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High Court rules out Wheelabrator expansion at Kemsley, Sittingbourne

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The High Court has rejected an appeal by Wheelabrator to expand its waste incinerator plant at Kemsley near Sittingbourne.

The company, now owned by First Sentier Investors and rebranded ‘enfinium’, was previously granted permission to increase the capacity of its existing K3 plant to process an additional 107,000 tonnes of waste per year, giving a maximum capacity of 657,000 tonnes.

Entrance to the Wheelabrator site at Kemsley
Entrance to the Wheelabrator site at Kemsley

But Kwasi Kwarteng, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, stepped in to halt plans to build a second plant, called Kemsley North, on the site. The High Court has thrown out the company's appeal.

Swale council's cabinet member for the climate and ecological emergency Cllr Tim Valentine welcomed the decision.

He said: "Whilst incinerating waste with energy recovery forms an important part of the waste strategy, we must recognise that it is low in the hierarchy. It is much better to produce less waste in the first place and recycle more of the waste that does arise.

“In Swale, we are working to divert more food waste from the general waste bins. Collected separately, food waste goes to an anaerobic digester which feeds methane into the national gas grid and produces a fuel conditioner used in local agriculture.”

Cllr Tim Valentine (Green) for Boughton and Courtenay. Picture: Swale council
Cllr Tim Valentine (Green) for Boughton and Courtenay. Picture: Swale council

The court ruled that the extra capacity of the proposed plant was not required under Kent County Council’s revised Minerals and Waste Local Plan and could have provided a disincentive to recycle more waste.

The decision was handed down on Friday October 8, following a hearing in July.

A spokesman for the energy firm said: “Enfinium is disappointed by the High Court’s judgment that, although the decision not to approve the Kemsley North Development Consent Order was legally flawed, it should not be re-determined.

"We remain committed to our mission to develop modern, sustainable waste treatment infrastructure to avoid the need to send residual waste, that cannot be re-used or recycled, to landfill or to be exported overseas. By doing this, we can deliver better outcomes for our environment and help the UK achieve its climate change targets through Net Zero."

Kemsley North was designed to generate up to 43Megawatts of renewable energy by processing up to 390,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste each year. Together, the two plants would have generated enough electricity to power more than 243,000 UK homes.

Objectors said the additional waste would have had to be delivered by road using the Grovehurst roundabout on the A249.

John Twiselton, a former Minster parish council member on Sheppey, said: "It is surprising both Swale and Kent County Council granted the initial 49MW planning application without Wheelabrator being required to provide funding to help with the roundabout update. I am not sure they truly understood the level of traffic movements.”

The K3 plant already supplies 77 tonnes of steam power to its neighbour, DS Smith’s Kemsley Paper Mill.

The new application was submitted on September 11, 2019, and a recommendation made to the Secretary of State on November 19, 2019.

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