Have Sutton Council’s plans to burn hundreds of thousands of tons of rubbish in an industrial-scale incinerator hit a speed bump?
The LibDem-controlled local authority hoped to announce a commercial deal with Barratts homes to provide heating to the 725 houses to be built on the Felnex site at Hackbridge. Such an agreement will have provided some political justification for Sutton’s air-polluting incinerator, as it supposedly delivered “green energy”.
But Barratts are taking much longer than expected to buy-in to the deal being offered by Sutton Council and incinerator operators Viridor.
The delay comes after it became clear that if Barratts sign the agreement, they could be consigning those living in their new houses to decades of having to pay three times the market price for heating. And if potential house-buyers get wind of that – as well as the incinerator’s noxious fumes – it could drive down the prices of Barratts houses, and their profits.
The Viridor incinerator is being constructed on a site which borders Croydon, and is part of a £1 billion, 25-year deal with the South London Waste Partnership, made up of Sutton, Kingston, Merton and Croydon councils.
Someone at Viridor thought it was a good idea to disguise the waste incinerator as some sort of heat-generating plant, and devised a way to flog off energy generated from burning rubbish. SDEN, or the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, was heralded as “a truly ground-breaking initiative to use heat that would otherwise go to waste”.
But the economic arguments for the incinerator have been based on flogging over-priced energy to tens of thousands of unsuspecting home-owners across Sutton and Croydon. This would include expensive “retro-fitting” to existing properties. If Sutton are unable to agree a deal with Barratts for a few hundred new-build homes, where the heating pipes would be integrated at the start, the prospects of convincing other pontential clients would be much-diminished.
Sutton Council’s own admission that aspects of the scheme might yet be subject to a legal challenge in the High Court may have also given Barratts cause for a re-think.
Now, Inside Croydon has obtained an internal council memo, distributed on Friday from Mary Morrissey, Sutton’s grandiosely titled “strategic director of environment, housing and regeneration” (do they have a tactical director, too?).
“Negotiations with both Viridor and Barratts are continuing, but have yet to reach formal conclusion,” Morrissey wrote.
“Barratt’s [sic] focus over recent weeks has been on discussions with our planners as to matters pertaining to their overall development of the Felnex site, although communication on SDEN has continued. As you are aware, we are out to tender for the pipework construction and O&M contracts and have committed to both an internal and external independent review of the heat purchase price, selling price and construction costs, before determining whether to progress with the scheme.”
Sutton having an external review of its heating scam could cause serious problems for the project, because as Inside Croydon has demonstrated from the council’s own consultants’ reports, SDEN does not stand up to scrutiny. And Barratts’ planning permission for Felnex is soon up for review. Sutton cannot risk the developers walking away from such a major housing project.
Morrissey’s note continued: “As this is the case, legally binding contracts will not be put in place until this time. We are reviewing timescales for these elements of the project and will update the Shareholder Board at its next meeting.”
Or in plain English: the deal’s stalled.
Neil Garratt, a Conservative councillor for Beddington South who sits on the Opportunity Sutton committee which oversees the council’s flailing attempts to be business-like, responded to Morrissey’s update on the delay over the Barratts agreement with cautious optimism.
“We studied the confidential business case and concluded that it’s a bad deal both for the customers stuck with expensive ‘green energy’, and for taxpayers, forced to underwrite the risk,” Garratt told Inside Croydon. “LibDems voted it through anyway; it seems more about politics than the environment.
“The LibDems claim it’s a good deal, but they refuse to let you see the numbers to make your own mind up.
“If this four-month delay is a sign that Barratts are forcing Sutton LibDems to face reality, it may be a positive sign.”
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