The unequal courtroom battle between local residents and Sutton Council together with their £1 billion industrial contractors over plans to build an incinerator on Beddington Lane continues at the Royal Courts of Justice today, with no expense spared – from public money – by the local authority to try to squash the wishes of people who don’t want to be forced to breathe polluted air for generations to come.
According to a courtroom wig-count conducted by Shasha Khan, the activist fronting the judicial review, the combined legal teams for Viridor and Sutton in court yesterday could have cost local ratepayers as much as £48,000 for just one day – and that was just in juicy fees to one of two senior “silks”, or Queen’s Counsel.
Khan and the Stop the Incinerator Campaigners who have brought the judicial review were forced to make a 11th-hour appeal for more money via Inside Croydon earlier this week to raise £5,000 just to be allowed to bring their case to court.
The campaign’s case nearly floundered because of the high costs of obtaining legal representation. Recent reports have suggested that the most senior barristers, QCs, can charge up to £8,000 per hour for their services as advocates. And Sutton and Viridor turned up in The Strand yesterday each with a QC at the head of their expensively assembled law teams. Much of the legal bill will be paid by the Council Tax-payers of Sutton, and possibly their partners in the South London Waste Partnership, including Croydon.
If the protestors lose their case, though, it is likely that the judge will receive applications for Viridor and Sutton that the campaigners should meet their legal bills.
For Khan, yesterday looked like he had turned up for a gun fight armed with a pen knife.
“I count two QCs, one barrister, one lawyer, five Sutton support staff and four Viridor staff,” he said, “against our team of one barrister and two solicitors.
“With such asymmetry in spending power, our Stop the Incinerator Campaign is not really being given a fair chance.”
The case continues today, with the High Court judge, Justice Patterson, hearing arguments from Viridor and Sutton’s army of lawyers. The judge will then withdraw and deliver her verdict in a few weeks’ time.
Khan’s barrister is Justine Thornton, the wife of Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Yesterday, she laid out the case that Sutton’s approach to the Beddington site was unlawful on four separate grounds.
The council’s approach had altered dramatically shortly before they signed the 25-year contract with Viridor in November 2013, what Thornton described as “a fundamental 180-degree reverse in Sutton’s position”.
The site is part of the Greater London Authority’s London Plan, which was published in 2011; the GLA had specified that by 2023, “the land will be required to be incorporated into the Wandle Valley Regional Park”. Thornton said that Sutton Council had ignored this.
In evidence, Thornton produced two emails written by Sutton Council senior officers and consultants which said that there were other, more appropriate waste disposal sites available, and which conceded that the incinerator would be environmentally damaging.
Thornton told the court that Sutton had failed to consider properly the damage which an incinerator would do to the site, which is on Metropolitan Open Land and would usually be expected to benefit from the same protections as Green Belt.
Thornton said that in 2010, the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs – Defra – cut a £220 million grant to the South London Waste Partnership when it was felt an incinerator in the area was no longer needed to achieve targets for reducing landfill.
Thornton said that the contract signed by Sutton and Viridor last year stipulates that an incinerator should be operating on the site by 2017. This despite the SLWP having identified three sites where waste could be processed, none of which had any outstanding stipulations on them and were owned by councils. One of those sites is Factory Lane in Croydon.
Thornton produced in court an email sent by Sutton planning manager Duncan Clarke which said the alternative sites were more appropriate because they had been safeguarded for waste disposal use “without a time limit”.
The email also said that it “cannot be right” that Sutton should accept Beddington as the only option “simply because Viridor has decided to bring it forward”.
Another email, sent to the GLA in May 2012 from a Sutton Council consultant, Jim Redwood, stated that the incinerator is “visually harmful”, and that there are “other deliverable alternatives”.
The incinerator, according to Redwood’s email, could “adversely impact on Beddington, and possibly other communities”.
Sutton’s QC’s argument was that the opinion of council officers did not reflect the position of the council in any way. She’s obviously never met Croydon’s Nathan Elvery …
The 2023 deadline for clearing the site had presented particular problems for Viridor, which expected to receive £1 billion in fees from the four councils for operating a rubbish-burning incinerator on an industrial scale over a 25-year period.
Thornton said that Viridor had placed Sutton under pressure to get the 2023 date for the vacation of the site altered. “Viridor’s attempt to amend the plan had not worked and it was left in no doubt about the position of Sutton and the other London boroughs,” Thornton told the court. It was then, Thornton said, between May 2013 and April 2013, that Sutton performed its 180-degree U-turn.
The contract between Viridor and the South London Waste Partnership had been signed in November 2012.
“Viridor’s assertion that there is an ‘urgent’ need to divert waste from landfill is not borne out by any waste targets or by the local plan. Nor is this the view of central government.
“The reality of this case is that the decision-making was driven by contractual rather than planning considerations.”
Given that, earlier this year, Sutton Council’s planning committee first rejected the Viridor planning application, before hurriedly re-convening to wave it on through – under what might be seen as unusual circumstances – it will be interesting to see how Viridor manage to argue today that that is not the case.
Coming to Croydon
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- Upper Norwood Library meeting, Oct 13
- David Lean Cinema: Grand Central, Oct 14
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- David Lean Cinema: Finding Vivian Maier, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- Purley War Memorial Hospital health fair, Oct 18
- David Lean Cinema: Mood Indigo, Oct 23
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, 2.30pm, Oct 25
- David Lean Cinema: Ilo Ilo, Oct 28
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- David Lean Cinema: Belle, Oct 30
- NHS free health fair, Central Parade, New Addington, Oct 31
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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