County rapped for keeping Hatfield incinerator emissions details secret

An artist's impression of the New Barnfield incinerator from the air

An artist's impression of the New Barnfield incinerator from the air - Credit: Archant

HAS the county council been hiding a dirty secret about emissions from the unpopular incinerator it recently approved?

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has rapped Herts county council (HCC) over the knuckles for withholding important information about emissions from Veolia’s incinerator, to be built on Green Belt land on Colney Heath’s doorstep.

In a recent ruling, made in response to a request from Hatfield Against Incineration (HAI) under the Freedom of Information Act, the ICO has ordered the council to disclose the information to the campaigners.

Furthermore if it does not comply by mid-February the ICO has threatened to inform the High Court, and it may be dealt with as a contempt of court.

The ruling has been hailed by HAI as a “boost” for its fight against the incinerator, to be built at New Barnfield, Hatfield.

HCC and Veolia had claimed the information was commercially sensitive and would breach intellectual property rights if released to the public.

The county council went ahead and approved the scheme to treat 380,000 tonnes of industrial, domestic and medical waste material in October last year, despite not giving the public the chance to read or comment on emissions from the plant.

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Paul Zukowskyj, HAI exec member, said: “We could have used this information to expand our objection to the planning application if HCC and Veolia had released it when they should have.

“If we take them to court for a judicial review, their failure to release the information may be viewed as a failure of the planning process and it may help to derail the project for good.”

Herts county councillor for the Colneys Chris Brazier, who voted against the scheme, said the emission details should have been made available as the incinerator was being built near a school for pupils with special needs on HCC land.

Susan Salter, spokeswoman for Colney Heath residents fighting the scheme, said: “I’m shocked they have withheld the information. HCC has not been transparent. We are not a local dumping ground.

“We don’t want body parts and chemicals being brought from all over the county. We are hugely upset over the council as we think is totally unfair. Residents pay their taxes and wages, and it is all very devious.”

Derrick Ashley, HCC’s cabinet member for waste, said: “If we have to publish it then so be it. If anything, it strengthens the case for building the facility.”

Meanwhile the Environment Agency (EA) is consulting on its draft decision to issue an environment permit for the incinerator, with consultation ending on February 8.

A spokesman said the agency was not sent a copy of the emission report, “and it was not included in the planning application which was sent to us for comment.”

However he said that planning permission and the environment permit were “two different processes” and could be granted independently of each other, so the ICO ruling had no bearing on the draft permit currently under consultation by the agency.

HAI is holding a protest outside Cecil Memorial Hall, Hatfield, at 7pm next Thursday, January 24.