Town threatened by ‘fatally flawed’ recycling plant

Saxon Pit Chimneys in Whittlesey will be demolished on May 21, weather permitting.

Saxon Pit chimneys in Whittlesey prior to their demolition. Part of the site is proposed for a new recycling plant. - Credit: Terry Harris

Astonishingly work has already begun on a new recycling plant at the former Saxon Pits in Whittlesey yet to win planning permission.  

If it goes ahead, says Whittlesey Town Council, it could have catastrophic implications for noise, pollution and traffic. 

In a 20,000-word report to next week’s planning committee of Cambridgeshire County Council the recommendation is for approval.  

The report has been written by Emma Fitch, assistant director, planning, growth and environment, who has also set out conditions which must be met.  

She also points out that the applicant, Johnsons Aggregates and Recycling Limited, has begun “pre-operational construction work”. 

Ms Fitch says the company “is aware that these works are undertaken at their own risk. 

“And could result in a requirement to remove the built development should the planning committee determine that the planning application should be refused.” 

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If the town council and scores of residents have their way, it will be refused.  

Town mayor David Mason hosts a meeting at which Stephen Rice, a land agent/chartered surveyor acting

Town mayor David Mason hosted a meeting at which Stephen Rice, a land agent/chartered surveyor acting on behalf of site Saxon Pit operators East Midlands Waste, addressed eight Whittlesey town councillors - Credit: Submitted

“The application submitted by Johnson Aggregates is fatally flawed and there are numerous risks if it goes ahead,” says the town council. 

“Once established it will be impossible in reality to put right any contraventions.  

“Whittlesey is finally getting the bridge over the railway after years of waiting. “Many quality developers are currently building new homes to attract people to our market town.  

“If this project goes ahead, it could seriously affect the popularity and future prosperity of our town”.  

The town council has put together a vast list of questions – and many reasons – for the application to be rejected.  

The council says, for example, that the county council’s own figures show that vehicles entering and leaving Whittlesey over a 12-hour period were 36,441 of which 2351 were HGV’s. 

In comparison to other Fen towns, it lists Ramsey 732, Chatteris 547, March 893.  

“More HGV’s will add to the already stressed A605,” says the Whittlesey council. 

“HGV movements are in reality 25,000+ per year and this will produce some 1,000,000 kgs of CO2.  

“The applicant states that 25,000 tonnes from the Peterborough incinerator, at present there is no incinerator producing waste in Peterborough.” 

The town council is also concerned about the incinerator bottom ash (IBA) which will taken there and recycled.  

The council says chemicals contained within the IBA could create long term health problems, particularly as it remains on site for many weeks before being recycled.  

The town council is also concerned about HGVs using the site, the threat of pollution to Park Lane Primary School, and odour affecting residents of Peterborough Road and Snoots Road.  

50 Year old Saxon Pits chimneys Demolished.. Saxon Pits, Peterborough Friday 21 May 2021. Picture b

50 Year old Saxon Pit chimneys demolished - Credit: © Terry Harris

"The A605 which serves the Saxon Pit …...has the second highest use of HGVs now at 2351 (2019 survey) in Fenland.  

“General air pollution is almost the highest nationally in Fenland.”  

The town council added: “Based on the past efforts of the Environment Agency (EA) there is no guarantee that the many controls and checks referred to as being necessary in the various consultant reports, promised by Johnson Aggregates, will be adhered to, or monitored by the EA. 

“And the proposed hours of operation are outrageous.  

“The consultant’s report says the site is to be working 24 hours a day, every day, except Christmas.”  

Johnsons propose a complex for recycling of Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste material to produce Incinerator Bottom Ash Aggregate (IBAA).  

County council planners describe IBA as a non-hazardous material produced following the incineration of waste and it is to be imported to the site directly from where the material is produced.  

Johnsons plan to utilise two former brickwork buildings and a large external area. 

They will erect a concrete ‘Lego wall’ and storage bays for the recycling of IBA and C&D waste to produce IBAA for export.

50 Year old Saxon Pits chimneys demolished.. Saxon Pits, Peterborough Friday 21 May 2021. Picture by

50 Year old Saxon Pit chimneys demolished - Credit: © Terry Harris

 Ms Fitch says that water tanks will collect rainwater for dousing of the IBA/IBAA and C&D material.  

Six metre perimeter walls around the IBA storage, internal storage bays and the water tanks are being erected.  

A two-storey office is to be erected and a new weighbridge has been installed adjacent to the entrance.  

The site will be subject to a new drainage scheme. 

And on-site surface water falling on the IBA storage area will naturally drain into a ‘wedge pit’ in the south-eastern corner.  

This pit will have the capacity to hold a minimum of 960 cubic metres of water which will be recycled within the site for dust management purposes.  

A second wedge pit of similar dimensions is proposed to capture any surface water from a concrete pad in a different area. 

"Prior to being dispatched from incinerator facilities within the region, IBA is required to be heavily quenched with water such that its content is as least 20 per water,” says the report. 

“This is both to reduce its temperature and to minimise the risk of any air borne particles arising from its transport and deposit at a receptor recycling site.” 

In brief once unprocessed IBA arrives, it undergoes a maturation process for up to eight weeks. 

The IBA and C&D material will then be fed into a trommel screen and separated. 

Further screening will recover ferrous and non-ferrous metals. 

Processed material will then be stockpiled into aggregate, ferrous metal and non-ferrous metal stockpiles and stored on site if required pending sale.  

Finally, the manufactured secondary aggregates will then be taken from the building via conveyors or loading shovel either directly to storage bays or directly to HGV’s ready to leave.  

The company says 100 per cent of imported IBA is ultimately recycled either on site into IBAA or off site in the case of the metal elements which is sold to third party smelting companies.  

They expect to manage up to 250,000 tpa of IBA material and 50,000 tpa of C&D material.  

IBA will be imported directly on 27 tonne articulated HGVs, whilst C&D material will mainly be imported using 8-wheel rigid HGV’s.  

The IBA material will be generated from Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Greater London. 

Councillors will also be told that the plant will generate up to 30 jobs with 20 others in support driving and supply roles.  

The planning committee will hear that council health officials believe all “relevant policies” have been met.  

Saxon Pit and location for proposed recycling plant edged in red

Saxon Pit, Whittlesey, and location for proposed recycling plant edged in red - Credit: CCC

"The proposed development is unlikely to result in any significant impacts on human health,” says the report. 

But one county councillor remains unconvinced.  

On noise, Whittlesey councillor Chris Boden, says some nearby homes which suffer even more than they do at present from existing activity at Saxon Pit.  

He says if the wind is in the "wrong" direction the occupants can hear every Heavy Commercial Vehicle (HCVs) movement in the pit. 

And often can even hear which radio station the drivers are listening to in their cabs!  

“The noise can be so obtrusive (depending on wind direction) that residents have to keep their windows closed, even in hot weather, just to try to muffle the sound,” he says. 

“This nuisance will be multiplied if this planning application is approved, given both the sheer number of additional HCVs which would access the site every day, with the additional noise being generated 24 hours a day, 364 days a year.” 

He says local residents whose properties immediately overlook Saxon Pit are fearful that their quality of life would be very severely impacted by the noise generated by the significant increase in HCV movements proposed in Saxon Pit including HCV movements at night-time. 

And he’s challenged other councillors to take a look for themselves.  

On one row of cottages nearby, he says, “life would become almost unbearable, particularly in that end-of-terrace cottage which is immediately adjacent to the site entrance”.  

Cllr Boden says the extra HGV movements are “an additional burden that the local road system simply cannot take”.  

Ms Fitch says across the three rounds of consultation a total of 577 neighbour representations were received from 507 individual respondents.  

Concerns raised included;  

Conflict with the adopted local plan  

Increase of pollution, possible contaminants  


* Noise and vibration  

• Dust and air quality  

• Odour  

• Light pollution 

 • Hours of operation  

• Importation of asbestos  

• Increase in traffic / HGVs  

• Inadequate access and road infrastructure  

• Climate change and carbon footprint 

 • Ecology and wildlife  

• Toxic waste materials  

• Potential for land and water contamination and the historic use of the site  

• Close to adjoining properties and adversely impacting residential amenity 

In recommending approval, county planning officers point out that the principle of waste processing and recycling uses was set in 2021 for change of use to plastics recovery. 

That application included other projects involving recycling.  

The county council says it has worked with Johnsons on all aspects of access, and with both the EA and Fenland Council on noise, dust and odour emissions.  

"Pollution matters will continue to be controlled through the Environmental Permit that has been issued for the site,” says the county council. 

It says the “known and potential impacts” of the proposed development have been balanced against the “suggested benefits”. 

These are “a purpose-built recycling facility” with indoor working to prevent noise, and dust emissions.  

And by capping vehicle movements it will reduce the “potential impact” for neighbours and Whittlesey residents.  

In conclusion they felt “biodiversity net gain in accordance with the county council’s targets can be achieved”. 

The planning committee will be live streamed on YouTube on April 20 from 10am.  

Equally disturbing for residents is that no action was taken after confirmation that the disused pit had previously taken in 122,858 tonnes of illegal waste.  

A study by the EA of 50 samples revealed that 43 contain “sufficient chemical contaminants to render them hazardous”. 

Instead, the EA accepted that the “non-conforming” waste at Saxon Pit could stay after containment measures were put in place.  

This, says the EA, was to ensure leachate (fluids) and landfill gas arising from the imported waste is not allowed to escape.  

The EA confirmed to MP Steve Barclay that the 122,858 tonnes of non-confirming waste by the current operator (it had previously been owned by East Midland Waste Management) would not be subject to any action.  

The waste said Mr Hawkins had been “unlawfully buried within the void between October 2017 and February 2018. This excludes waste unlawfully accepted and buried by previous operators pre-October 2017”.