Just six months in to their new administration, and the Town Hall’s Labour leadership has confirmed that its “ambitious” promise “to make Croydon the cleanest and greenest borough in London” is in shreds, as they have abandoned all opposition to the Beddington Lane incinerator without so much as a whimper.
Council leader Tony Newman ran up the white flag in the Town Hall chamber on Wednesday night. Without much prompting, he said, “Notwithstanding the current legal situation with it,” referring to the on-going appeal over the Judicial Review against the incinerator taken to the High Court by local Green activists, “it’s clear we’ve been left with a situation where it would cost not an insignificant sum of money to get out of a contract.”
The contract is that between the South London Waste Partnership, or SLWP, made up of Croydon and three other boroughs, and Viridor, for them to build and operate an industrial plant to burn waste.
Newman and his fellow Labour cabinet members have so far refused to reveal what penalty clauses, if any, may exist in the contract were Croydon to withdraw.
“From discussions that I’ve had with, among others, the leader of Sutton Council, it is quite clear to me that whatever Croydon Council’s position is, we should remind ourselves that this [the incinerator] is not in fact in Croydon, it’s under the planning authority of Sutton, and that whatever position we take, the incinerator will be built,” Newman said.
“We could make a gesture, if you like, and pull out of the South West London Waste Partnership [sic], but then we could then find ourselves in the absurd situation of having to pay more money to use the thing if it’s built anyway.” Part of the opposition to building a waste incinerator is that there is already an over-capacity of incinerators in south-east England, and that with ever-improving recycling rates, there will be even less need for Croydon to use any new facility. It seems odd that Newman has forgotten this.
But this is all further evidence, if any were needed, that Newman and his Labour cabinet have “gone native” since taking office, and are now implementing exactly the same policies which were originally formulated under the previous, Conservative administration, largely by council executives such as Nathan Elvery, now the council chief executive.
As recently as April, Newman and his cabinet colleagues, including head of T-shirts Stuart Collins, had proudly launched a manifesto which said, “Croydon’s Conservative council has ignored the views of local people … by supporting an incinerator at Beddington Lane. Labour has always opposed this; a truly green council would never support the building of an incinerator that will be a potential health risk on its border, particularly one so close to residential areas.”
Collins, a councillor for Broad Green, one of the wards closest to the proposed site of the incinerator, had until the local elections been a regular attendee at anti-incinerator demonstrations organised by the Stop the Incinerator Campaign. Now, Councillor Collins sits on the board of the SLWP.
According to Newman, Croydon is better off inside the incinerator tent, pissing out, than outside, pissing in. “I think the judgement we have to make is how we get ourselves in a position where we can be in the room and negotiating. If – and it’s still an ‘if’ I’d suggest – the incinerator is built, we need to be in the room negotiating for the people of Croydon and not having other London boroughs telling us what they are and aren’t doing. But there’s a way to go on that one yet, I’d suggest.”
Although the incinerator at Beddington Farmlands will be built in Sutton, the prevailing winds mean that most of the time the plant’s potentially toxic exhaust will be carried over large areas of north Croydon, blighting the homes, schools and hospitals – and perhaps even shopping malls – in the area.
The Viridor contract with the SLWP – comprising Kingston, Sutton and Merton, all happily for them upwind of the incinerator – is worth £1billion over a 25-year term. That suggests that each borough – Croydon included – will be paying Viridor £250 million. That works out at a cool £10 million per year for the term of the deal. That sounds like what Tony Newman might circumlocute as “not an insignificant sum of money”.
Yet missing from the council’s new budget is any mention of the financial impact of the Beddington incinerator.
Newman’s suggestion that it would be too expensive for Croydon to quit the Viridor deal is contradicted by the Labour council’s first budget, which shows that they have been prepared to buy their way out of some of the most unattractive parts of its financial arrangements with Laings for Fisher’s Folly, the new council offices built by the Tories.
Newman’s council has found more than £20 million to get out of one tranche of expensive debt due to be paid to their private equity partner and co-developer. Could any incinerator penalty clauses be as costly?
Of course, Labour are not the first political group in Croydon to break election promises over the incinerator. The Tories did much the same in 2010, when they promised to oppose the building of any incinerator “in or on the borders of Croydon”. Mere months later, Croydon’s Tory councillors all voted to sign the SLWP contract with Viridor.
So it was an instance of the greatest hypocrisy at the last full council meeting when Councillor Phil Thomas – who had supervised Croydon’s involvement in the incinerator deal when he was the Tory cabinet member responsible – had the ruddy-faced cheek to ask why the Labour council wasn’t delivering on its promise to campaign against the smoking euphemism that is the “Energy Recovery Facility”.
Newman ducked the question then, claiming that the Judicial Review case made the matter sub judice. Which it is not.
It is not clear whether Collins, Thomas’s Labour successor, has yet been allowed to see a full, unredacted version of the Viridor contract. Collins told Green campaigner Shasha Khan at the last council meeting that, “Access to the unredacted version of the contract between the Council and Viridor in respect of the proposed incinerator (Energy Recovery Facility – ERF) plant at Beddington Lane is restricted to certain officers and Members within the Council which includes officers from the Council’s Waste management services, legal and finance.”
On Wednesday, responding to a request from Andrew Pelling, Newman – with Elvery seated alongside him – readily gave an undertaking to provide the Waddon councillor with an unredacted version of the incinerator contract. Newman then added, “subject to advice from officers”; we can guess what that means.
It seems that whoever gets elected, it is the officials who run the council and think nothing of stopping councillors from accessing detailed documents which in many cases commit Council Tax-payers to bills worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Alternatively, we are lumbered with elected councillors without the gumption to stand up to the officials, so that a budget can be set to allow our council to cancel the Virdor contract and so protect the health of Croydon’s children and children’s children.
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema, Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Dec 29
- David Lean Cinema, The Beat Beneath My Feet, Dec 30
- David Lean Cinema, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Jan 3
- David Lean Cinema, Mr Turner, Jan 8
- David Lean Cinema, Leviathan, Jan 13
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, The 78 Project Movie, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, Hannah Arendt, Jan 20
- David Lean Cinema, The Imitation Game, Jan 22
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- David Lean Cinema, Night Will Fall, Jan 27 (Holocaust Memorial Day)
- David Lean Cinema, Kon-Tiki, Jan 29
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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