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Simonswood Medical Waste Disposal Facility – Update

by Gemma Melling

With two months having passed since a controversial application for a medical waste disposal facility in Simonswood was considered by Lancashire County Council, Knowsley Council remains opposed to the development – and has issued an update for residents.

Prior to Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee on Wednesday, 7 December, a request was made by Sir George Howarth, MP for Knowsley, for the Government to consider ‘calling in’ the application for a public inquiry. As a result, although the Committee said they were “minded” to approve the application, they are not able to formally do so until the Secretary of State has considered the ‘Call In’ request.

Cllr Graham Morgan, the Leader of Knowsley Council has since also contacted the Secretary of State to support Sir George’s request, and written to the Leaders of West Lancashire Borough Council, Sefton Council and the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor to ask them to make similar requests of the Government.

The Secretary of State is yet to determine whether or not to call in the application.

What happens if the decision is ‘called in’?

If the Secretary of State – Michael Gove – decides to “call in” the application, it would then be determined by an Independent Planning Inspector through a Public Inquiry. If this happens, Knowsley Council will seek to be an active participant in that process and will continue to oppose the application.

However, if the application is NOT called in, the Secretary of State will advise Lancashire County Council that they may make their own decision on the application. At which point it is likely that the County Council will approve it, as they indicated that they were minded to do so, following a narrow majority vote in support of the application. As it has already been through their Development Control Committee, there will be no requirement for any further consideration of the matter, and Lancashire County Council can simply grant planning permission without meeting again.

Will Knowsley Council seek a judicial review?

It is not possible to seek a Judicial Review until a decision has been made – and whilst there is an outstanding request for it to be called in, the decision to approve the application is not considered final. So the council must wait for the Secretary of State’s decision on the call in request. In the meantime, Knowsley Council has engaged the services of a Planning Barrister to consider the merits of a Judicial Review, should this be necessary.

Along with West Lancashire Borough Council, Knowsley Council is writing to Lancashire County Council to advise them once again that they still believe that their decision is flawed. The letter will make clear that, should they ultimately grant consent, Knowsley and West Lancashire will look to begin Judicial Review proceedings against them.

Cllr Tony Brennan, Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development said: “We remain completely opposed to this development, which is utterly inappropriate for this site. We stand with the residents who are rightly concerned and angry that a facility like this could be approved so close to homes and schools – and on an industrial estate where the existing issues with HGV movements and debris on local roads is already causing misery.

“We hope the Secretary of State will agree that more consideration is necessary – and we believe that ultimately, that will lead to this application being declined.”

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).

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, the Environment Agency and West Lancashire Borough Council, who between them, have the powers to resolve this issue.

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. To address this issue Knowsley Council recently approved the procurement of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras for both Shevington and Headbolt Lane to formally identify breaches of the weight restriction. This information will then be shared with Merseyside Police to assist with prosecutions. The cameras will be installed in the coming months.

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 further issues in the local area.

We will provide more updates here on Knowsley News as we have them.