Washington 'monster incinerator' - campaigners hope it is the 'beginning of the end' for controversial gasification plant plans
An inquiry into a controversial waste plant plan has been paused to allow for talks which could see the proposals shelved.
In recent years, thousands of people have raised concerns about a proposed gasification plant at Hillthorn Park in Washington.
The centre aims to create energy from waste using high temperatures to break down materials without combustion.
Applicant Rolton Kilbride have previously defended the process, saying the technology has been ‘tried and tested’ in other countries including Japan.
Since the plans were lodged in 2017, more than 10,000 people have signed petitions in opposition, with campaigners dubbing the plans a ‘monster incinerator’.
Although the hearings were expected to last almost two weeks, the process was stalled after it was revealed the council and appellant are having ‘commercial talks’.
If a settlement is reached, the meeting heard, the appeal could be withdrawn.
Following backing from all parties involved in the appeal, planning inspector Mike Robins agreed to adjourn the hearings until June.
He said the case met the “exceptional circumstances” needed to do so.
‘Victory for the little people’
The move has been welcomed by campaigners and Washington and Sunderland West MP, Sharon Hodgson, who has raised the gasification plant in Parliament several times.
Speaking after the decision, she said: “In theory it’s adjourned and could come back in three months or so but we’re hoping in the meantime that the appeal will be withdrawn, therefore the gasification plant won’t be built which is what we all sought to happen.
“That’s positive and it’s a victory for the little people fighting against the monster incinerator.”
The Labour MP added: “Obviously there will be negotiations going on, we don’t know what they’re going to be entailing.
“But whatever happens with regard to Sunderland City Council it would have to be scrutinised and in the public domain eventually.
“So I will be taking full part in keeping a close eye on that but with regard to what we were here today to oppose that is definitely a positive step.”
Washington and Wearside Against Gasification Group campaigner, Sandra Noble, said she was “thrilled” with the adjournment.
“If it can be resolved in an amicable way that is absolutely fabulous,” she said.
“We don’t want [the waste plant] there, we’re thinking about our kids and grandchildren who would want to live near there.”
Concerns raised by opponents included the impact on traffic, health and air quality, as well as the safety of the technology.
‘Justice must be done’
Council leader and ward councillor for Washington South, Graeme Miller, also gave a speech to campaigners ahead of the meeting.
“I’m here today not as a leader of the council, not as a councillor for Washington for 14 years but as a dad and as a resident of the city,” he said.
“This was a facility that we never needed, I’m delighted that we have stood together and seen it through so that the planning outcome was to refuse and this is just a continuation of that process now with the appeal.
“We need to be in that room and let the planning inspector have no doubts that residents are here working with their councillors and Sharon our MP to ensure that that decision is not overturned.
“And we expect justice to be done in this case.”
An update on the result of commercial talks is expected to be revealed in May this year.
If the appeal is not withdrawn, public hearings are expected to start again in late June.
Provisional dates include June 18-19 and June 22-26 with a venue yet to be confirmed.
Green Party councillor for Washington South, Dom Armstrong, added the adjournment showed “what can be achieved when people work together.”
“It was cross-party and cross-generational with all the people in Washington,” he said.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that this will be the beginning of the end for the incinerator.”