A leading contender for selection by Labour to run for the Mayor of London next year says he will ask whoever is the Environment Secretary in the new Government to conduct an urgent review of all waste incinerator schemes planned to be built in residential areas in London.
Christian Wolmar was speaking after a visit to Croydon Central and Sutton at the weekend to help with the campaigns of Labour candidates Sarah Jones and Emily Brothers respectively.
On his visit, Wolmar heard more about the proposed Beddington Lane incinerator, which is to be operated by Viridor under a £1 billion, 25-year contract for the South London Waste Partnership of four London boroughs, including Croydon and Sutton.
With air quality an increasing concern in the capital, Wolmar said, “Climate change is the greatest challenge facing us today, and already this year, London has endured a week-long incident of dangerously poor quality air.
“Yet some London boroughs continue to pursue schemes to burn their domestic waste on an industrial scale just upwind of densely populated residential areas.”
Wolmar has cycled more than 2,000 miles around the capital in the last three years in pursuit of a campaign to become London Mayor in 2016 on principles of making London a more affordable, liveable and sustainable city. As such, he said he encounters daily some of the worst issues confronting London, with unrestricted increases in traffic levels, dangerous conditions on the roads, and worsening air quality. Around 29,000 people in the UK died prematurely last year as a consequence of poor air quality.
“London under the part-time Tory Mayor has repeatedly been in breach of European Union law on air quality,” Wolmar said.
“The EU Air Quality Directive gives Londoners a right ‘to breathe air that does not seriously damage health’. We have been denied that right under Boris Johnson as London Mayor.
“We began campaigning three years ago around the policy principles of making the capital affordable, liveable and sustainable. London must be a city that the next generation, and the one after that, can live and thrive in – and we will fail generations if we ignore our duty to ensure our air is safe to breathe.”
The issue of the Beddington incinerator has caused controversy in Sutton over the past week, with a councillor for the Liberal Democrats who control the borough being suspended from the group for acting as a whistle-blower about the Viridor deal, and senior members of the party locally, including Tom Brake, being linked to a £275,000 “gift” from Viridor’s charity arm to a local church.
Wolmar is a journalist, author and campaigner who is world-renowned as an expert on public transport. By running for City Hall, it is the first time that he has sought elected office.
Boris Johnson has been the London Mayor since 2008. Johnson appeared to get bored with his London job some time around 2009 (apart from the bit where he got free tickets for the Olympics). He is standing for election in Uxbridge to resume his parliamentary career, and possibly pursue the leadership of the Tory Party.
It was the Mayor of London’s office which gave Viridor the all-clear to build an industrial sized waste incinerator on what is designated Metropolitan Open Land – the urban equivalent of Green Belt. Except that Johnson did not take the decision personally: he was too busy writing the Torygraph newspaper column for which he gets paid what he called “chicken feed” of £250,000 a year, or pursuing another of his vanity projects, and so delegated the Beddington decision to one of his deputies.
Once he is an MP, and depending on what carnage there is in the Tory Party after May 7, Johnson may step down as Mayor of London long before next year’s scheduled elections, in which case there could be a stand-in Mayor for a few months. There’s no clear favourite among the Conservatives as to who will be their candidate for London Mayor, with Michael Gove’s former flat mate, Ivan Massow, or ex-Arsenal and Tottenham footballer, Sol Campbell, among several who have been touted.
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