It’s been billed as a ‘a landmark regeneration project that will bring lasting change to an underused and in decline industrial area to the south of Coseley town centre’.
Yet, some people living close to the proposed Coseley Eco Park, near Sedgley, are concerned the project may not be as beneficial to the environment as its developers claim.
The £120 million project will, it is claimed, create 1,300 new jobs, incorporate 200 new homes, a supermarket, retail outlet and a community hall and football pitch.
Energy Recovery Facility
However, it’s the inclusion of an Energy Recovery Facility, which uses natural gases from locally produced non-recyclable waste to create low-carbon heat and power for the site, that has worried members of the public living close to the three industrial estates stretching between Birmingham New Road, the Birmingham Canal and Sedgley Road West.
And, following the submission of an outline planning application by Skelton Group Investments Ltd to Dudley Council in October, concerned residents have decided to campaign against the proposals and launch a petition.
Carla Lavender-Ward, who is behind the campaign, says: “From a personal point of view, I welcome the regeneration of the land, and of course new jobs for the area. I don’t object to the Eco Park on the whole.
“However, the major sticking point is the Energy Recovery Facility (ERF). I had to do some digging to get to the bottom of what this actually is, as the information on the developer’s website was quite woolly and doesn’t really describe the process in any plain English or detail.
“The developers are denying it’s an incinerator. However, by EU definition it is, and as part of the planning documents they have submitted, Dudley Council describe it as one too!”
However, Carla’s claims that the developers have misled the public are strongly denied by Simon Lawrence, from Coseley Eco Park consultation team, who says: “We are of course disappointed with the accusation that we have misled anyone regarding the Energy Recovery Facility proposed at Coseley Eco Park. We have been 100 per cent open and forthcoming about this element of our master plan from the very beginning of the consultation process in September.
“The whole reason behind our public consultation, in advance of submitting any formal plans to Dudley Council, was to explain to the community how we would like to see the site develop in future, to receive feedback and suggestions in order to improve our proposals and to open up a dialogue with the community as we go through the long, and uncertain, process towards delivering the employment-led regeneration for Coseley.
“We have talked about the Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) from day one – in fact, it is the main reason that this is an ‘Eco Park’ rather than a standard mixed-use development. The ERF, which is wholly different from an incinerator as waste is not burnt, is classed by the Government as renewable energy, supported by Government waste policy and will supply low-carbon heat to the site – reducing energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions at the site by 4,574 tonnes per year.”
Carla, however, is not so sure, adding: “I’ve looked into ‘gasification’ technology – which this plant uses – and which the developers say means it’s not an incinerator.
“In a recent consultation document concerning renewable obligations for 2013-17, the Department of Energy and Climate Change describes gasification as: “emerging and unproven technologies for the treatment of waste biomass and mixed municipal waste where there are number of technical issues to resolve, for example, achieving intended throughput and air emission standards.”
“They also call it ‘small’ and for local waste only, yet, in another document, however, say it’s going to be used for household and trade waste. It will have at least 45 HGVs per day bringing rubbish to the site, and be processing 120,000 tons of rubbish per year – the equivalent of what the whole of the Dudley Borough produces every year, but which is already handled at the Lister Road incinerator. So, it doesn’t sound like it’s that local to me.”
While Simon and the team take Carla’s views and those of local residents on board, he is also keen to allay their fears, adding: “We’re aware this element of our master plan could be misinterpreted or judged as an old-fashioned incinerator, which is why we went to such efforts to make sure it was front and centre on our plans and that we explained it to everyone we spoke to. At our exhibition events, we had representatives from BioGenpower present to explain the ERF and most people were perfectly happy with it.
“With regard to pollutants from the ERF, these are strictly controlled by the Environment Agency and the limit set at a level which will not cause harm to the community. The ERF’s highest emissions are one tenth of that permitted and the majority are substantially less than one tenth. It is a very clean and low emission process.”
But, despite the developer’s claims that local residents have been kept informed at each stage of the process, Carla says the reality for people in her neighbourhood is very different, adding: “I did a door to door on my estate on the weekend, and not one person is happy about it. All signed a petition against it. The developers will be the first to tell you how they have gone out of their way to inform people about the plans and the detail around it, however there are literally hundreds, if not thousands in the area that don’t understand various points on the plans and the development.”
If this is the case, it would seem the developers still have some way to go in convincing local residents of Coseley Eco Park’s safety.
Simon explains: “Obviously, we are disappointed with any opposition to our plans, especially as we have had so much support to date, but we will continue to engage with all of the local community throughout the planning process and into the future.
“We would like to add that the plans we have submitted are only outline at this stage and just agree the principle of redevelopment and possible land uses. We need to submit detailed plans and have these approved before we can start work. We intend to consult again on these detailed plans, including the ERF, next year.”
But, for the meantime, Carla and other local residents remain unconvinced.
“There are so many woolly statements, inconsistencies and window dressing,” she concludes. “It’s hard not to be cynical, and to wonder what the truth actually is.”