village.
But Focus Recycling is not another waste management giant. And on visiting Small Dole and the site where the company plans to open the facility, it is easy to realise it could not be more different.
MRW has been following events in Small Dole with interest as, it would seem, have other industry professionals. A post by James Copperwait, managing director of Focus Recycling, on the MRW LinkedIn Group received 25 responses. The situation has divided
opinion, with the industry seeming to be broadly sympathetic to the opposition Focus is facing, while the residents of Small Dole are fighting the company’s plans every step of the way.
Before the general election, MRW reported that former shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, where Small Dole is situated, objected to the plans, referring to them as “inappropriate” for the South Downs. Herbert has no appointment in the new coalition cabinet but he did retain his seat at the election, so it remains to be seen whether he will continue with his opposition.
Viewing Small Dole as a case study, it seems there needs to be a shift in residents’ perception of the recycling and waste management industry and what it is trying to do. Copperwait explains: “We didn’t ever envisage this level of objection. We have met one of the people from the Small Dole Action Group, and they just see us as another Viridor or some big waste management company, but we are not like that at all. We are a small start-up company, and the reason we have chosen this particular site is because it is cost effective for us. People in the community have taken it personally that we are saying it is economically viable - but in reality there is nothing wrong with that.”
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Focus is not proposing to build any new structures on greenfield land. It plans to use buildings already in situ from the sawmill and house all of its machinery in the warehouses. The site is on an industrial estate, not close to a residential area. Just a few metres away there is a tyre recycler already in operation. Residents have voiced concerns ranging from the noise that will be made by the machinery through to the increase in vehicle movements that will invariably arise once the site opens. But none of these seemed to be concerns when the sawmill was in operation.
Copperwait says: “I have spoken to someone who worked at the sawmill and they estimate that there were about 60 vehicle movements a day coming and going. We are proposing about 10 or 20 movements.”
The site is likely to be operational Monday to Friday only and, despite the fears of residents, Focus has no plans to recycle hazardous materials. Copperwait continues: “We have never spoken about hazardous materials. We are talking about recycling virgin materials such as timber and new-build plasterboard which doesn’t contain asbestos.”
Focus has attempted to engage with the residents in Small Dole, setting up a dedicated website for them to air their views and holding a public meeting to speak to them about their plans. But these have had little impact, and the angry posts from residents on the Focus website show that the only positive outcome for villagers would be for Focus to withdraw its plans.
Interestingly, the West Sussex Waste Strategy says that the area needs five new sites to deal with commercial & industrial waste and that brownfield sites are a target. The plans submitted by Focus fulfil both these criteria.
Copperwait says: “We would hope to be a part of the West Sussex cause because we are dealing with what they are looking for and have an issue with. The local development team has said that if we open we will be dealing with 10% of the shortfall that is currently going to landfill.”
The Environment Agency has made no objections to Focus’s plans. But it remains to be seen whether, given such fierce local opposition, it will get past the planning committee. “If we don’t come in here, what is going to be here instead? Maybe something which would create more noise and more vehicle movements?” Copperwait points out.
“People keep suggesting we should use the cement works in Shoreham as an alternative site, which is a big open quarry. What people fail to understand is that we simply do not have the capital to start building huge warehouses on an open quarry, whereas a site like Small Dole is perfect and all ready to go. We are not a massive waste management player like a Viridor or a Veolia, we are a small, independent company trying to get started and are clearly not in the same bracket as these companies. There are 300 lorry movements a day at the Horton landfill site and the site is well over 100 acres. There is no way we are in the same league as that.
“We are trying to divert waste away from landfill and shouldn’t be compared to that.”
Local residents’ comments can be seen on Focus Recycling’s website: www.zerowaste2landfill.co.uk
THE OUTSIDER’S VIEW
Loud Communications business development manager Adrian Vann writes:
“The political aspect is very interesting in the Small Dole case. Everyone is always keen to put out environmental messages about recycling until it gets very close to home.
“This one is a strong case for approval because it is on a brownfield site and Focus Recycling will be bringing new jobs to the area. It will send out a really bad message about this country’s environmental policy if this gets turned down. It would be really bad news for other proposed recycling facilities everywhere if this gets stopped.
“Yes, there is already a large landfill site in the area. But the point is that the landfill site represents everything that a company like this is trying to avoid. The Government needs to strike a balance between allowing people the opportunity to raise objections and getting some of these much-needed facilities through. This is a really good test case.
“This is one facility that has got to be allowed because it will show how serious the UK is about improving our environment.”