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‘An emergency measure’: Urgent plans to resume work at blaze-hit Altens recycling plant approved

A replacement Altens recycling centre has been approved after a huge fire this summer.
The replacement unit will be built in the yard seen here as the Altens site burns for a third day during the summer. Picture by Chris Sumner

Emergency plans which would allow work to resume at Aberdeen’s blaze-hit Altens recycling plant have been approved.

The fire, which bosses revealed could have been sparked by an electric toothbrush, left the coastal facility a blackened wreck.

Recycling firm Suez has confirmed parts of the building will have to be demolished as a result.

Since the July blaze, tonnes of waste from Aberdeen has been taken outwith the city to be sorted – and then to the north-east of England to be recycled.

Our drone footage shows the extent of the damage:

Now, Aberdeen planners have rubber-stamped urgent proposals for a new building that could help cope with the upheaval.

Hannah Elliott, assistant planning manager for council contractor Suez, explained the need for the temporary facility as an “emergency response” in documents sent to planning bosses.

Two dozen fire engines from across the north-east attended after the blaze out. Picture by Paul Glendell/DCT Media

Rebuilding the original complex is expected to take around 18 months.

How big would the replacement Altens recycling centre be?

Designed for the yard beside the main building, it would be just a fraction of its size at 25m by 24m.

And it would be almost 11m tall.

This image from Suez shows the replacement building, circled in red, compared to the huge plant left partly destroyed.

Why is it needed?

Since the fire, bin lorries have been emptying waste at a site south of Aberdeen before it gets taken all the way to Hartlepool to be recycled.

Suez says this is “clearly not ideal” but means that recycling “can continue while Altens is demolished and reinstated”.

If it is ever built, the newly-approved temporary Altens centre could process up to 20,000 tonnes per annum of dry mixed recycling.

The main difference from its larger neighbour is that material would not actually be recycled there, nor any fuel derived from it.

Though Suez could process waste at the temporary unit, it would still need to be taken elsewhere “for recycling and disposal”.

Fire engines at the scene of the summertime blaze. Picture by Kenny Elrick/DCT Media

So what difference will it make?

The temporary structure would allow vehicles to tip out their waste without leaving Aberdeen.

Material could then be “bulked” there, prior to being taken away in lorries.

It would reduce the time and mileage currently being lost by taking rubbish south of Aberdeen to be bulked.

Why is it needed?

Suez says the fire “became uncontrollable” as it spread through the plant over days in July.

The French firm adds: “A number of initial structural surveys on the buildings and processing equipment have identified that the bulk of the facility is damaged beyond repair.”

That means a wait of 18-24 months before it can be used again.

This video shows how the inside of the building has been left:

Will it take long to build?

Suez indicates the temporary structure could be relatively straightforward to erect and dismantle.

A galvanised steel framework would be formed, with polyester fabric “stretched over” it.

The council has now granted permission for the development, up until October 2024.

But despite branding the current arrangement “not ideal” while extolling the benefits of the replacement, Suez appears to have since had a change of heart.

Colin Forshaw, production operations manager for Suez, is now keen to stress they are “not expecting” to implement the plans due these “arrangements” the firm has now decided are “robust”.

It comes just days after it emerged that non-recyclable rubbish which should be headed for Aberdeen’s new incinerator will be carted elsewhere as the facility is far from finished.

A recent image of the Greenbank Crescent incinerator. Picture by Kenny Elrick

Are you pleased to see the replacement plans approved? Let us know in our comments section below

However, work on the £150 million Ness Energy Project facility at East Tullos remains ongoing.

You can see the plans for the replacement Altens recycling centre here.