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Simonswood medical waste facility approved by Lancashire County Council

by Gemma Melling

A planning application to build a medical waste disposal facility on Stopgate Lane, Simonswood – close to the Knowsley boundary – has been approved by Lancashire County Council.

The controversial application was given the go ahead at the meeting of Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee on Wednesday, 7 December 2022, despite a large number of objectors, including representatives from Knowsley Council and local Knowsley councillors.

The proposed plant is outside the Knowsley Council boundary and therefore not determined by Knowsley Council, but close enough to Kirkby to impact on many homes in the borough.

Due to concerns about the potential impacts, particularly in terms of emissions and traffic movements around the plant, there were many objections to the proposal. Knowsley Council itself lodged a formal objection, as did several local elected members. At today’s meeting Cllr Tony Brennan, Cllr Jayne Aston, Cllr Aimee Wright and Cllr Tommy Rowe all spoke against the plans, as did Dale Milburn, the council’s Executive Director for Regeneration and Economic Development, on behalf of Knowsley Council.

Unfortunately, the committee voted narrowly to approve the application, with four members of their committee voting in favour, three against, and two abstaining.

Cllr Tony Brennan, Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “I’m disgusted by today’s decision by Lancashire County Council to approve this medical waste incinerator, which sits right on the border of Kirkby.

“The strength of the opposition at today’s meeting clearly showed that this development is not welcome and that residents are genuinely fearful of the harmful impacts which this may bring.

“The site is located just over the border between Knowsley and Lancashire. The majority of residential homes affected by this plant will be in Knowsley, yet their views have been ignored today.

“It remains my belief that this planning application is contrary to Lancashire County Council’s own planning policies and should never have been approved. Knowsley Council now intends to explore all options to stop this from going ahead, and this may include a judicial review.”

What exactly is proposed?

The applicant is a company called Culzean W2E Ltd. They were seeking permission to demolish some existing buildings on Simonswood Industrial Estate and replace them with a purpose-built high temperature treatment facility for managing medical waste.

It would burn 4,000 tonnes of waste annually – both hazardous and non-hazardous  – using a process called ‘pyrolysis’, where materials are thermally decomposed. The facility would include a 26m tall chimney (roughly about the height of six double decker buses stacked on top of each other).

How long has Knowsley Council known about this?

In late 2020 Knowsley Council’s planning department were contacted by Lancashire County Council and asked what information Knowsley – as a neighbouring authority – would expect to see in a planning application, should one be forthcoming for a medical waste processing facility.

At that stage, there were no firm details of what this might involve. However, Knowsley Council made it clear to Lancashire County Council in November 2020 that it was concerned about the information submitted.

Kirkby ward members and council officers requested a meeting with the developer behind the potential plans and that meeting occurred in early 2021. At that meeting the developer was advised by the elected members of their opposition to any such development.

Knowsley Council also contacted several neighbouring local councils, councillors and MPs, to seek their support in opposing the plans.

In January 2022, Knowsley Council received a formal consultation from Lancashire County Council, to say that a planning application had now been received and inviting Knowsley Council to make comments on it.

Knowsley Council has consistently made it clear to Lancashire County Council that it would not support this development proposal. As such, a detailed objection was submitted.

In July 2022, the applicant submitted additional information to Lancashire County Council and Knowsley Council were asked to comment on updated proposals. The information failed to address a number of the Council’s concerns so a second letter of objection was sent to Lancashire County Council.

Why is Knowsley Council objecting?

Firstly, Knowsley Council believes that the development is contrary to Lancashire’s own planning policies. This is because it believes that Simonswood Industrial Estate is not identified as a suitable location for this type of facility involving waste.

Secondly, whilst any planning permission would come with conditions aimed at reducing the development’s inevitable negative impacts, there is reason for concern about how well these might be enforced, based on the wider area’s recent history.

For example, there is already a problem with dust from the industrial estate – several local residents stating they have been unable to use their own gardens because of it.  This is caused by existing businesses on the estate stockpiling mounds of soil, which are far higher than they are allowed. Knowsley Council has reported this matter to Lancashire County Council, who have the powers to resolve this issue.

So, whilst the proposed facility would have limits placed on its emissions if planning permission is unfortunately granted, there is some concern about how well this would be monitored and enforced.  If it were not enforced, it could lead to health concerns for local people.

The application states that there would be up to 24 Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) movements per day associated with this facility.  It also says that these vehicles would not use Shevington’s Lane and Headbolt Lane, where weight limits are in place.

However, HGVs travelling to Simonswood Industrial estate regularly flout these rules and continue to use the weight restricted roads. As a result, local residents are already suffering noise, pollution and disturbance. Even if only a few of the 24 additional HGVs travelling to site also use the weight restricted roads, that would lead to an unacceptable harm to local residents.

As well as noise and disturbance, there have also been incidents of HGVs travelling to Simonswood Industrial Estate being poorly loaded, and spilling material onto the surrounding roads. In August last year, Knowsley Council cleared more than 40 tonnes of soil from Pingwood Lane, at significant cost.

If any of the HGVs travelling to the Medical Waste facility were also to be poorly loaded, this could lead to unacceptable odours impacting on the local area.

Cllr Tony Brennan said: “As a ward member for Shevington, not only am I extremely concerned about the potential negative impact of emissions on health, I also know that any increase in HGV movement around this site would have a negative impact on the environment and the safety of people locally.

“We have every reason to be worried – there are already significant issues related to the Simonswood Industrial Park that residents living nearby are already absolutely fed up with. We can have very little confidence that any new development would be properly held to account by the same regulators who have failed to ensure the existing businesses step into line.”