More evidence has emerged of ties between incinerator operators Viridor and senior members of the Liberal Democrats in Sutton, including Tom Brake, until last month the deputy Leader of the House in the ConDem coalition.
At least three executives from Viridor attended a £100-a-head election fund-raising dinner staged for Brake last month, where the guest speaker was Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
A Sutton Council source suggests that the choice of guest speaker was not intended to be in any way ironic.
And a £1 billion contract for Viridor to burn tons and tons of other people’s waste in a densely populated residential area of south London, on the borough boundary with Croydon, is in any case no laughing matter.
These are turbulent times for LibDem-run Sutton Council, now in meltdown after their Beddington North ward councillor Nick Mattey turned whistleblower. A meeting of Sutton’s full council tonight, held under election purdah limitations, could prove entertaining.
Last week, Mattey revealed that a church in Brake’s parliamentary constituency, used by the LibDems for canvassing and meetings, had benefited from a £275,000 donation from a Viridor off-shoot body.
Brake has been the MP for Carshalton and Wallington since 1997.At the 2010 General Election, surfing the high tide of Nick Clegg’s popularity, he had a 5,000-vote majority.
But he has been assiduous in avoiding any comment on the incinerator. He has barely uttered a word on the topic since his name endorsed a pro-incinerator leaflet distributed by LibDem councillors in the Wandle Valley area in 2013, shortly after Sutton Council controversially granted planning permission for what they insist on euphemistically describing as an “energy recovery facility”.
Last month’s campaign fund-raiser was organised by Brake’s election agent, Elaine Drage. John Drage, her husband, is a former Sutton councillor who is now the local party chairman. John Drage has declared that he is a life-long friend and former business colleague of Viridor’s chief executive, Colin Drummond. For five years, from 2007, John Drage had a seat on the South London Waste Partnership, a body formed by four London boroughs – Sutton, Croydon, Merton and Kingston – to deal with the (literally) mounting issue of domestic waste.
The Drages did not personally attend the Brake fund-raising dinner, which took place at the Mekan Restaurant in Purley on March 11. But according to sources who were at the event, and confirmed by subsequent correspondence, Victor Perez-Mares, a senior communications manager at Viridor’s Kent head office, was present together with two colleagues.
Tom Brake had written to his supporers, encouraging them to attend the dinner:
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the Rt. Hon Ed Davey MP, will be the guest of honour at a fundraising dinner organised to support my re-election campaign.
After an excellent Turkish meal, Ed will speak about national and international energy and climate change challenges as well as the likely outcome of the next General Election.
I do hope you will join us on Wednesday 11th March at 7.30 for 8pm at the Mekan Restaurant, 2 Purley Parade, High Street, Purley, Croydon, CR8 2AB.
Tickets for the dinner are £100 (or £150 for two) which help support my campaign so that I can continue to serve as Carshalton and Wallington’s MP after May’s election – leading on environment issues and making a real difference to our local community…
Last autumn, the Stop the Incinerator Campaign launched a costly legal challenge against the Beddington Lane incinerator, which has been defended by Sutton Council and Viridor. There is a final appeal at the High Court in London next week, on April 28.
Unfortunately for the campaigners, it is most unlikely that the judge in the case be able to consider the long-term dealings between Viridor and key decision-makers on Sutton Council, which stretch back several years.
Council minutes detail a Sutton scrutiny overview committee meeting on November 23, 2010, where then-councillors John Drage and Paddy Kane (both representing Wandle Valley ward) contributed significantly to discussions about Viridor Credits.
Viridor created it its off-shoot organisation in 2001 “to distribute funding to local projects across the UK via the Landfill Communities Fund”. Registered as a charity in Scotland, in England and Wales, Viridor Credits is a not-for-profit, so its company records are not so readily accessible by the public. According to its own website, “To date it has contributed over £80 million to support numerous worthwhile projects around our sites”. Doubtless, such generosity was never intended to influence any decisions relating to Viridor sites.
At the Sutton scrutiny meeting, Kane commented that councillors had little input to decisions allocating money released by Viridor Credits, and asked that representations be made to government to transfer the distributive power to local authorities. Councillor Drage pointed out that current legislation did not allow money to be channelled directly to the council.
A council officer, Annette Madden, pointed out that Sutton Council had previously had representatives on the Viridor Credits board, and recommended that the council ask for a place on the grant distribution board.
Councillor Kane was subsequently appointed to the board, where it seems possible that he would have been involved in the decision to award £275,000 to the Holy Trinity Church in Wallington, which is attended by John and Elaine Drage, which is used by LibDem councillors for surgeries, and used as a base by Brake for canvassing activities.
Kane was first listed as the member on the Viridor Credits board for 2011 and left in 2013. Sutton Council’s website shows that the council still has a representative on the board. In fact, the Sutton Council representative for 2014-2015 on the local Viridor Credits board is ex-councillor John Drage.
- Ex-LibDem councillor claims coercion over £1bn incinerator decision
- Tom Brake link to church donation from incinerator company
- Dear LibDems: I remain a liberal, a democrat and a councillor
- The brave letter that got Sutton councillor suspended
- Nick Clegg feels the heat from anti-incinerator protesters
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