Resident's 'relief' after her visit to Plymouth incinerator site and Germany
Work is now well under way to build the incinerator at Weston Mill. Keith Rossiter tours the site.
THE incinerator construction site next to Weston Mill Creek seems intent on returning to its watery origins.
A week of torrential rain and the boots of about 100 construction workers have created foot-sucking ponds of mud.
Work is well under way to build the Plymouth energy from waste plant on what used to be Weston Mill Lake, and the once-derelict site is a hive of activity.
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The Ministry of Defence filled in the lake in the 1980s when it built new dry docks. That presents problems for main contractors Kier, who must drill some 600 holes up to 30 metres into the bedrock and fill them with steel-and-concrete piles.
In phase two concrete caps will link the piles to form a solid base connected to the bedrock. In effect, the incinerator will perch on 600 sturdy stilts.
I am on a tour of the site, and walking through the mud with Paul Carey, managing director of MVV Environment Devonport Ltd, the incinerator operator, and local resident Ruth Crawford.
Ruth, who lives in Talbot Gardens, is one of the incinerator's nearest neighbours. She was taken to Germany by ITV and she visited an incinerator in the midst of housing in Frankfurt to find out how much of an anti-social neighbour it is.
"I was worried before, and the trip has set my mind at ease considerably," she says.
"The Frankfurt incinerator was close to homes, just like here."
Ruth says residents there did not seem bothered by it – though she does not speak German.
"I realise waste has to be got rid of somewhere, and nobody wants it in their back yard," she explains.
"But I am definitely happier than I was this time last week. I feel so much relief."
As we walk across the site, dwarfed by cranes, drilling rigs and mountainous earth-moving equipment, Ruth tells me that from her flat the construction work is "quite noisy, but you get used to it".
"One of my neighbours says he feels vibrations, but I don't."
The sound of clanking and grinding, men wielding lump hammers against obstinate steel, the beeping of reversing juggernauts is what you would expect of a construction site.
The noise must be disturbing for near neighbours, though it is not so loud that we have to shout to be heard.
The contractors have moveable panels which are used to screen the noisiest pieces of equipment. MVV has also installed specialised noise monitoring equipment in Talbot Gardens and Savage Road as part of a requirement by Plymouth City Council.
They must stick to an average of 66 decibels over any two-hour period, Mr Carey says.
To put that in perspective, a 2004 study by the University of Edinburgh found that the average sound level for nightclubs in the UK was 96db, with some even reaching 108db.
Long before the energy from waste plant starts operating at the end of 2014, local people will have access to a tarted-up Blackies Wood, which forms a buffer between the plant and residents who will overlook it.
"The idea is to do landscaping this winter and by next summer it should be accessible," says Mr Carey.
Earlier this year ecologists moved in and captured reptiles – mostly lizards and slow worms – from the site. They have been moved to a safe part of the woods and a "reptile basking area" has been created.
Barne Brake, which borders the site to the east, and runs into Weston Mill Creek in the south, is home to kingfishers.
We stand in one muddy patch of earth all but indistinguishable from any other and Mr Carey points out where rubbish trucks from Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon will dump their loads into a deep pit.
This will all happen indoors, out of sight and – local people must pray – out of mind.
Mr Carey insists that any odour from the rubbish will be contained, by negative pressure created by the incinerator furnace and a separate fan when the incinerator is shut down.
This will happen for up to three weeks at a time for maintenance, and when it is the incoming rubbish will be shrink-wrapped and stored until it can be burnt.
On the other side of the site another smaller patch of mud marks the foundation spot of the 95-metre chimney that will be visible from miles around.
In Frankfurt, local schoolchildren created a dragon design that was painted on to their incinerator chimney, symbolising the tame dragon inside.
It is anyone's guess how long it will take before Plymouth's incinerator is viewed with such affection.