“It’s a big building”

Steve McNab (Powerfuel Portland)

The sorry tale of how a hapless company wanting to build a waste incinerator on the Isle of Portland tried to make an enormous building disappear in plain sight.

Plans are afoot to build a large rubbish incinerator and waste management plant at Portland Port, just across the water from Weymouth. One of the directors of the company behind the bid, Steve McNab, was recently interviewed by BBC Radio Solent about the project

McNab assured listeners that his company, Powerfuel Portland, would do its best to make the enormous incinerator, with its 85 metre high chimney stack, “more recessive into the landscape”.

McNab had obviously done his homework, because he’d noticed that the incinerator would be fundamentally different from the “cruise liners” using the port:

“they come and go, and move, and bring people, whereas this won’t be moving”.

The fact that the incinerator “won’t be moving”, but will instead remain obstinately in place for the many decades of its working life, obviously poses a problem for McNab and his designers. But he has a solution. McNab cleary stated Powerfuel’s policy on how to tackle the visual impact of the incinerator:

“what we’ve tried to do is make it blend in, and from particular views, we’ve taken advice on how we can, by and large, kind of camouflage the building and its impact.”


McNab’s planning application required “a very detailed and very accurate visual impact analysis to be done”. This analysis, he insisted, was:

“very carefully worked through, in a very carefully done digital process of superimposing the project into its specific location.”

He advised people to read Powerfuel’s “Design and Access Statement” to see how the “kind of camouflaging” of the incinerator will be achieved.

In this document you can appreciate the hard work of “some really talented people” who have undertaken the “very carefully done digital process of superimposing the project” into the landscape. For example:

It was nice of McNab to let his 9 year old nephew help out with the graphics. This particular image shows the first of the four exterior wall options considered by Powerfuel for camouflaging the incinerator.


Each option is awarded a score out of 10 which is its “camouflage rating” — a scale invented by Powerfuel Portland it seems. Option 1, shown above, is “dark green cladding”, and gets given a “camouflage rating (1-10)” of 5.

This is a disappointing score, and the option is quickly rejected.

Option 2 is a “living wall” of plants. However, “the initial capital expenditure, and on going maintenance cost, would not be financially viable for a building of this type”. Which is a shame, because Powerfuel were sufficiently impressed by their own for “living wall” option for them to award it a respectable “camouflage rating” of 7.

An external wall constructed out of angled metal blades scores 1 better. You can see for yourself how well it does in another of McNab’s nephew’s digital compositions:

Impressive as this obviously is, the option which has the best “camouflage rating” turns out to be “printed PVC mesh” (option 4) — which, it is claimed, allows the building “to seamlessly blend with its surroundings”. And just look at the results: the printed PVC mesh scores an incredible 10 points out of a possible 10. The big building is 100% kind of camouflaged!

You can see why Powerfuel gave themselves full marks for this. Not only has the printed PVC mesh magically vanished the building, like some kind of David Blaine stunt, it’s also made all the smoke from the chimney disappear. McNab must have been high-fiving himself after finding out that he’d given himself a maximum 10 points out of 10 for his own exterior wall option (option 4). Has there ever been a camouflage rating this high awarded by someone to himself? I doubt it.

10 out of 10. A nonsense score on a completely made-up scale.

10 out of 10 is the kind of score a parent would give a child in a game of hide-and-seek. Not a company hoping to construct a £100m waste management centre and rubbish burner.

10 out of 10 is what you might give a 9 year old if you were marking his skill at making pictures on his computer, and saw that he was struggling and wanted to give his confidence a boost. And “camouflage rating” is a scale you’d make up if you were hoping no one would read your planning application too carefully.

Of course, Powerfuel Portland are forgetting the best possible way of camouflaging the incinerator and making it blend seamlessly with its surroundings. Not to build it.

Not building it would get a “camouflage rating” of 11 out of 10. Minimum. Maybe 12. We’d have to check with McNab.


You might have been able, despite the bamboozling power of the PVC mesh to have caught a fleeting glimpse of the lighter part of the incinerator structure, just to the left of the chimney:

Do you see it?

Look closer. Up a bit and to the right. Yes! There it is!

Now, the reason it’s so hard to see against the scrub is that what’s pictured is the “preferred horizontal banding cladding” which, by the use of “horizontal bands comprising angled cleave lines”, cunningly “replicates the exposed limestone cliff face at the top of the escarpment”.

You can see, from McNab’s nephew’s image, how wonderfully

“the angled faces play subtly with the light and shade as it falls across the surface of the building”.

The only problem with this camouflage solution (which sadly is not given a specific “camouflage rating”) is that where it’s located isn’t where the limestone cliff is. So you’re left with a bit of “camouflage” trying to blend in with the wrong background. Like a stick insect on a basketball.

Or like a massive lump of Portland has fallen off and reformed itself into a giant incinerator. Which is probably what people looking at it from the cruise ships will assume. If they manage to see it at all.

Here’s the near-invisible structure from another angle:

Obviously this is all astoundingly ill thought out and crudely presented, but to be fair to Steve McNab and Powerfuel Portland, they presumably put this whole amazing 34-page document together in under 90 minutes, which is under 3 minutes a page, so taking that into account they should award themselves a competency rating of 5/10.

Although McNab should tell his nephew 10/10, so as not to dishearten him.