Our View on Covanta
We are here to create the Forest of Marston Vale – this essentially means planting trees and creating woodlands over the 61 sq miles of the Forest footprint. People often look to us to be the spokesperson against change in the Forest area – hopefully this post will explain why that isn’t the case.
What is the change being proposed?
Covanta and Veolia are waste management companies working together to develop an Energy from Waste facility. The facility would be built in Rookery South pit, adjacent to the Forest of Marston Vale Millennium Country Park, just beyond the railway line.
The Joint Committee of the Houses of Parliament gave it the go ahead in 2012; until now there’s been little happening, but last year Covanta announced that they’ve partnered up with Veolia and aim to start building in 2017. It is now with the Environment Agency to decide on whether it will give the site a permit / licence to operate and under what rules.
Is the Forest of Marston Vale ‘for’ or ‘against’ Covanta’s plans?
We are neutral on this and other developments throughout the FoMV – this is not a new stance it has been a central policy of the Trust for a long time. Our purpose is not to stop development or change occurring. What we do, is ensure that any development that occurs contributes to the creation of the Forest and so we as a charity remain neutral on individual planning applications, which do not directly conflict with the aims of creating the Forest.
We are guided by the Forest Plan, it’s our masterplan, (an important document – it’s on our website) in which it says ‘no proposals in the Forest Plan can override the policies contained [in] statutory plans.’ We aren’t the planning authority – we don’t have the authority to prevent something happening.
The Forest Plan also says one of our aims is to ‘seek to gain meaningful benefits for the Forest through the planning system.’ It’s our job to encourage developers to financially contribute to the Forest, whether this means them planting trees on their site, or us planting woodlands elsewhere, as compensation for any impact on the local area. It’s not that we are ‘sitting back and letting it happen’ by being neutral, the board of Trustees decided Covanta should be treated just like any other development.
Some people have suggested that Covanta has ‘bought off’ the Forest of Marston Vale; is that true?
No, there has been a lot of misinformation around this. When the planning permission went through, we negotiated what we would expect Covanta to contribute to the creation of the Forest, if the development went ahead. There was no ‘pay out’ to keep quiet, or stay neutral, as we were neutral anyway. Covanta have committed to on-site and off-site tree planting as well as an annual payment to a ‘Forest Creation Fund’ and a separate Community Fund (nothing to do with us), as long as the facility is running. The Forest of Marston Vale has not received any money to date (except for room hire at the Forest Centre for meetings) and wouldn’t do until any building starts. The funding will be in a restricted fund that can only be spent on creation of the Forest, so the money will not be going directly to support the charity’s costs.
There has also been speculation that a former trustee was involved with a waste company. That is true, a trustee who worked in the waste industry, was on the board from Jan 2002 until he resigned in June 2015, when he left to work in another country. As many of you will remember this was an area with a number of landfill sites many years ago, so as a local stakeholder it was natural that a representative would be on the board, alongside the mix of local Councilors, landowners and residents. However it was the board as a whole, which unanimously agreed to keep the neutral stance regarding Covanta, in line with the Trusts long held policy of neutrality.
Do you normally receive contributions from developers?
Yes – our two local authorities – Central Bedfordshire & Bedford Borough Council – state in their planning policies that any development within the Forest area should contribute to the creation of the Forest of Marston Vale, however it is up to us to negotiate this. It can be land that is contributed, although it is more often money for land or tree purchases. Over 21 years, the Trust has negotiated with developers to encourage contributions of around £3m, which has helped us to create the 10 community woodlands across the Forest of Marston Vale. Creating and maintaining woodlands is pretty expensive – there’s a lot more to it than simply planting a few trees and walking away.
We understand that there will always be people who are really for or really against certain developments and judging the level of impact of any development is extremely difficult. Hopefully this has helped to explain our neutral stance – we live in a changing world and we really do not have that much influence! What we can do is ensure that any development offsets its impact by helping to contribute to the Forest of Marston Vale.
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