Sutton Council looking to run energy company with Viridor

Sutton Council has been trying to register a commercial company that would manage the energy produced by the Beddington Lane incinerator – even before the proposals from Viridor have received planning permission from … Sutton Council.

Sutton councillor John Drage: no role in the planning decision for the Viridor incinerator. Just best mates with the Viridor CEO

Sutton councillor John Drage: no role in the planning decision for the Viridor incinerator. Just best mates with the Viridor CEO

The decision on the Beddington Lane incinerator was deferred last month, when Sutton councillors on a development committee reached a split decision on the controversial scheme. A second meeting has been hurriedly arranged for tomorrow night, with growing concerns from residents about the influence of Sutton LibDem councillor John Drage, who admits to being a long-standing friend and former business colleague of Viridor’s chief executive, Colin Drummond.

Drage, a councillor for Wandle Valley, has been on Sutton Council since 2006. He has properly declared his association with Drummond, who he says he has known  over five decades, and from whom he has received gifts, gone to concerts and been a guest at dinner.

In a letter to a resident, Drage wrote that, “My role, as one of the elected local ward councillors for Wandle Valley (which includes Hackbridge), is to relay the views of my constituents about the proposed ERF… ” (that’s the bland euphemism adopted by Sutton LibDems and Croydon Tories, which stands for Energy Recovery Facility, rather than use the more frank name of incinerator) “… and also, at the same time, to try to make a balanced assessment out of all of the available evidence.”

He states that, “When commenting in public on any matters to do with Viridor I declare a ‘non-pecuniary’ interest due to my personal friendship with Colin Drummond. I did this at the development control committee meeting on April 24. I first met Colin in 1975 when we were then working for the same organisation. Since then he has held many different positions prior to taking on his current role as CEO of Viridor.”

Drage claims not to exercise influence over the planning process, saying, “I neither sit on the council’s environment and neighbourhoods committee which has responsibility for waste collection and disposal, nor on the development control committee which will decide whether or not to grant planning permission for the construction of the ERF.”

Somewhat conveniently, though, Drage omits to mention his place on Sutton Council’s strategy and resources committee.

As bezzie mates with Drummond, Drage will doubtless be very aware that unless Viridor can demonstrate that the Beddington Lane incineration plant will provide energy for local homes in Sutton, the scheme will likely fail the Mayor of London’s carbon emission directives.

Boris Johnson: Viridor will have to get their scheme past the Mayor of London on emission grounds

Boris Johnson: Viridor will have to get their scheme past the Mayor of London on emission grounds

In all its other incinerators elsewhere in England, with the single exception of one hospital incineration plant, Viridor has so far failed to sell any waste heat generated. In effect, it means that what Viridor has built elsewhere have ended up being Energy Non-Recovery Facilities, which have done nothing more than belch microscopic particulates into the atmosphere. A multi-million-pound case of generating more heat than light?

These past failures may explain Sutton’s apparent desperation, somewhat belatedly, to establish a commercial business with a view to managing the energy output from the incinerator.

One senior figure at Sutton civic centre told Inside Croydon this week, “It’s Sutton Council’s pay-off for having the incinerator: they get to run the energy business, and any income they can make from it.”

But not only is it doubtful whether Viridor is capable of building an incinerator that “recovers” energy from burning the rubbish, waste and shit from across south-east England, it appears that even Viridor itself is uncertain of its engineering sums with such plants.

Previously, the company had claimed that the Beddington scheme would provide cheap power for 45,000 households. In the company’s leaflets distributed at the weekend, that guesstimate of energy production had been reduced by one-third, to just 30,000 homes. By any standard, that is a significant adjustment in their figures, and ought to cast doubt over the reliability of any of Viridor’s published claims.

Sutton Council has now twice attempted to register Opportunity Sutton Ltd, understood to be the council-owned company which would manage the energy generation business – provided, of course, the incinerator receives planning permission. On both occasions, April 26 and May 7, the application was rejected by Companies House because of “admin errors” in the paperwork submitted by council officials.

Sutton Council’s press office was this week claiming that Opportunity Sutton Ltd was to harness the gases – principally methane – from the existing landfill site operated by Viridor at Beddington Lane and turn them into electricity to sell on to the National Grid.

Talks about this have been going on since 2009, according to the Sutton spokesman. It must be simple coincidence that, with the incinerator plan dependent on  having some energy generation element, Sutton Council has only now got round to trying to set up a company to operate this.

A Sutton Council spokesman, who also happens to work as a press officer for the South-West London Waste Partnership – involving Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston – said that there is as yet no contract between Sutton and Viridor for the energy generation “because we are still at the feasibility stage”.

Which, really, ought to include actually obtaining planning consent first.

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2 Responses to Sutton Council looking to run energy company with Viridor

  1. slightspirit says:

    While I’m not in the least surprised at the level of duplicity shown here, I am nevertheless astounded by the blatant disregard of all the evidence which is stacked against this infernal incinerator and the total disregard of the will of the people who these cretins represent!

    I most sincerely hope and pray that the planning committee have the sense to disallow this unsafe application…

    It seems to me that wherever you look, in whichever Borough you choose, the politicians involved have either broken their manifesto promises or just plain ignored their constituents!

    I am really beginning to despair for democracy ….However at least these underhand dealings are being made public seemingly in the nick of time!

    Thank you Steven Downes.

  2. Taus Larsen says:

    Cllr Drage is also Chair of the Hackbridge Community Forum and has hosted a number of presentations from Viridor. These were promoted as impartial debates, but he as chair never declared this relationship with Drummond. I recall that he did stress his own impartiality, but I always felt he was ‘on their side’ so to speak, just a feeling I had. This news seems to confirm the root of this hunch.
    Taus Larsen

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