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.
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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