A High Court judge this morning dismissed the latest, and possibly last, appeal under a Judicial Review by the Stop the Incinerator Campaign against Sutton Council’s decision to grant planning permission for an industrial-scale waste incineration plant to be built on Metropolitan Open Land at Beddington Lane.
The far from unexpected decision resulted in familiar scenes of defiance on the courtroom steps, with Shasha Khan, the Green Party activist, pledging to continue to fight against the scheme, possibly taking the case to the Supreme Court.
Khan’s fight may now also turn its attention to the inner workings of Sutton’s ruling Liberal Democrats, who have been creating a stink of an altogether different kind in the past fortnight, as it emerged that Viridor, the incinerator contractors, had made a gift of £275,000 to a church often used for political meetings by the local LibDems, including Tom Brake, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington for the past 18 years.
Viridor are due to operate the incinerator on behalf of the South London Waste Partnership, made up of four south London boroughs, including Croydon. When the Town Hall was under Tory control, Croydon signed up to the 25-year, £1 billion waste-burning contract with Viridor. In opposition, Labour in Croydon opposed the incinerator.
Since winning the local elections in 2014, though, Labour has gone very quiet in its opposition to the scheme, possibly waiting, Micawber-like, for “something to turn up” in the courtroom. Effectively, waiting for someone else to do their dirty work over this dirty air business.
Such inactivity follows Labour’s “ambition” in their manifesto to make Croydon the “cleanest and greenest borough in London”. They have so far failed to explain how they can reconcile this to being signed up to a contract for a waste incinerator to burn millions of tons of unsorted rubbish, right on the borough boundary, spouting potentially toxic particulates into the air for the next quarter-century.
The revelations about Viridor’s £275,000 “gift”, made by a Sutton council whistle-blower, however, have finally prompted Croydon Council into action. Nearly.
Inside Croydon has had sight of an email from Councillor Stuart Collins, Labour’s cabinet member responsible for the environment.
In response to a letter from the Stop the Incinerator Campaign, Collins wrote:
“Thanks for your email , apologies re not replying immediately I needed to discuss with the Council’s Legal team and Cllr Newman.
“The allegations re the planning process are indeed serious if true, therefore Tony Newman and I are writing to the Leader of Sutton Council asking that they carry out an independent investigation of those allegations.
“If they are proven to be true we will review our position after taking further legal advice re the the [sic] contract Croydon signed with the SLWP.
“Re pulling out now and the costs of breaking the contract the advice is that Viridor will go ahead with or without Croydon. From the financial side whether the cost were 10m or the estimated 60m-80m we simply have not got that money, indeed we are expected to have to make 90m in cuts.”
Collins’ email is instructive on two areas.
First, it confirms that Town Hall policy is being determined not by the elected councillors, but by the council officials, including the same Borough Solicitor who oversaw the decision to take Croydon Council into the SLWP in the first place and the signing of the contract with Viridor. Why did the Borough Solicitor, Julie Belvir, not ensure that there were adequate exit clauses for the borough, her employers, in the agreement?
It is not in the arse-covering interests of the highly paid council officials, such as chief executive Nathan Elvery and legal chief Belvir, to admit they got it so badly wrong and allow for those decisions to be reversed. Not for the first time, the best interests of the people of Croydon, and democracy, appear to be relegated in importance behind the careers of senior council employees.
Collins’s inexactitude over the amount Viridor might demand if Croydon was to exit the incinerator deal is also revealing. It indicates that he really has no clear idea. Others close to the discussions suggest that Collins has quoted other figures on other occasions. “He seems to be making it up as he goes along,” said a source.
But since Collins’s “advice” will be coming from the same chief executive and Borough Solicitor who signed us up for the deal in the first place, this suggests that Elvery and Belvir could be deliberately attempting to intimidate – or bully – Croydon’s elected politicians by scaring them with very large figures.
One fact that we do know is that, if Croydon goes through with the Viridor deal, it will cost the borough £10 million every year, for 25 years, as one-quarter of the operating fees.
That adds up to far more than the suggested penalty clauses, which in any case appear inflated or exaggerated: Viridor will be due very little compensation, since they have yet to put a spade in the ground to build the infernal incinerator. Any compensation which may be due will be for their imagined “loss of earnings”, which is always something which is legally contestable.
But that, it seems, is not the legal advice being provided to Collins, “Micawber” Newman and their elected colleagues. And Labour’s leadership is evidently lacking the wit, or balls, to question the guidance which is being foisted upon them by the very people who got Croydon into this situation in the first place.
- Environment Secretary Davey helps Brake dine out with Viridor
- 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
- Inside Croydon Events: for dates and links to what’s happening in and around Croydon, updated daily, click here
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