The council incinerator report Sutton didn’t want you to see

THE COVER-UP: Last month, we reported how a “cheap energy” scheme that Sutton Council wants to force on to Barratt’s Felnex development at Hackbridge is based on a big, juicy lie.

Here, WALTER CRONXITE uncovers the report which shows that Viridor’s £1bn incinerator was never as good a deal as they told the planning authorities

Sue Riddlestone: BioRegional's report

Sue Riddlestone: BioRegional’s CEO and key witness to Sutton’s incinerator decisions

Individual homes in a Barratt’s housing project could each face additional bills amounting to £10,000 if they are linked to a heating network as proposed by Sutton Council, according to a suppressed official report.

The Liberal Democrat councilors who run Sutton even expect the unfortunate residents of the supposedly ecologically friendly Felnex development to pay for their fuel supplies from the Viridor incinerator under construction at Beddington at a rate seven times greater than the council itself pays its energy suppliers.

The incinerator is being built as part of a 25-year deal, worth £1 billion, with the South London Waste Partnership, a body created by Croydon, Sutton, Kingston and Merton councils. Planning permission was granted by Sutton, where the incinerator is sited, only after extensive official lobbying, in which the case was made that rather than just burning rubbish, the Viridor plant would be an “Energy Recovery Facility”, an ecologically friendly marvel that would provide cheap heating for homes in Sutton and Croydon, thus balancing out any environmental damage caused through emissions and pollution.

But a report by Sutton Council’s own partner, BioRegional, demolishes any  idea of a financially viable heat network in Hackbridge. Mysteriously, Sutton Council chose to ignore this fully costed and well-argued report, and have allowed it to gather dust, in the hope that no one would notice. Hard luck, Sutton…

When, in November 2011, SLWP named Viridor as its preferred bidder for a 25-year £1-billion waste contract, it started a series of reports and consultations. These ensured Sutton Council would choose blighted Beddington as the site for the incineraror

On March 6, 2012, Sutton’s scrutiny committee met to discuss the waste contract and the Viridor incinerator proposal. Sue Riddlestone, the chief executive and co-founder of BioRegional, was a key witness.

BioRegional is a Hackbridge-based environmental charity that was already working closely with Sutton to deliver its “One Planet Sutton” scheme.

Riddlestone told that important committee that BioRegional had asked for a meeting with Viridor, to be chaired by the local MP, Tom Brake, at which they wanted to learn more about the “energy recovery facility”. She also criticised Sutton for its poor recycling rate of just 35 per cent. The higher the recycling rate, Riddlestone reasoned, the less an incinerator can have to burn.

Riddlestone’s written report stated that, “BioRegional was not an expert on this type of technology and there are several questions on health that need to be clarified.” She also expressed a preference for the community to have a stake in any district heat network.


The text of Sue Riddlestone’s report to Sutton’s scrutiny committee in March 2012


The final scrutiny committee report was presented to Sutton Council on May 8, 2012, where it was adopted. The report emphasised that “the Council support the development of a decentralised energy network that benefits the local community in Hackbridge and Beddington in particular as part of the proposed Energy Recovery Facility.” Or what is known, in plain English, as the incinerator.

But all was not what it seemed.

When Riddlestone stated in evidence that her organisation had no expertise in the field of the impact of pollutants that emanate from an incinerator’s 300-foot-tall chimneys, two of BioRegional’s consultants were simultaneously working with Cherwell District Council in Oxfordshire. They were preparing a report on a heat from waste network from the proposed incinerator at Ardley to be built by… you’ve guessed it, Viridor.

Those consultants, Nicole Lazarus and Joanna Marshall-Cook, were BioRegional’s representatives on the Eco Bicester Strategic Delivery Board, and had been working on the scheme since 2010.

caption here

BioRegional had been working on Viridor incinerator schemes before Beddington

This conveniently overlooked fact was not the only occurrence of forgetfulness from BioRegional regarding its expertise in local heat networks.

Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader will see from this extract of the Bicester report that a heat network will save 50,000 tons of CO2 per year. That would require connecting to around 40,000 homes. The problem with that is that the only around 30,000 people live in Bicester. Never let the facts get in the way of claims for the environmental benefits of a vast rubbish burner, eh?

While Riddlestone was addressing Sutton Council, her BioRegional team completed a report entitled Retrofitting District Heating Systems: Creating Replicable Retrofit Models in Hackbridge.

The existence of this report has only just been revealed by Sutton councillor Nick Mattey. Mattey has developed an uncanny knack of digging up material about the Viridor incinerator which Sutton Council appears to want to bury with their land fill – Mattey’s campaigning actions have seen the embarrassed LibDems who control Sutton get him expelled from their party. All you wanted to know about heat networks but were afraid to ask

All you wanted to know about heat networks but were afraid to ask

BioRegional’s detailed and thorough report was funded by The Climate Change Collaboration, an arm of the Sainsbury family charitable trust.

It carries Sutton Council’s logo on the cover and was based around the Hackbridge “zero carbon suburb” that was part of BioRegional’s idealistic partnership with Sutton.

It is inconceivable that Sutton Council did not know about the report or its content. It was published in April 2012.

A press release issued on May 1 that year by BioRegional stated: “the study would define a retrofit strategy for Hackbridge, and looked at the cost and delivery implications for a district heat network”.

The report includes analysis and detailed costings for such a scheme and addresses the practical problems that would snag any proposed heat network. By this time, proposals to build Felnex, a new-build of 725 homes and a supermarket, were already well-formed. Felnex homes were targeted as the ideal recipients of any district heat network.

But the report with Sutton Council’s badge on it concludes that for any scheme to be economically viable and environmentally sustainable, the heat from the incinerator would have to be almost cost-free. It said that retrofitting a heat exchanger to existing properties would require large subsidies. Typically, a connection cost of £2,500 per flat would have to be spent.

In other words, any prospective customers for retro-fitting the heat network would have to throw away their existing boiler, pay Sutton Council £2,500 to be connected to the “cheap heat” system, and then look forward to spending up to £300 extra per year for decades to come their heating.

Such conclusions are clearly damning.

While supplying energy to a new build might just about scrape by – and this, mind, at 2012 energy prices – the report concluded that retro-connecting any further properties was pure folly.

It said: “The overall heat demand is not sufficient to generate enough profit over 25 years to match the initial investment, even if the heat could be bought for 1p per kWh.”

The Sutton Council report which ought to have damned the heat network as not viable, and therefore rendered the incinerator unsustainable environmentally

The Sutton Council report which ought to have damned the heat network as not viable, and therefore rendered the incinerator unsustainable environmentally

The report suggested that other energy measures, such as insulation, would be better investments. This makes obvious sense, as in 2012 very few of Sutton Council’s own properties then met recommended standards for insulation and energy efficiency. Even today, according to Sutton, none of its 6,000 council properties reach A+, A or B ratings.

Meanwhile, in July 2012, as part of its planning application for the incinerator, Viridor produced a planning support statement which combined reports from consultants including Mouchel from 2010, one produced by Fichtner in July 2012, and others from ERM and Lagan.

It is the Fichtner element of the report that is concerning.

Viridor's own planning support submission, which included troubling cost conclusions from their own consultants

Viridor’s own planning support submission, which included troubling cost conclusions from their own consultants

The BioRegional report states that: “In order to pay off the capital investment within 25 years, an additional £150-£300 per flat would be required per year.”

The Fichtner report was long, and very frothy.

It trumpeted an annual return of 15per cent, a £6.6million per year income stream, and bare bones figures on a minimal £1.5million infrastructure investment required by the “Esco”, or energy supply company, now nominally Sutton Decentralised Energy Network (SDEN).

The proposed residential end user cost for energy was given as 4.2p per kWh, with Viridor supplying at 1.5p per kWh.

This now seems like a complete fantasy, as Sutton Council’s latest SDEN financial model suggested a 14.4p per kWh end user tariff is needed. Sutton admitted at Monday’s council meeting that it pays less than 2p per kWh for its own energy bills.

These alarm bells should have been ringing four years ago.

No where was there any real detail on the thorny problem of actual costs in delivering a heat network to new-builds or, especially, retrofitting old buildings, the basis upon which the claims for the long-term returns were made.

Viridor claimed that the Fichtner report demonstrated a strong plan for district heating, with more than enough customers available to generate income and a return of 15 per cent to justify the infrastructure investment required.

The Fichner report should have set the alarm bells ringing long ago

The Fichtner report should have set the alarm bells ringing long ago

Consultants hired by Viridor, unsurprisingly, stated that there's a strong case for the Viridor scheme

Consultants hired by Viridor, unsurprisingly, stated that there’s a strong case for the Viridor scheme

The report carefully over-stated demand for the heat network, and understated its likely costs

The report carefully over-stated demand for the heat network, and understated its likely costs


But these statements contradicted the earlier BioRegional report, which continued to be buried deep on the BioRegional website.

What makes this apparently deliberate sidelining of Sutton Council’s own report with BioRegional even more alarming is a particular extract from the Fichtner report. It describes how Fichtner attended a meeting at the BedZed housing project in Hackbridge – which is supposed to be a environmentally leading scheme, where BedZed stands for Beddington Zero Emissions Development. Geddit?

Also attending the meeting were representatives of Sutton Council, BioRegional and the Hackbridge and Beddington Corner Neighbourhood Group (HNDG). The meeting – which must have taken place earlier in 2012 – discussed how BedZed itself, where BioRegional is based, could link to the heat, and identified several sites suitable for retrofitting, such as St Helier Hospital and flats in Hackbridge.

This was of course in complete contrast to BioRegional’s own report that decided the economics of retrofitting district heating simply did not work.

Meanwhile, Sutton Council chose to commission a report from academic and AEA Technology consultant Mark Broomfield to scrutinise Viridor’s planning proposals. This centred on the environmental impact and paid little attention to district heat economics. Anyway, Sutton Council’s eyes were already popping at the promise of a juicy 15 per cent return and a £6.6 million business.

The big question is why did Sutton Council completely ignored the report from BioRegional, which carried its own logo, and which that trashed the economical and practical viability of a local heat network in Hackbridge?

And why did BioRegional ignore the results of its own report when dealing with Viridor, Sutton Council’s Scrutiny Overview Committee, and Fichtners?

Intriguingly, when BioRegional’s CEO Riddlestone addressed Sutton’s development control committee in the final stages of the planning process, in May 2013, she did not do so as a BioRegional representative, but as a speaker for the Hackbridge and Beddington neighbourhood group. Was this another attempt to down-play BioRegional’s role in the process, and avoid any attention to its report?

At the planning meeting in May 2013, Sue Riddlestone did not speak on behalf of the council's environmental partners, BioRegional

At the planning meeting in May 2013, Sue Riddlestone did not speak on behalf of the council’s environmental partners, BioRegional


Sutton Council’s spending with BioRegional since 2011 makes for interesting reading. The cold figures might suggest that Sutton Council is the sort of customer which BioRegional would not wish to lose:

2011-2012   £119,454

2012-2013   £258,888

2013-2014   £286,871

2014-2015   £182,951

2015-2016 to date   £6,528

Given Sutton Council’s close relationship with BioRegional, including a large retainer paid for the “One Planet Sutton” promotion and audit, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of other work including the plagued Hackbridge road junction redevelopment, it seems impossible that both parties were unaware of the report’s existence.

A cynic might suggest this is because the report’s conclusions were damaging to Sutton’s and Viridor’s whole plan for a local heat network, but even more damaging to Viridor’s planning application which demanded the inclusion of a combined heat and power network.

It’s worth noting that in late 2014, when BioRegional updated its website – while the Judicial Review into the planning permission granted to Viridor was being prepared to be heard at the High Court – and the reference to Hackbridge was removed from the title of the report’s description. This was not done for other reports, which retained their full descriptions. Odd that.

BioRegional's website removed referenece to "Hackbridge" from its 2012 report

BioRegional’s website removed reference to “Hackbridge” from the title of its 2012 report. This will not have made a search for the document any easier

For future reference, we’ve downlaoded the full report, and it is available here in pdf format.

In terms of governance, it might be rude to suggest that a failure to consider the BioRegional report when putting together its plans for its Sutton Decentralised Energy Network business might be viewed as negligence by Sutton Council.

And what of SDEN’s managing director, Simon Woodward? Surely a man of his expertise and knowledge, as a director of an industry association, the UK District Energy Association, would be aware of the report’s existence, and would have considered it in his vital calculations?

Perhaps of immediate worry to Sutton Council is that the emergence of this suppressed report could have had a significant impact on the Judicial Review which was brought by Croydon Green Party activist Shasha Khan.

Khan challenged the planning permission on several grounds, but one was particular to the heating network element of the planning. In rejecting Khan’s Judicial Review appeal, Lord Justice Sullivan said he was “reasonably certain” that a combined heat and power network would be provided, as required by the planning permission, even though the precise routes of the necessary pipelines had not yet been provided.

If his Lordship had been able to see the BioRegional report, would the ruling have been the same?

Inside Croydon understands that Khan is consulting lawyers to ascertain whether the BioRegional report should have been presented by Sutton Council and Viridor under the important evidence discovery rules, and if not, whether there are grounds to review the decision or take an injunction against the council and Viridor, as building work on the incinerator continues at Beddington Lane.

Watch this space.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Environment, Nick Mattey, Refuse collection, Shasha Khan, Sutton Council, Tom Brake MP, Waste incinerator and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The council incinerator report Sutton didn’t want you to see

  1. “While supplying energy to a new build might just about scrape by – and this, mind, at 2012 energy prices – the report concluded that retro-connecting any further properties was pure folly.”
    The local Council stupidity/malpractice becomes clear from your detailed reportage…..BUT THE SITUATION IS EVEN SILLIER.

    ” July 2010
    Greater London Authority Energy from Waste Assessment

    Eunomia undertook five studies on behalf of the Greater London Authority (GLA) to provide comprehensive analysis of Energy from Waste technologies. These were developed to support the publication of a new Municipal Waste Management Strategy in 2010.”

    The GLA held a series of inquiry meetings in public (I was at three of them) and produced a report. Obviously, Steve O’Connell has no connection with Sutton, Croydon, the GLA, reading or paying any attention.

    The panel often had groups of experts giving evidence in series on different questions.

    What happened next was very striking…the waste heat question arose.

    ALL the different experts started chiming in, from their own wide experience,THAT RETROFITTING WAS PROHIBITIVELY EXOPENSIVE, that the only way to use any waste heat was by new build with connections designed in. They all came from different angles of the problem, but the chorus was loud and unanimous. Extraordinary!

    If this was such an obvious, widely held and agreed opinion then, what on earth were Sutton or Viridor doing?

  2. Wilful self-delusion and obfuscation are part of the normal armoury of all politicians be they provincial minnows like those in Sutton and Croydon or international sharks like those in Downing Street and Washington.

    All you have to do is to have an end in sight and then to bend all facts to fit that desire. Want to invade Iraq and need an excuse? What about Weapons of Mass Destruction, Tony, that’s a good excuse? But George, there are no WMDs! Oh, forget that, we’ll just pretend there’s a clear and present danger.

    It’s much the same with the Viridor incinerator. The scale is a little different but the aims and the methods are much the same. And if anyone gets in the way, say an honest and ethical councillor, just get rid of them.

  3. joeycan says:

    I cannot match the quality of the reporting in this saga, but it did occur to me that nowhere in any correspondence that has come past me, was there reference to ‘An Asset of Community value’, as could be applied to the metropolitan open land currently being violated, there is no other polite word for it, by the developers of the Incinerator.

    If a local council, not a million miles from here, can legally force a developer to re-build/reinstate a community asset (a Public house) which he had demolished without going honestly through the appropriate channels, where do Viridor stand in relation to their failure, in collusion with Sutton Council, to make a proper case for the incinerator at Beddington?

  4. It is important that as a local government body, Sutton Council is held to account for all its actions, including its decision to proceed with this unpopular local project. However, this article contains some inaccuracies that I would like to correct.

    The first concerns the statement that Bioregional’s report on retrofitting district heating systems “demolishes any idea of a financially viable heat network in Hackbridge.” This is not the case.

    The cost for households to connect to the heat network solely concerns retrofitting the network to existing homes. The situation is completely different for large users, or for new homes like those Barratts plan to build in Hackbridge. Connecting these homes to the network could be financially viable for the developer and residents, depending on the project costs and price of heat. Beyond the high-level work that has already been discussed, Bioregional has not been involved in developing the energy from waste plant or heat network.

    The second correction concerns what appears to be a contradiction between the statement in my report to Sutton Council in 2012 that Bioregional is not an expert in this type of technology or on the health implications arising from air pollution; and the fact that Bioregional has been engaged by Cherwell District Council to provide a report on a local heat from waste network.

    Bioregional is a charity dedicated to creating a sustainable future for everyone. Our expertise lies in helping organisations and businesses implement ambitious sustainability strategies. We do not, nor have we ever claimed to, have the detailed technical knowledge required to carry out the exhaustive feasibility studies that are needed for these kinds of projects, including looking at their health impacts.

    Our role in advising Cherwell Council is a high-level, strategic one. We are advising it on what it would take to create a truly sustainable community in Bicester. We want to make sure the heat generated by the energy from the existing waste plant is not wasted.

    The article also implies that Bioregional is compromised by our ongoing work with Sutton to create a borough that is a truly sustainable and great place to live.

    In fact, as our report on Zero Carbon Hackbridge and Inside Croydon’s article both show, Bioregional has spoken out about the proposed energy from both in public and in private meetings with Sutton Council. We have always been, and continue to be forthright in our views.

    We commend the Council for the tangible steps it has made in implementing its sustainability strategy during difficult economic times – for example its project to grow the green economy in Beddington – but like a critical friend, we also use every opportunity to encourage it to go further and think bigger.

    It is also worth noting that although we have received funding from Sutton Council as stated in the article, the majority of this funding was money that Bioregional successfully raised funds for from the London Mayor to make the borough a better place to live. These include energy saving, recycling and community projects including the Heart of Hackbridge regeneration project, the bulk of the funds for which we paid to local subcontractors to help local shops and venues to save money on energy and water and generate more business.

    As the Council’s budget has shrunk due to central government cuts, our contracts with it have also reduced. We are working hard to try to help it achieve its ambitions with limited resources.
    What’s important now is to ensure that the proposed energy from waste plant fulfils its promise to provide low-cost heat to local residents. They will have to endure living next to the plant, with all the disturbance and pollution that this will entail – though local residents have long had to put up with the landfill site.

    Inside Croydon’s article raise important questions about the proposed energy from waste plant, and the accountability of Sutton Council to its local residents. I’d like to end with my own question: what is the alternative?

    As long as we as a society continue to buy disposable products with non-recyclable packaging, we will continue to face these difficult decisions. Ultimately, the solution lies with all of us. We all need to take responsibility for reducing the mountain of waste each of us generate. Can any of us put our hand on our heart and say we didn’t put anything in the rubbish bin this week?

    Sue Riddlestone, Bioregional Chief Executive and Co-Founder

    • Of course, we completely reject the suggestion that our news story is in anyway inaccurate. Such a contention by Sue Riddlestone is particularly odd, since our report is based entirely on her organisation’s own findings and its suppressed report.

      But then, BioRegional has been paid vast sums of public money for several years, so maybe Niall Bolger at Sutton Council asked her to drop us a line.

      One thing that does seem odd, though, is the notion that the Cherwell heating scheme in Oxfordshire could save 50,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide emissions per year, according to BioRegional’s own figures.

      Perhaps Sue Riddlestone can explain what were the calculations behind the statement, when the Viridor incinerator district heating scheme which serves Sutton with a population of 200,000 has estimated a maximum saving of 5,000 tonnes of CO2 per year?

  5. David Hoole says:

    Well i’m really shocked by Sue Riddlestone’s concluding paragraphs.

    To paraphrase her : ‘It’s important that the locals do get low-cost energy because they will have to endure the disturbance and pollution from the incinerator’.

    Sue, you aren’t talking now to Sutton council, you are condemning the locals to a miserable quid pro quo. Have you researched the pollution, and the fact that the smallest, most dangerous particles (‘PM 2.5’) are not, and won’t be, properly monitored?

    Your last comments conveniently answer your own rhetorical question (‘What is the alternative?’) with more rhetoric : the fact that none of us can say we binned literally nothing this week is irrelevant. Buying disposable products has some relevance, non-recyclable packaging has very little relevance as there isn’t much of that. The real issue is Sutton’s completely mediocre recycling rates for Recyclable packaging – contrary to the council’s spin on their performance. I’ve researched the figures, although i don’t have them to hand. There was one good year (relative to other local authorities) in about the last ten.

    This incinerator will burn many, many thousands of tonnes of Recyclable waste every year.

    from A former Waste Awareness Officer at Sutton Council.

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