Sutton admits incinerator heating could end up in High Court

A tender guidance document raises a lot of awkward questions for Sutton Council’s leadership over its continued support for the £1bn Beddington incinerator and its heating network. WALTER CRONXITE reports

Sutton published a tender on Friday for SDEN, the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, its own subsidiary, for a company to help to prepare the council’s own planning application to lay the heat network pipework into Barratts’ Felnex development of 725 homes and a supermarket in Hackbridge.

Barrat Homes logoExtraordinarily, the council’s own document admits that its network proposals are so controversial that the scheme might yet end up being subject to a legal challenge in the High Court.

It is the sort of litigation which can often deter commercial developers, and their shareholders, from becoming involved.

But Sutton Council chief executive Niall Bolger and his LibDem political masters, led by Ruth Dombey, seem confident that Barratts will be the first and most important customer for its proposed network, using heated water piped from the controversial Beddington incinerator.

Sutton Council has yet to sign contracts for the heat network with Viridor, the incinerator operators and heat suppliers, nor with the (first) user, Barratt Homes.

So for now, the network remains nothing more than a … pipe dream.

How Sutton Council's tender documents rate the chances of the heating network being dragged through the law courts

How Sutton Council’s tender documents rate the chances of the heating network being dragged through the law courts

As Inside Croydon reported last week, a survey commissioned by Sutton’s own environmental partners, BioRegional, strongly suggested that the heat network from the incinerator could prove to be prohibitively expensive to implement, with customers – including residents in Barratts’ new homes in Hackbridge – having to pay around seven times the current price of fuel for their incinerator-generated heating.

And to make the scheme pay for itself, Sutton needs to find another 18,000 properties in the area to take its high-priced heating network – and this could include costly retro-fitting thousands of homes in Croydon.

Yet without Barratts starting the ball rolling with Felnex, Sutton could struggle to find takers.

A supplementary document published with the tender, entitled “Specification of Requirements”, gives the game away on several fronts, contradicting Sutton Council’s own statements, and predicting that a second Judicial Review is likely when the planning is granted.

Sutton's tender document, as it appears on the London Portals page

Sutton’s tender document, as it appears on the London Portals page

The brief for the £15,000 tender demands that the planning application – which will be from a Sutton Council-owned company to Sutton Council itself – should be “successful”, which is an odd phrase, as that decision is down to the merits of the application.

It adds that the network will “look to provide heat to 19,000 homes”, which contradicts Sutton’s own recent reverse ferret that this is only an “indication” of the heat available.

Of most concern to any prospective heating customers, such as Barratts, is a heading “Challenges and External Factors”, in which the council says it is actually expecting a Judicial Review of the planning.

Too powerful? Niall Bolger, CEO of Sutton Council

Niall Bolger, CEO of Sutton Council: his credibility is riding on the scheme

Barratts’ planning permission for the Felnex development runs out in June, so work needs to start quickly. Without the correct planning in place, Barratts and its shareholders will be taking all the risks.

This document ought to have received high-level sign-off within Sutton Council if there has been discussion of a Judicial Review of the planning permission that the council is expecting to award to its own company.

There is an alternative explanation for the content of this document, of course.

Could it be the case that Sutton Council has already signed contracts with Barratt Homes and Viridor, and it is now paving the way for a grand political announcement that the SDEN is totally viable, it has secured eager partners and it is coming to fruition – despite all the economic evidence that, for Felnex residents, it will be a costly pig in a poke?

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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
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