BELLE MONT, our Sutton reporter, has been doing a bit of digging around a heating network’s pipes and uncovered millions of pounds of public cash
Not for the first time, there’s a bit of a stink coming from Sutton’s civic offices, and it’s not just the noxious smell of a rubbish-burning incinerator.
Sutton Council’s heat network company, set up to flog off the heating generated by the incinerator at Beddington Lane, has finally released the names of two companies that will construct and maintain its pipe network in deals which will be worth millions of pounds.
Both of them have a connection with Simon Woodward, who until recently was hired by Sutton Council as a consultant to oversee the setting-up of the heating company, called SDEN (Sutton Decentralised Energy Network). Sources in Sutton have suggested that the day rate for consultants such as Woodward is north of £500 per day.
Last week, Inside Croydon reported how SDEN will be charging social housing tenants on a new estate 475 per cent more for their heat than anywhere else in the borough – the sky-high prices necessary in order to make the economic case for heating from the incinerator. Viridor’s Beddington incinerator will supply the heat, Sutton, Croydon and two other boroughs will deliver the rubbish (for “fuel”) as part of a £1billion, 25-year deal.
At a meeting as recently as last Friday, details of the contracts SDEN were to award were denied to members of the board of Opportunity Sutton, the LibDem-controlled council’s umbrella organisation which, on behalf of the borough’s residents, is supposed to have an overview of all SDEN’s operations.
“There’s been no opportunity to scrutinise the procurement procedures, as we might do if it was the council issuing the contracts,” one Sutton figure said today.
“We’ve been denied any information about who has made the decisions, or who has got the contracts.”
But in a council “emergency procedure” announcement this week, it was confirmed that SDEN has awarded a £1million contract to look after its heating network to… (cue drum roll)… Veolia.
That’s the same Veolia responsible for what became known as #SuttonBinShame, when under arrangements negotiated by the South London Waste Partnership, they took over the task of collecting residents’ rubbish in Sutton, and made a complete mess of it, in a shambles that dragged on for three months.
Meanwhile, the people who will be digging the holes and laying the heat pipes for SDEN have been announced as Eneteq. No figure has been released for the value of their contract, but it is estimated to be worth at least £2million.
Who are Eneteq? They are members of UKDEA, the UK District Energy Association (“the voice for the UK’s District Energy Schemes”, they say).
UKDEA is a group formed to promote district energy networks and describes itself as a “not for profit, non-trade association of companies and public sector organisations”.
UKDEA’s chairman is Simon Woodward.
Companies House records show that Woodward has been a director of UKDEA since May 2010.
As well as Eneteq, the members of UKDEA include Viridor. And Veolia.
Until he resigned on April 24 this year, Woodward had been managing director of SDEN, paid by Sutton Council and working three or four days each week on the controversial project. Woodward has also held directorships of similar district heating network companies in Coventry, Birmingham and east London.
In Sutton, some have suggested that although he resigned his directorship of SDEN, Woodward has maintained a keen interest in the project. Certainly, Woodward was present at last Friday’s Opportunity Sutton meeting, at which he did much of the talking about SDEN’s plans.
When Woodward stood down as a director of SDEN, he was replaced as its managing director by a council employee, Amanda “Mandy” Cherrington.
Cherrington’s “day job” at Sutton Council is as the “head of economic renewal and the business environment”. Cherrington was one of the three Sutton officials, including chief exec Niall Bolger, who in March went off to the “booze and hookers’ fest” in the South of France, at the MIPIM developers’ conference.
Helpfully, another council-linked company of which Cherrington is a director was one of the sponsors of her trip to MIPIM.
Another of the sponsors of that jolly was Barratt’s, the house builders who happen to be SDEN’s first and, so far, only customer for its over-priced heating system.
Those who have seen Cherrington in action at meetings discussing the heat network say she sometimes struggles with the apparent complexities of calorific values and the cost of heating. Cherrington attended last week’s meeting with Opportunity Sutton, but reportedly allowed Woodward to take most of the questions arising.
Woodward, through UKDEA, is put forward as one of the country’s leading experts on laying pipe networks to provide heating at prices which might not be competitive when compared to, say, gas, but which can be justified – as in the case of the Viridor incinerator at Beddington – because they are “zero carbon”.
There is, of course, no suggestion that anything illegal has occurred in the awarding of contracts by SDEN.
As Woodward has not been the company’s managing director for nearly four months, his involvement with UKDEA can have had hardly any influence at all on which companies were awarded these seven-figure deals.
In his role as chairman of UKDEA, earlier this year Woodward welcomed a government funding initiative which would be handing out £24million in “investment” in heating networks.
“The UKDEA are excited to see so many robust heat network projects coming on line, and to see that the government is committed to developing this exciting technology for the future,” the Association’s press release gushed.
It also quoted Woodward as saying, “It’s great to see these awards have been made, it’s really positive news for the industry.”
At the time of that announcement, Woodward was still managing director of SDEN.
Among the heating network schemes to receive grants from the government were Birmingham and Coventry.
And so has Sutton, with grants in three tranches worth £158,962. Which might at least help to cover some of SDEN’s consultants’ bills.
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