A Sutton Council planning meeting last night refused to approve plans to build a waste incinerator on its border with Croydon, at Beddington Lane, a stunning reversal for the powers of big business.
Ahead of the meeting, with the Sutton Council officers recommending that the Viridor proposals be accepted, the decision seemed likely to be a foregone conclusion.
“It feels like we were up on the gallows and all out of the blue someone has shot the rope and set us free,” said Shasha Khan, the local Green party activist who may have seen one-too-many John Wayne movies.
But we know what he means. There was an immense sense of stunned relief among the residents attending the packed meeting, staged in the library at the Sutton civic centre.
They had just witnessed more than two hours of some often impassioned submissions, almost all of them against the incinerator plans. It was a meeting that might even offer some hope for local democracy, as some of the Sutton councillors actually seemed to respond to the arguments made, rather than merely vote on pre-determined party lines.
The planning committee chair opted not to use the casting vote, and so deferred the decision. Had the planning permission been refused, it was likely to lead to an appeal by Viridor – which has plenty of money, mainly ours, to burn since this scheme brings with it £1billion-worth of dirty business over two decades.
By deferring the decision, it means that the same parties and interest groups will gather again and go through the whole, often tense and fraught, meeting some time later this year.
The decision is a set-back from the Conservative group that controls Croydon Council. Re-elected in 2010 with a pledge to oppose any incinerator being built in or near the borough, Croydon’s Tories subsequently broke that election promise to support the Viridor scheme.
Yet it was Sutton Tories last night who voted to block the scheme, going against the majority of Liberal Democrats on Sutton’s “development control committee”. The key vote against came from Stephen Fenwick, a LibDem from Worcester Park ward, who defied his local group’s policy of backing the incinerator.
With elections coming up in a year’s time, some councillors will have been mindful of their responsibilities to residents, especially those from wards closest to the planned site or likely to suffer the bulk of the HGV lorry traffic, which would transport ton-upon-ton of other people’s rubbish to the site to be burned, and then have to be transported away as ash.
The voting was as follows:
In favour: Mary Burstow (LibDem, Cheam), Stanley Theed (LibDem, Wallington North), John Leach (LibDem, Beddington North).
Against: Graham Whitham (Con, Cheam), Eric Allen (Con, Nonsuch), Stephen Fenwick (LibDem, Worcester Park).
Abstained: Monica Coleman (LibDem, Wallington South), Margaret Court (LibDem, Wandle Valley).
Despite there being just a single item to debate, the agenda for the meeting ran to more than 100 pages, including submissions from the broad alliance of environmental groups and residents’ associations that opposed the plans, including the London Wildlife Trust (the scheme will build upon precious Metropolitan Open Land), East Coulsdon RA, Merton Friends of the Earth and the RSPB.
The outcome represents a considerable campaigning achievement for the Stop the Incinerator group, in which the Green party – despite not having a single elected councillor in Croydon or Sutton – played a lead role.
“The details revealed serious concerns over health, traffic impacts and the change of recycling rates,” Khan said after the meeting.
Among those who spoke against the scheme was Stuart Collins, the Labour councillor for Broad Green ward in Croydon, one of the areas likely to be worst affected by the fumes and smoke belched out from the 95-metre tall chimneys proposed for the incinerator at Beddington Lane.
Collins cast strong doubt over some of the figures which Viridor presented over the number of lorries required to deliver the rubbish from Kingston, Merton and across south-east England just to keep feeding the beast that is the incinerator.
“If you can’t trust their sums on the number of lorries, how can you trust them on impact on air quality?” Collins asked pointedly.
Collins’s Labour leader on Croydon Council, Tony Newman, has already called for Labour-run Merton to abandon its support for the incinerator scheme. The outcome of last night’s meeting will add weight to that move.
“I am calling on all involved in this appalling proposal to pause and think long and hard about whether they want to continue with this incinerator plan that will inflict extra levels of pollution upon the people of Croydon,” Newman said this morning.
“Croydon Tories broke their election pledge not to inflict this incinerator upon us and they should now apologise for the anxiety and distress this issue has caused the people of Croydon.”
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- UK incinerator plans? They’re just rubbish. (independent.co.uk)