The Tale of How We Turned the Threat of An Incinerator and Its Dump Into An Opportunity
By Steph Bradley 9th March 2012
“It is a relief to leave the city because I have coughed my way through it since arriving at the centre; Iain says it will be because of the incinerator. Nottingham not only burns its own rubbish but imports rubbish from as far afield as China. I recall Karina telling me about the high incidence of asthma in Nottinghamshire and now understand why. What kind of short sighted disconnected thinking allows city planning to encourage an industry that causes its inhabitants to be sick? Breathing the air here feels like inhaling invisible particles of irritants.” Extract from Transition Tales blog May 30th 2010
In 2010 as many of you will know I set out from my home in Totnes to walk around England collecting tales of positive change. Many have been inspired by the tales I brought back. I have been endlessly touched by what people will do for the place where their home is and for the people they share that home with. Mostly, what I encountered on that walk were tales of people reclaiming that which had been lost in the past; community gardens and orchards, and tales of working together to bring about new cleaner solutions to our need for energy and transport.
Occasionally, however, I would come across people who were not reclaiming things or developing new systems, but working hard to preserve that which was good from being destroyed; real time action. Such a case was Dorset, and for those of you who know that beautiful county without a single motorway running though it, this will come as no surprise. Life in Dorset, particularly in the region known as the Isle of Purbeck, is pretty much as idyllic as any Transition future scenario could imagine.
There the people work tirelessly to preserve a good lifestyle, where bacon still comes from the local farm in a big bag to the pub delivered by the farmer’s son, entertainment is live music at the pub which still brews its own beer, the children are not afraid to welcome strangers, and sense of community and shared responsibility for the region’s shared resources comes as second nature. When I passed through in the Spring of 2010 they were facing their biggest challenge yet…to keep their local school open. Not much stops PEAT, the local transition group. News came in to Transition Network at the end of last year that they are about to begin the first ever Transition school, having acquired old school premises from where to run it.
In Autumn of 2010 as I walked back into Devon I was privileged enough to stay with Tess Wilmot of PL21; the Ivybridge transition group. Tess couldn’t be more Transition, she gave me seeds from her garden to bring back for Totnes’ new community garden, took me to meet local community members, and talked of her work with young people and growing projects. This hard working and caring group though, she told me, were being worn down by a challenge on their doorstep that was threatening to try the most optimistic of Transition thinkers; plans to build an incinerator in the town.
As the months went by and I returned to everyday life in Totnes I subsequently went along to a public meeting and saw just how hard the group had been working. They had even come up with a viable business plan for an alternative, cleaner and community owned way of disposing of the region’s landfill rubbish.
I lost touch with the project over time, but was always aware of our neighbours beavering away for our benefit; after all, an incinerator in Ivybridge hardly equates to clean air in Totnes…
And then, thanks to Joanna Watters, and the incredible Creative Community Devon site http://creativedevon.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-buckfastleigh-quarry-concerns?xg_source=activity , I found out the next piece of the story. It seems the incinerator is to go ahead, not in Ivybridge, but in Devonport …how typical for something as short sighted and health threatening as an incinerator plan, to be pushed through in an area of huge deprivation. An area least able to perceive and defend itself against a threat, facing as it does social challenges of the most basic and pressing nature; poor nutrition, poor education, mass unemployment, and poverty associated crime.
Not only this, but an incinerator needs a dump… and the proposed site for this dump…Buckfastleigh, our very near neighbours.
What does this mean? Heavy lorries carrying minute particles of toxic waste travelling up and down the roads between Plymouth and Buckfastleigh. An area of land, that could surely have had a better use as a growing or recreation area, filled up with ash and rendered useless for any other use. The beginning of a new venture that is so far removed from a Transition future that it is difficult to believe that it is happening in our region.
Having just made the mistake of having vacuumed the ash from my woodburner (!), and experienced blowing loads of particles of fine ash into my cottage, filling the air with fine grey dust, I can tell you first hand that the last thing we want is any large scale operation dealing with the moving of ash from one place to another…
So, what is the tale we are going to tell our children, and our children’s children, about what we did to preserve their land and their fresh breathing air? What is it you would like to hear as the ending to this tale? Only our lack of imagination stands in the way of an elegant solution that pleases everyone.
So far the community of Buckfastleigh have voted, turning out in huge, almost unheard of numbers, against this plan http://www.community.buckfastleigh.org/ . An inspiring start. What does this tale of Our times need next to be one worthy of recounting to our grandchildren? How the locals of all the Southern Hams got together and supported their neighbours, showed the world how much they cared for one another, not just in their town, but around their town, and across their region too?
Can we make this a tale that will be told long across the ages, a tale to open hearts, one to be sung at celebrations across the land? The tale of how the people in the Southern Hams remembered that the people in their region were just as much a part of their family as those who lived next door and across the street, and that everything that happened in the region affected them as much as their closest neighbours and family, and that when they supported each other no threat was too big to tackle, and that this challenge was the turning point, the moment when working together tipped the balance between organizations making decisions, and local people really claiming back their power to protect and nurture their environment and preserve it for their children.
Now that would be a tale to be told, would it not…