Clydebank was once the industrial centre of Scotland with several notable shipyards building many famous ships. Shipbuilding ceased in the 80s and a local resident who once worked in the yards described it as “the heart being ripped out of Clydebank.” Today, although some industry remains, the area is largely residential. The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) shows that Clydebank has some of the most deprived areas in Scotland.
An incinerator too close to home
In 2022 Kenny Little, a local resident became aware that a planning application for a plastic-to-hydrogen incineration plant had been approved by West Dunbartonshire Council. He immediately became concerned because this incinerator would be built close to his home and within a few hundred metres of a primary school, a hospice and a local sports ground (Holm Park, Clydebank FC’s stadium). It would also be right next to one of Scotland’s largest fuel-holding depots.
The proposed plastic-to-hydrogen incinerator would have three chimneys or ‘stacks’ expelling a number of hazardous pollutants harmful to human health, and of particular concern to children, older people and people with existing health conditions. It also would have an estimated 100 heavy goods vehicles travelling to and from the incinerator daily, increasing traffic-related pollution in the area.
Community action against the incinerator
In his fight against the incinerator proposal, Kenny took many courses of action including:
- An online petition opposing the development which gathered almost 2000 signatures.
- Asking the local media to report on the community’s opposition to the development.
- Reaching out to several West Dunbartonshire councillors and MSPs.
These communications were mostly met with silence.
When none of these methods helped, Kenny contacted Friends of the Earth Scotland (FOES) and UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN). With their support, a protest was organised and despite heavy rains, the local community came out in force to speak out against the development, gaining media attention.
Following the protest, Kenny was told about the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) and asked for advice on whether the proposal approved by the West Dunbartonshire Council should be rejected by the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA), especially as the Government had said there was a moratorium on building new incinerators.
“When Ben got in touch, that was that. He gave me the gravitas that I needed. From then on, I felt I had a bit of weight behind me. Before I felt like I was yelling into the wind.”
ERCS legal advice and assistance
ERCS wrote to the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (‘the DPEA’) on behalf of Kenny to make two points:
- Firstly, an environmental impact assessment had not been carried out – ERCS asked the DPEA to reconsider the need for an EIA.
- Secondly, the development was contrary to the Scottish Government’s recently announced policy against granting planning permission for new incineration infrastructure.
With the community action and this extra pressure, the developer withdrew their application, citing the moratorium by the Scottish Government as one of the key reasons for their decision.
“I felt so vindicated. It was like an early Christmas present. Without the help of FOES, UKWIN and ERCS I think we would have failed.”
Voices for justice
Fighting against a potential development in a system that is stacked against marginalised communities is no easy task. It requires hours and hours of your own time spent trying to understand what you’re facing, knowing what steps you can take, and trying to be heard by anyone who will listen.
Kenny spoke on what prompted him to start and continue to fight in the face of adversity.
“I was fighting for my own health, but I felt as if I was fighting for the health of the people in the hospice, the kids in the primary school and the local community generally. It’s not that I don’t want it built because it’s on my doorstep. I don’t want it built anywhere ever. I don’t want any community to suffer this, to live beside a factory like this.”
Interview by Cornell Hanxomphou, ERCS Rights Officer March 2023