Sutton Council has bowed to public pressure and is to look into the controversial £275,000 donation from the charitable arm of Viridor, the industrialists who were granted permission by the local authority to build and operate a massive waste incinerator at Beddington Lane, close to the border with Croydon.
Meanwhile, Nick Mattey, the councillor for Beddington North who bravely blew the whistle on the “gift” from Viridor to a church hall frequently used for LibDem political meetings, faces a disciplinary meeting with the Liberal Democrats tomorrow, where he is expected to be expelled for daring to put the interests of local residents ahead of the party.
The Standards Committee of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Sutton Council will discuss the Viridor Credits’ generous donation to Holy Trinity church in Wallington at its meeting on September 16, it was announced yesterday.
The £275,000 “gift” was allocated to church hall after three LibDem councillors for Wandle Valley ward had run a campaign promoting the Viridor incinerator.
Two of them – John Drage, who stood down as a councillor in 2014, and his wife Elaine Drage – are regulars at the church, and are also “lifelong friends” of the long-time CEO and former chairman of Viridor, Colin Drummond. Purely coincidentally, they would like us to believe.
A third LibDem ward councillor sat as liaison on Viridor Credits at Sutton Council, helping advise how the Viridor largesse should be best spent.
The Drages are long-standing personal sponsors of Tom Brake, the LibDems’ last remaining MP in London, who has also been an enthusiastic promoter the incinerator.
It is expected that Sutton’s Standards Commitee will need to spend some time examining the detail of exactly when John Drage declared his association with Viridor executive Colin Drummond. Drage had been one of Sutton’s two representatives on the South London Waste Partnership – of which Croydon Council is a member – which ultimately awarded a £1 billion, 25-year incinerator operation contract to… Viridor.
The Sutton Standards Committee has included the matter on its agenda in response to a petition, presented by Mattey to the council in July, with nearly 500 signatures.
The petition called for a full and independent inquiry “into the activities of Viridor Credits, Viridor Limited and their relationship with Sutton Council members.
“We want to know why the Council described the incinerator as an ‘Energy Recovery Facility’ and hid its true purpose. We want the Viridor incinerator stopped as vital information about its purpose and environmental impact of the incinerator has been withheld or the information was delivered in a misleading fashion.”
Mattey and the petitioners concluded: “We believe that the London Borough of Sutton has acted contrary to the Nolan principles of ethical standards in public life and has acted against the best interests of residents of Hackbridge and Beddington.”
Shasha Khan is the leading figure in the Croydon and Sutton Green Party who took a legal challenge against the Beddington incinerator to the High Court, but had his claims turned down.
“In the eyes of the law if a council ‘fetters its discretion’ when assessing a planning application, then a High Court judge would rule against it,” Khan told Inside Croydon. “It is unfortunate that due to the restrictive judicial process our legal team couldn’t introduce the £275,000 donation to our case.”
Khan’s legal team didn’t appeal the “fettering of discretion” grounds to the High Court judge, because at that time they didn’t know about the £275,000 “gift”. In the past, other schemes have had to be stopped when incinerator operators have made donations to local projects with even the potential to influence the formal planning process.
So the findings of the Sutton Standards Committee next week could be crucial.
- Leading the “case for the prosecution” at tomorrow’s Liberal Democats’ disciplinary meeting seeking the expulsion from the party for Nick Mattey is expected to be the chairman of Sutton Liberal Democrats… John Drage.
- Read the Sutton Standards Committee agenda here: Public reports pack 16th-Sep-2015 19.30 Standards Committee
- Tom Brake link to £275,000 church donation from incinerator company
- Secretive incinerator scheme is a bad deal, say Sutton Tories
- Sutton official tried to influence vote at incinerator meeting
- Infant death rates on the rise where incinerators operate
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