A south London council has been forced to appoint an enforcement officer to check on the environmental work which Viridor is supposed to be doing at Beddington Farmlands. The appointment comes more than two years after the Local Government Ombudsman found that the waste disposal multi-national was failing in its duties around an important nature reserve at Beddington.
Viridor has a £1billion contract with the South London Waste Partnership, comprising Croydon (Labour-controlled), Kingston (Tory), Merton (Labour) and Sutton (LibDem) councils, to operate the waste incinerator at Beddington Lane. But it has also had responsibility for the landfill sites around Beddington Farmlands, for managing them and ensuring that the environment is improved for the wildlife there.
The ombudsman’s investigation concluded in 2015 that the conditions applied to Viridor’s environmental restoration and management of Beddington Farmlands needed “to be discharged without delay”. Basically, the ombudsman found that Viridor was failing to fulfill its agreements.
Sutton Council, as the local authority, got round to advertising for an enforcement officer early last year, and the successful candidate has recently taken up their role.
“This is a positive development but still prompts the question – what will the council do if Viridor continue breaching conditions?” said Peter Alfrey, the noted local naturalist who has campaigned against Viridor’s neglect of the wildlife reserve. “A legal challenge could put the council under un-manageable financial pressure.
“Since the LGO investigation, there has been precious little in the way of restoration progress although the amount of gesturing has increased.”
According to Alfrey, Viridor has also recently appointed a new site manager, Peter Walker. The Conservation Access and Management Committee (CAMC) has had its terms of reference finalised and the Conservation Science Group is being led by Dave Warburton (Sutton Biodiversity).
Walker has drafted a 2018 plan of works which include habitat creation, maintenance and public engagement – the plan is currently being consulted on and finalised.
Alfrey said, “Some of this, probably most, will just be elaborate low-cost manoeuvres to appease the enforcement officer and offset the possibility to open a new LGO investigation which could lead to local authority prosecution. Whether we actually see any of the plan implemented is questionable, if the past is anything to go by, then very little will move from paper to actual progress.
“I submitted a new formal complaint to the council at the end of 2017, on the basis that since the LGO conclusion no significant discharge of conditions had occurred. The complaint was not progressed by Sutton, who said there was an ongoing investigation by the Enforcement Officer.”
Alfrey is considering further options, and may be forced to file another complaint to the ombudsman if Sutton and their enforcement officer do not manage to get the action “without delay” which the ombudsman ordered in 2015.
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