Environment: Community creates a big stink over scheme to recycle sewage

Why is it that `green' schemes to aid the environment often provoke the most furious local opposition? Essex villagers are opposing a plan, in the green belt, to turn massive quantities of sewage into farm fertiliser. Nicholas Schoon, Environment Correspondent, reports.
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The Independent Online
The battle against Anglian Water's controversial plans for tiny, rural Stambridge Sewage Works will come to a head this week, when county planners meet to decide its fate.

The company wants to pipe 250,000 tonnes of sewage sludge, from Southend- on-Sea, three miles inland, to Stambridge each year. There, it will be mixed with dust from cement and lime kilns, to turn it into a fertiliser which farmers can receive free of charge.

But residents of the nearby commuter villages of Rochford and Ashingdon have set up `It Stinks!', an opposition campaign. Their real objection is not, in fact, to odour, but to the number of heavy lorries which will be rolling through their communities, past schools, homes and shops, and along country lanes as the kiln dust is trucked in and the fertiliser exported. Anglian says that during the busiest weeks there could be up to 40 lorry movements a day.

Their protests, and a blizzard of letters, persuaded councillors on the county planning committee to visit the site before making their decision this week.

Tracey Chapman, a local Essex County Councillor, said: ``Our country lanes just cannot cope with the extra lorry movements ... why not build it in Southend, where the waste is generated?''

The story began with a plan to improve the treatment of Southend's sewage before it was pumped out to sea.

This improvement will sweeten the seaside resort's murky bathing waters, but back at the sewage works, far greater quantities of sludge, a brown, foul-smelling organic material rich in bacteria and viruses, will be produced. Much of the nation's sludge used to be dumped at sea, but from next year, the Government will ban the practice.

Anglian already has a small fertiliser-making plant at the Stambridge works. When the kiln dust is mixed with the sludge, a chemical reaction takes place - heating the gooey liquid to a scalding 60C and killing the microbes. In this way two waste materials, sludge and dust, are recycled into one useful product.

Now the water company wants to expand the Stambridge plant to several times its present size, to cope with the sludge from Southend. Originally it had intended building a fertiliser plant at the seaside resort's own big sewage works, but that idea was dropped because of planning constraints.

Company spokesman Graham Frankland said: ``We have to do something with the extra sludge and this seems the best way forward.

"We've consulted fully with local people, but with any scheme you'll get some who object.''