YOU know how it is when you’re being stalked by a lion. Or perhaps you don’t, the local park being a bit bereft of antelope herds and hunting lions these days.
Well, either you have a miraculous escape like they do in the movies, or else the first thing you know is you’re going down screaming under 200kg of snarling cat.
The nearest thing you’ll come to the stalked-by-a-lion experience in Plymouth is the planning system, but the similarities are uncanny.
Planning for big projects, like Plymouth’s Eastern Corridor transport scheme or the waste incinerator sneaks up on you kitty-style, one quiet paw-step after another – which is exactly how it is designed to be.
The process is slow and patient, and rarely happens under one council administration alone. Tories come and Tories go, ditto Labour. In the case of Plymouth’s waste incinerator add in the Lib Dems who ran Devon County Council. The leopard (sorry, different cat) may change its spots, but it’s always a leopard. It’s “the System”, and that’s imposed from London.
At this week’s meeting of the full city council, plans to build a waste incinerator got everyone fired up.
You may not realise it, but this cat has been stalking you at least since 1997: it’s a patient pussy … and now a very hungry one.
Ever since the 1990s Plymouth has been part of a Devon-wide partnership for domestic waste. In 1997, knowing that Chelson Meadow landfill site in Plymouth would eventually fill up, the Labour-led council began to wriggle. It said the plan was to recycle 75 per cent of waste by the year 2000. Ha!
But what was it to do, faced with 80,000 tonnes of rubbish a year, the threat of Government fines for using landfill, and knowing that an incinerator would be unpopular?
2000 came and went; by 2001 the amount of waste Plymouth produced was rising by five per cent a year.
The estimable Les Netherton, head of environment and consumer protection at the council, tried to put a gloss on the figures, saying it was down to how affluent (effluent?) we had become.
November 2001 was when you should have noticed the big cat and started backing away. Mr Netherton said up to six Plymouth sites were being considered for a waste disposal plant. An incinerator ‘has not been ruled out’.
By now waste was rising at an alarming seven per cent a year.
In Spring of 2003 apparently nobody in Ivybridge noticed when the city council said it wanted to work with neighbouring councils on waste facilities – possibly near Ivybridge. Don’t they read The Herald there?
Lib Dem-run Devon County Council’s waste plan identified New England Quarry and other sites near Lee Mill. Hello! Ivybridge?
In August 2003 Plymouth City Council said it wanted to build a new incinerator, possibly near Ivybridge.
Things went quiet until the end of 2004, when councillors met to kick-start plans for a waste plant. Recycling had improved — but only to around 25 per cent.
In August 2005 Labour Cabinet member Chris Pattison said five sites in Plymouth had been earmarked for waste disposal facilities. The china clay works at Coypool were the most likely for an incinerator.
In early 2007 city councillors said that energy-from-waste incinerator plants “appear to provide the best value-for-money solution”.
In May of that year, control of the council changed hands, but the planning beast was now in motion and little would change in the grand scheme of things: we knew the What, just not the Where.
To cut this story short, in 2008 a Government inspector approved the use of Coypool and Ernesettle for an incinerator to take domestic rubbish from Plymouth, South West Devon and Torbay. Out at Lee Mill, New England Quarry was already sitting quietly under similar county consent.
Bids were invited from waste companies. To confuse matters, the MoD added the possibility of two sites, at North and South Yards.
By early last year, six companies were in the running. One by one sites were eliminated, or bidders withdrew, leaving just two possibilities: New England Quarry and North Yard.
And then the protests really began. Yet by the time Labour councillors accused the Tory administration of failing to consult the public, you knew it was just electioneering.
So how do you escape this particular stalking lion? Only way I can think of: go back to 1997 and begin recycling 75per cent of your waste. Aaaargh!
Based on a column in The Herald, April 30, 2010