Grundon Community Information Day – WBAGI's perspective

Grundon held their Community Information Day on Thursday 20th October to present their Newbury Incinerator proposals which are being developed for an imminent planning application. The layout of the event was not dissimilar to the Public Consultation event they held in the Curridge Village Hall in February 2011, with information boards on display and a range of technical documents available to read.

Whilst the event was well presented, as any PR event should be, we once again found the substance of the information on display and access to detail disappointing. 
A summary of the key information and relevant changes to the proposal are as follows:
  • Grundon will apply initially for a license of 250,000 tonnes of waste a year to be processed which is a reduction from the originally proposed 350,000 tonnes.
    • The overall size of the facility has not been reduced from the original 350,000 tonnes however, meaning capacity could easily be increased in the future.
  • The height of the chimney stack will be 75 metres.
    • This is consistent with the initial revision in stack height from 85 to 75 metres.
  • There will be three buildings, one with a height of 45 metres and the other two with a height of 21 metres.
  • There will be 156 lorry movements per day (78 in and 78 out of the facility).
    • This is reduced from the original Grundon figure of nearly 400 (189 in and 189 out), provided at the Grundon Public Consultation day in February 2011.
  • The facility will burn commercial and industrial waste.
    • West Berkshire already has a contact (with 22 years left to run) with Veolia for municipal (black bag) waste.
In the communications advertising the event Grundon stated that:
“As the application will have been submitted by this date feedback forms will not be available at the event and attendees will be advised to make formal comments through the Planning Department at the Council”.
At the time of writing, this planning application still has not been submitted and there were several significant details to the proposal which are still outstanding; an example being which solution will be used to treat the highly toxic ‘fly ash’ produced by the incinerator (a question which was asked directly by a member of the public in attendance).
Whilst Grundon stated that the delay to the submission of the planning application was due to the landowner, Fairhurst Estates reviewing the proposal details, the impact on the public is that the information presented at the event is not confirmed and still may change before the proposal is actually submitted to the council planning department.
So, as members of the public cannot comment on the information through the Planning Department, as the application has not been submitted and no feedback channel was provided at the event, the community is left with a black hole if they want to provide comment on the information being displayed. Grundon do have an information telephone line which has been advertised. However, in our experience when this line has been telephoned there has been no one with suitable knowledge to answer questions or the ability to record feedback.
Obtaining access to detailed information at the event or gaining answers to specific answers was not as easy as it could have been. Whilst the experts on hand were knowledgeable in their field, very few had any knowledge or experience with this particular proposal as contractors to Grundon rather than directly employed Grundon staff, and were therefore unable to answer basic questions. Whilst there was information available, as a non-specialist member of the public being told to look in an 80 page technical document for the answer to your simple question is not an effective way of disseminating information and bringing the community up to speed with the proposal.
One of the stated objectives by Grundon in their communication about the Information Day was to provide answers “especially given the amount of misinformation that is circulating”. The suggestion of misinformation is very important as proposals such as these must be considered on fact and not emotion. It was therefore important to know and understand what misinformation had been circulating and where it had come from, so that the community can make informed decisions based on accurate, factual information.
When asked directly, Grundon’s representative stated the event was more about presenting their information and not about addressing misinformation. When questioned further the only example of ‘misinformation’ which could be identified was the supposedly fictitious number of 400 lorry movements associated with the proposed facility. This number of 400 lorry movements was in fact derived from Grundon’s Public Consultation day in February where their board (click here to view the information) clearly states 189 lorry movements onto the site and 189 lorry movements off the site, equating to approximately 400 lorry movements per day.
You have to be concerned about the quality of the information when the only actual example of misinformation is that which comes from Grundon themselves.
The final regarding the Information Day is the statement (referring to the outstanding planning submission), “The submission comes after nine months of extensive community consultation”. From being in regular and direct communication with the community over the last nine months our perspective has been very much that Grundon have undertaken a tick box exercise rather than “extensive community consultation”.
Grundon have undertaken a range of activities which they use to justify their statement of “extensive community consultation”, however we believe the reality falls short of what might be expected.
  • Grundon Public Consultation day – February 2011
    • Grundon present the initial proposal for an Incineration facility near Newbury.
    • The predominant feedback from those who attended was largely of contradictory information and limited answers to the questions posed.
  • Grundon Community Liaison Group
    • Grundon setup a Community Liaison group with select representatives of the local community to create a forum for discussion and feedback.
    • The group met only once - however they were taken to view the Lakeside incineration facility.
    • The minutes of the only meeting held were never published and no further meeting has been arranged.
  • Grundon fly a balloon to indicate the incinerator height
    • Following pressure from members of the public Grundon re-fly their balloon to indicate the height of the incineration facility.
    • Grundon provided only 24 hours notice to the public of the event and restrict it to during working hours; significantly limiting how useful an activity it is if it is intended to inform the public.
  • Grundon addresses to the Parish Councils
    • In a series of activities, following the lead demonstrated by WBAGI, Grundon address local Parish Councils with details of their proposal.
    • Grundon request the Parish Council sessions to be limited to council members restricting access to the sessions by the public.
  • Grundon Community Information day – October 2011
    • Grundon present a public information day but provide little in the way of direct knowledge of the proposal and answers to the communities’ questions.
    • Grundon staff the information day with contracted experts in their specialist field who have little knowledge or experience of the particular proposal so can only provide limited non-authoritative answers to the public’s questions.
    • The only senior representative from Grundon in attendance was Bob Nicholson the Director of Estates. The UK Managing Director did not attend.
From this list of activities the only conclusion we can draw is that Grundon are going through the motions and ticking off the boxes they feel they are duty bound to tick. There seems to be little actual evidence that Grundon have any regard for meaningfully engaging in an “extensive community consultation”.