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Consett Incinerator: Community Spirit Kicks Plans in the Teeth


After months of hard work, dedication, and community spirit, the motivated residents of Consett received their well-deserved results on Tuesday, 7th September. Infamous across town, the Consett Incinerator plans were denied by the Durham Planning Committee. With local residents speaking their truth, it was a unanimous vote for community success.

The Incinerator was proposed to be a ‘Renewable Energy Centre’ based in the small town’s Hownsgill Industrial Estate. The facility was due to employ just 9 people and was expected to cost a whopping £35million.

The people of Consett were appalled by the proposition, scarred by the town’s previous ‘Red City’ Steel Works past. Red dust hung over the small town for more or less 100 years, affecting the health of the locals as well as the environment. Although many look back at the Steel Works with nostalgia, it can’t be denied that Consett’s health and environment have vastly improved since the closing of the Iron Company in 1980. 

Say No to Consett Incinerator poster
Say No To Consett Incinerator”

Say No to Consett Incinerator was created by the local people of Consett and surrounding areas. Boasting over 6000 members on their Facebook page, the townspeople came together to achieve the best possible result. Participating in non-stop protests on the Hownsgill site, creating leaflets and posters, hanging banners around town, and excellent social media presence, the community has been motivated and actively passionate for months.

One member in particular, stands out to us here at Listed; 20-year-old Consett local Niamh McDonald.

Alongside studying Urban Planning at Newcastle University, Niamh dedicated her free time to the Say No campaign. We had the opportunity to meet Niamh and talk to her about the campaign, her thoughts, and her plans for the future. 

Niamh McDonald
When did your passion for the environment and conservation begin?

NM – I had a very outdoorsy childhood so I have grown up knowing how valuable our environment is. My parents always made sure that we understood how to treat the environment with respect. I have been a vegetarian since I was 16 to reduce my impact on the planet, as the meat industry has a huge impact. This was the first lifestyle change that I made to contribute to conservation. Ever since I have made small lifestyle changes and encourage others in my life to do so.

You’re studying Urban Planning at Newcastle University. Was this something that you have always wanted to do?

NM – No, I always thought I would do history at university as history was my favourite subject inside and outside of school. However, I decided on Urban Planning because it has a historical basis and protects our history and heritage but can be used to help change socioeconomic and political circumstances for people. I’m unable to change the past but I am able to change the present for people who don’t have the agency to be able to do so through planning. I think the incinerator has shown that.

When did the Say No campaign begin and why did you decide to get involved?

NM – I’d say the say no campaign began as soon as the planning application was submitted in November 2020, the letters of objection were immediate from neighbours who had been notified of the suggested development. From there, as more people caught wind, a Facebook group was created and people began to object using a template letter focusing on house values in the area. I saw the campaign and joined in April while I was in my first year at university. I read the objection letters and I had just learnt that house prices were not something planners considered. I was halfway through a module that taught us how to use the NPPF and local plans to approve or dismiss planning applications. I then typed out all the relevant policies from the NPPF and local plan to show people on the Facebook group that we needed to use those in our letters of objection to make a stronger case. I then wrote up a draft letter of objection for people to use.

What activities did the campaign participate in to raise awareness of the cause?

NM – The campaign did a truly amazing job at raising awareness in ways that were engaging and different. They hosted protests on the proposed site for clean air day, got children in schools in the area to draw pictures explaining why they didn’t want the incinerator in their town. The campaign attached all these drawings together to represent the 50m stack the incinerator was proposed to have. To further get children involved, during the summer holidays the campaign organised a monster hunt to raise awareness. With the help of Steel Town Music and local artists, t-shirts and posters were made, a campaign song was made which we played in the planning committee meeting. We also played a campaign video we had put together of video clips of protesters. We had a go fund me for posters and banners to be placed all over Consett. Local businesses also were a big help, they displayed posters in their windows and some became hubs for people to sign objection letters. This is how we ended up getting over 3,000 letters of objection into planning.

Local Protestors at the Hownsgill site
It’s truly remarkable that at just 20 years old you were brave enough to speak in front of the Durham planning committee regarding the opposition of the Incinerator. Can you describe how this came about and how you felt leading up to it and on the day?

NM – A selection of 6 people involved in the campaign were chosen to speak at the meeting so we tried to get a range of people from different circumstances. I am a fourth generation of Consett and I was the voice of the youth, we had people who were first-generation Consett, who had moved into the area because of the beautiful countryside that surrounds us and then never left. People who left and returned. I felt pretty confident leading up to the day because we had a good base of objection and I knew we would be listened to. I was nervous while I was in the chamber waiting to speak but I just focused on my speech.

Consett’s fabulous location at the edge of the Pennines makes it a haven for the community to enjoy the outdoors. There is so much to do and see in our corner of the world.

– An excerpt from Niamh’s speech
Hownsgill Site
Thanks to you along with other protestors, the plans to continue with the Incinerator were rejected unanimously! How did it feel to have months of hard work and dedication finally be paid off?

NM – It felt amazing, there is still the chance for Project Genesis to appeal so we might still have some fight left to go but everyone was so deliriously happy. For us it wasn’t about money or ourselves, we fought against the incinerator because we are truly passionate about Consett’s future and passionate about conserving our surrounding environment.

You can join the support for the Say No campaign by joining their Facebook group for future updates and more information.

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