Part B agenda, but no Plan B, at councils’ incinerator meeting

WALTER CRONXITE, our man with the Army surplus gas mask and an anologue stopwatch, was at a controversial Town Hall meeting last night. But not for long…

Stuart Collins, the deputy leader of Croydon Council and cabinet member in charge of slogans and T-shirts, last night called for the South London Waste Partnership to have a a Plan B ready, as an alternative to the Viridor incinerator that is proposed to be built in Beddington, not far from Croydon town centre.

Stuart Collins: the South London Waste Partnership has no Plan B

Stuart Collins: the South London Waste Partnership has no Plan B

The SLWP had moved its regular meeting to Croydon Town Hall, ostensibly to hold it in public and to take questions from the floor. The entire public part of the meeting lasted no more than 25 minutes, of which only 10 minutes was given over to public questions, and only one person was allowed to ask anything. And even then, the questioner was strictly restricted to exclude any mention of the leaked confidential report published yesterday, in which Viridor is demanding a bigger incinerator plant at Beddington than their planning permission allows.

Collins is a Labour councillor for central Croydon’s Broad Green ward, whose residents are downwind of Viridor’s proposed facility. He has a seat on the SLWP, a partnership made up of the four boroughs paying for the scheme, and he made the call for the Plan B during the short public part of the meeting. Once the committee got to its own secret, or Part B, part of the agenda, the public were cleared from the room and the vast majority of the meeting was held in private.

Collins’ call came after a massive question mark was raised over the prospects for the burning of rubbish upwind of Croydon town centre, where another “partnership”, that of Hammerson and Westfield, wants to build a £1 billion shopping mall. The accidentally published SLWP reports indicate that Viridor find the planning permission given to them by Sutton Council too restrictive in terms of size and hours of operation for the incinerator.

Councillors from the other boroughs – Kingston and Merton complete the quartet – appeared confident that the incinerator would progress and did not support Collins’ proposals.

Collins also called for the next agenda for the partnership to include a paper on the air quality implications of the incinerator. Another Labour councillor, Andrew Judge, Merton Council’s cabinet member for “environmental sustainability and regeneration” and a parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon, countered that the partnership had been thoroughly conscientious about considering air quality issues before awarding the contract, long before Collins’ appointment to the partnership after Labour’s local election victory in Croydon in May last year.

Collins may have been motivated to seek air quality’s inclusion for discussion at the next meeting to allow any members of the public to raise air quality questions. With nothing on air quality on the agenda for this meeting about a waste incinerator to be constructed in a built-up, residential area, no questions were allowed to be asked on that subject last night.

Questions were limited specifically to what was on the agenda. With the vast majority of the agenda not available to the public, you either had to be a clairvoyant or rely on Kingston Council to continue erroneously publishing the whole agenda to know what was on a mainly hidden agenda.

Incinerator campaigner Dave Pettener was the only questioner allowed to speak within the time available and he was told by the chair when he raised issues reported in the press about Viridor’s concern about the planning application that he was not to talk about issues that should not be in the public domain. Green Party activist Shasha Khan, local resident Ian Hunter and Waddon’s three local councillors were unable to speak to the meeting within the 10-minute guillotine.

“How can I not have my questions answered in a public meeting?” Pettener said. “The bulk of this meeting is being held behind closed doors. These people are supposed to be public officers and we are not being allowed to hold them to account.”

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4 Responses to Part B agenda, but no Plan B, at councils’ incinerator meeting

  1. Another fine example of transparency and democracy. This Part B nonsense has existed for many years: It is a godsend for shifty councillors and senior officers who wish to evade public scrutiny. It should be banned. The public pays the piper through taxation; at the very least it has the right to know what tune is being played for its money.
    And in this case, there are some straight questions that need to be answered about air quality and about the need for this incinerator at all.
    Is the air eminating from the incinerator really cleaner than the air around it?
    And is there any need for another incinerator in the south-east, or can we make better use of the ones already built?

  2. The air quality issues have always been serious and I would guide interested readers to the welcome section of Stop the South London Incinerator, where that infernal nuisance SMOGBAD has put in some important posts.
    1 the site resembles Gatwick, which is where the windrose is taken from (I don’t think so). This determines the supposed dispersions of the harmful metal levels (Viridor’s own levels).
    2 there are actually four chimneys planned in the Wandle Valley devlopment site…but no one does joined up thinking, do they?
    3 the daily lorry movements are underestimated. The lorries emit greater pollution than manufacturers tests show (they cheat).
    4. The infant mortality figures near Colnbrook (their other incinerator, licensed to burn radioactive waste) have shot up since the burn started there. This cannot be explained by a whole new deprived, smoking, teenage pregnant population moving there in the period under study.
    5 When there is a serious pollution accident, it is made to disappear from the officially viewable figures !
    6 The EAC Commons committee has published two major reports on air pollution in London and its effects. Your children,in their walk to school are already at risk….the incinerator and its lorries and Hammersfield and population growth will make it worse. Permanent lung damage is agreed,the spectre of brain damage is just over the horizon:

  3. Lewis White says:

    I think that the whole SLWP “Plan”- that isn’t a real Plan, exposes a massive hole at the core of Planning as practiced in England. The informed public are excluded when it come to access to put their views in public –in detail– with their reasons— to decision makers. It really needed a Public Inquiry into the whole subject of disposing of SW London’s waste. Instead we got an “Examination in Public. The public were actually superfluous– only one or two were allowed to briefly speak. Such an Inquiry would have exposed the fact that the municipal waste stream is reducing as a result of recycling. It would have required traffic modelling which would have revealed the fact that the proposed Beddington Lane facility would suck in hundreds of thousands of Tonnes of private waste from North East Surrey, and could have looked at the genuine traffic flows resulting. . It could have looked at the feasibility of recycling and taking residual waste out by rail to be burned not in London but at power stations sited well away from conurbations. It could have looked that health aspects of burning, relative to the health aspects of landfilling and recycling. It could have looked at the costs of poor health.

    Perhaps fittingly for an Incinerator, all we got were smoke and mirrors.

    I hope that it is not too late to stop the Incinerator.

  4. joeycan says:

    I returned, very angry, from Croydon Town Hall on 17th February 2015, having witnessed a farce, dressed-up in the guise of democracy. The SLWP meeting, chaired by Merton, having announced a total of ten minutes of Committee time was to be given over to public questions on matters not on its Agenda for the evening, proceeded to confirm that the word ‘flexibility’ did not exist in its vocabulary.

    The Committee were treated to a diatribe of questions from one persistent questioner arising from the inappropriate release of classified Partnership documents into the public domain. The pot-shots which, of course, no self-respecting council body would entertain when its ‘dirty linen escaped from the wash’, were ignored, as were other technical questions from said questioner with a large axe to grind, because no expert was at the meeting to respond to them.

    With most of the allocated time being taken up by this one individual, the Chairperson had no option but to remind him,on no less than three occasions that other people wished to speak. Eventually, as he left the microphone, the gathering were told that the ten-minute question time was at an end and no further questions could be entertained.

    One frustrated putative questioner, Mr Hunter, a Croydon resident left, having passed a copy of his unasked questions to the local Surrey Comet reporter in the hope that its points might feature
    somehow in the report of the meeting. Sadly, the Comet article, which I saw today (21 Feb.), while commenting on the amount of released information on the dubious policies surrounding the approval of the Incinerators planning proposal, obviously felt that Mr Hunter’s questions were too contentious even for that paper, which was currently relishing the discomfort of the SLWP and Kingston Council in particular.

    A copy of the questions did, however, come into my possession and it is clear to me that they could have been a useful map on the route the SLWP may be obliged to travel. In his preamble Mr Hunter made two points; the first concerned the fine which might be imposed on Croydon Council by VIRIDOR were the council to withdraw from the Partnership. Councillor Stuart Collins, in attendance at the meeting as Croydon’s representative on the Partnership, thought a penalty of about £70M might result; a sum that exercised Croydon Council Leader, Tony Newman when, not so long ago, he said, during a debate on the Beddington Incinerator, “it is clear we have been left with a situation where it would cost not an insignificant sum to get out of the Contract”.

    Mr Hunter’s second point, leading to his two-part question, which I refer to below, addressed the issue which all the councils in the SLWP face, namely that “in supporting VIRIDOR’s construction of the Incinerator all four councils tacitly accepted responsibility for the consequences, Medical, Financial and Legal, of that support”.

    Question one: In order to prevent such a penalty falling on the residents of all 4 boroughs in one large block of expense which would disrupt all forward planning for years, and bearing in mind the precedent set by Croydon Council who secured an advantageous loan from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) and passed it to Messrs J Laings, thus avoiding a £94M increase in an, already over-priced, Bernard Wetherill house, will you please explain why such a loan, with a suitably long pay-back, could not, in principle,be sought before a final decision on the Incinerator is made, in order to protect the borough’s residents from such a charge?, and secondly

    Would the Councils seek a PWLB loan to protect themselves from court costs if residents, adversely affected by the discharged particulates, were to resort to litigation for compensation – money which all four councils will not have forecasted in their budgets, thus leaving their residents to pay twice, once for the cost of building a needless unhealthy Incinerator and, again, to compensate themselves through their councils, from the effects of the emissions?

    I have not seen a copy of the Partnership agreement, although senior officers on Croydon Council have, in particular Tony Newman, Stuart Collins and the Council’s legal adviser Julie Belvir. Even Andrew Pelling, Councillor for Waddon, was promised an un-redacted copy of the report by Mr Newman in response to a question in Council, although it was caveatted by the usual spin “subject to advice from officers”. I wonder if Andrew ever did get an un-modified copy?

    My dictionary’s definition of a Contract is “a legally enforceable agreement for the supply of goods or performance of work at a fixed cost”.

    I am not a legal eagle but I have pondered the following:
    a). If SLWP have a contract under which VIRIDOR are obliged to undertake work in a mutually agreed manner, when did the Company conclude that they had not got the deal they thought they had and how long have the SLWP been aware of this situation?
    b). Why should a mutually agreed contract amounting to £1Billion of taxpayers money over 25 years allow ‘wriggle-room’ to change major issues without re-commencing the entire bidding process?
    c). How can VIRIDOR say, outside of a court ruling in their favour, that they are not obliged to proceed to the construction of their proposed facility and at the same time threaten to penalise four boroughs for their own (VIRIDOR’s ) failure to read the words of the contract carefully.

    I have three final thoughts:
    a). In one way, I suppose, Croydon Council could not realistically ‘go it alone’ and secede from the Partnership without consequences. If the Incinerator is built, notwithstanding any protection afforded through a PWLB loan, waste material for it will still come through the borough by HGV, weakening bridges, highways and creating noise and pollution. So we will still be losers.
    b). It seems perverse to mention it, but the successful (hopefully not!) construction of a throughway from the A232 East of Croydon, via the existing Fly-Over and the new bridge to the A232 West of Croydon Centre, will become ‘the road to hell!’ used, as Lewis White says, “to suck in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of private waste from North East Surrey”. I hope the planners of that route are ensuring its long-term structural viability for the type of vehicle (not car) that will use it constantly.
    c). The prevailing wind across the borough may be South Westerly, thus dispersing particulates from the VIRIDOR chimneys across North East and North Croydon, but it also blows from other directions, from the North and especially from the East.

    Residents of Sutton, Merton and Kingston will not escape!

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