A controversial waste plant which residents fear could lead to emissions being “trapped” in their valley has been given the go-ahead.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) turned down a permit application from the plant’s operators, Hazrem Environmental Ltd, in January this year after raising concerns over the prospective health of neighbouring communities to the Nine Mile Point Industrial Estate near Cwmfellinfach.
Hazrem submitted an appeal , which NRW decided not to contest, citing “extra technical information” included by the developer.
After holding a two-day public inquiry in October this year, the Planning Inspectorate has decided to grant the appeal for the permit.
Islwyn Assembly Member Rhianon Passmore said she was deeply disappointed by the Planning Inspectorate’s decision.
She said: “Natural Resources Wales are unable to verify the validity of Hazrem’s new data but have acquiesced in the face of it, withdrawing their objection.
“It is a wholly unsatisfactory situation where the body charged with ensuring the public’s interests are safeguarded is unable to independently verify data put forward by an applicant who have the sole purpose of securing a permit to make a profit. Public health should never be played with fast and loose like this.
“I want to reiterate my support for the campaign and the work of our Labour Councillors Phillipa Marsden and John Ridgewell as well as the unstinting endeavours of former Labour Councillor Jan Jones and resident Allan Sharpe. They and the local communities have expressed their deep unease and this has simply been put to one side in the face of a large corporation.
“I shall be seeking an urgent meeting with the new Minister for the Environment to express my deep concern as to how Natural Resources Wales is operating.”
Hazrem Environmental Ltd has previously said up to 100,000 tonnes of waste would be processed annually at the site, including the sorting and segregating of waste for recycling and the production of fuel.
Emissions from the burning of natural gas used in an on-site drier would include nitrogen dioxide.
There is a fear, previously highlighted by the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, that a weather phenomenon known as temperature inversion could be a risk to public health.
Temperature inversion occurs when cold air is trapped by warm air above, thus restricting any clouds or haze from escaping an area, such as the Sirhowy Valley.
However, according to the Planning Inspector’s report, NRW had based its decision on “worst case scenario” figures.
It said: “NRW is satisfied that the new data shows much lower emissions. It now considers that an environmental permit should be granted, in the form provided in its submissions to the Inquiry.
“In the light of its altered position NRW did not present any evidence to the Inquiry in support of its decision to refuse permission. However, it did attend the Inquiry in order to clarify its position. It confirmed its view that the draft permit conditions are robust and appropriate and address all environmental concerns.”
Islwyn MP Chris Evans has described the decision as “unacceptable and shocking”.
He said: “This is a clear example of the Planning Inspectorate putting the needs of big business before local residents’ health and wellbeing.
“Opposition to this proposed facility is based on the unique geography of the Sirhowy valley. Noxious gases will be pumped out at a frightening rate and become trapped in the valley harming local residents.
“That is to say nothing of the huge increase in heavy goods vehicle traffic which will clog up the roads and release even more noxious gases right on people’s doorsteps through Ynysddu and Wattsville. The Inspectorate admits that one monitoring station is already nearing maximum acceptable limits.”