Help us to Keep The Lights On for another decade! Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Is it the end for the Avonmouth biomass plant?

City

On Wednesday November 5th, Bristol City councillors met at City Hall to decide whether or not to approve the planning application for an 11 MW biomass gasifier proposed at the Chittening Industrial Estate in Avonmouth.  After lengthy debate councillors voted to reject the plans on air quality grounds, with five voting against, two in favour, and one abstaining.

Bristol City Council planning officers were originally going to make the decision under delegated powers but after a surge of public objections and press coverage the decision was put to a planning committee to be decided in public. Over 100 public objections were submitted to the council in the space of two weeks as the planning application was previously unseen. Objections came from Avonmouth, Shirehampton and Lawrence Weston residents as well as from wider Bristol and the UK. Last Wednesday, over thirty people gathered outside City Hall before the planning meeting to protest against the plant holding banners and wearing dust masks.

The planning application was put forward by multinational infrastructure group, Balfour Beatty, together with Canadian energy company Nexterra. The plant would have been fuelled by burning 75,000 tonnes of woodchips per year supplied by adjoining wood processing plant Boomeco and would have produced enough electricity to power up to 15,000 homes per year.

Local residents and environmental campaign groups, Avon Coalition Against Big Biofuels and Biofuelwatch, had two material objections to the plant; sustainability of the development, and risk to air quality and health.

Mike Andrews spoke to the committee on behalf of the Avon Coalition Against Big Biofuels and discussed sustainability as part of his statement:

The gasifier would be extremely inefficient in energy conversion. From the planning documents and information in their Birmingham biomass gasifier proposal, it appears that the efficiency will only be twenty per cent. Eighty per cent of the wood burnt would be wasted. The efficiency levels proposed are so low that it would not even meet the definition of ‘energy recovery’ if it was a Municipal Solid Waste incinerator – it would have to be classed as mere ‘waste disposal’.

He went on to explain how the plant is also not compatible with the waste hierarchy principle, which is set out in national and local planning policy. This is because the gasifier plant planned to burn grade C waste wood which includes Grade A and B which is suitable for industrial use such as panel board manufacture.

Ian Robinson, a local Avonmouth resident spoke to the committee about the extremely poor air quality in Avonmouth to date and the huge impacts on public health and the NHS were the plant to go ahead. He reminded councillors of Boomeco’s extremely poor track record, with the fly infestation this summer and the large amounts of wood dust created which has blighted people’s health and quality of life for years.

Ian explained there is insufficient background data on the air quality in Avonmouth and surrounding areas to see the impacts of Boomeco’s operations and other industry because there is a distinct lack of air quality monitoring by the Environment Agency. He stated “Wood dust is a class 1 carcinogen” and “people will die because of this”.

Olly Mead (Lab, Horfield) shared his concerns about the plant and provided a splash of humour in the meeting stating:

“I was surprised to learn that eating bacon can cause cancer. The difference is you can choose to eat bacon but you can’t help but breath in dust.”

His remark was in response to Councillor Dr. Mark Wright (Lib Dem, Cabot) who attempted to downplay the concerns about exposure to the carcinogenic effects of wood dust by likening it to the carcinogenic effects of ‘eating bacon’.

Cllr Martin Fodor (Green, Redland) expressed his concerns about the sustainability of the fuel source for the plant and the credibility of the planning applicant’s claims that it would have no significant impact on air quality. Nexterra representatives were given the opportunity to think of ways of providing evidence from operational plants but came up with nothing as there is none in the UK.

It is expected that the application will go to appeal and campaigners and objectors understand that the council’s decision may be overturned by central government. The time delay however may be detrimental to the plant’s future as it requires substantial government financial backing to make it viable, and with the general election fast approaching this may not be possible to secure.

Jake Stock is a member of Avon Coalition Against Big Biofuels

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?

Comments

Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

Related content

Watch: Why you should back the Cable – in 60 seconds

A breakdown of all the things we've managed to achieve for Bristol in almost a decade of reporting.

We’re working to diversify the Cable team. Let’s start with our freelancer base

The Cable exists to challenge the structure of the media, but we are not representative enough of our city. Here’s what we’re doing to change things.

Listen: Owen Jones on leaving Labour, the war in Gaza and his general election campaign for left-wing candidates

The journalist, author and political activist didn't mince his words on Keir Starmer and the state of media in the UK.

Revealed: Bristol Uni plans to cut student wellbeing services are ‘reckless’, staff warn

Proposals are to reduce the number of staff in the student wellbeing service, despite concerns about impact on student mental health.

Listen: How it could all go down in Bristol at July’s general election

Cable journalists Priyanka Raval and Matty Edwards give you a taster of what to watch out for at the general election in and around Bristol, and give their take on how the national campaign has unfolded so far.

The Cable view: Bristol’s role in national politics is about to be turned on its head

For the first time in 14 years, it looks like we’re heading for a new government. As Bristol’s place in our national politics evolves, so must the Cable’s.

Help the Cable monitor general election campaigning in Bristol

We want to see if political parties are following the rules and playing fair, as they ramp up campaigning ahead of the general election on 4 July.

Get involved

General Election 2024:  Your ultimate Bristol Cable guide

Don’t panic, we’ve got you covered. Here we break down everything you need to know ahead of the general election on 4 July, from which seats to watch out for and what’s at stake in Bristol.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning