Sutton official in bid to oust conservationist from science group

BELLE MONT reports on an attempt by a council official to intimidate an environmentalist’s opposition to Viridor’s poor performance over the Beddington wetlands

A senior council official responsible for Sutton’s environmental policy is demanding that a local conservationist should quit the Beddington Farmlands Conservation Science Group because they have dared to organise a petition calling on the local authority to enforce existing planning and restoration conditions on Viridor.

Beddington Farmlands: one of the council-run committees which is supposed to oversee environmental work here has been criticised for doing too little to challenge Viridor

David Warburton is Sutton’s senior biodiversity officer.

It is Warburton who has had significant input to the planning recommendations for the SDEN pipework to be laid through Beddington Farmlands nature reserve. Although planning permission is not due to be considered until a council meeting tonight, some work conducted last week saw the controversial, and potentially illegal, axing of hundreds of trees during the bird-nesting season.

Warburton chairs the Beddington Farmlands Conservation Science Group, or CSG, which is one of a number of ad hoc committees coordinated by Viridor and chaired by either a council official or a councillor from the LibDems who control Sutton Council.

Peter Alfrey sits on the CSG as a representative of local birdwatchers, but after nearly 10 years on the group, his frustrations with the lack of progress on Viridor’s promised environmental improvements to the wetlands led him to coordinate a petition to Sutton Council. So far, the petition has attracted nearly 5,000 signatures.

Alfrey’s case has the backing of the Local Government Ombudsman, who in 2015 ruled that more should be done to get Viridor to fulfil its contractual obligations in and around the Farmlands. Progress has been painfully slow, however, and it was not until last year that Sutton Council recruited an enforcement officer to deal with the incinerator operators.

The newly recruited enforcement officer visited Viridor in January, but in the last couple of weeks, news has emerged that the council staffer has already left their job.

Peter Alfrey (here leading a wildlife walk): he has backing of a 5,000-strong petition, and the local government ombudsman

For Alfrey, just getting what the council and the multi-national have promised to deliver for the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve has become a constant battle, and with the petition attracting so much support, he wrote to Warburton and the CSG to ask for an official statement to respond to the petition, Alfrey says, “as local councillors were responding in an inaccurate manner”.

Alfrey said, “I suggested that unless the CSG takes a strong lead with enforcement and supports the local petition and local community, then the CSG is nothing more than a front for the Viridor agenda. Mr Warburton’s response was to inform me that my position on the CSG ‘is now untenable’.”

The fact that a council official is demanding the resignation of a member of the public from the committee appears to be a serious conflict of interest. As a council official involved in preparing reports for the planning department, being at the same time able to dictate who does, or doesn’t, sit as a member of an advisory panel might be regarded as a blatant attempt to shape the argument in favour of Viridor.

“David is one of the good guys. I think pressure is building from Sutton from the top. He’s probably following orders,” said Alfrey, who has recently announced that he will be standing in the local elections in May as a Green Party candidate.

“The CSG has been a front for destruction. Now is the time for a change in direction of the CSG, but if they’ve chosen this, then polarisation is the order of the day, so it will be the local community versus the council-Viridor alliance.”

Speaking last night, Alfrey confirmed that he has no intention of resigning from the CSG, and that he has consulted with senior councillors about whether Warburton has exceeeded his authority in trying to oust him.

“Despite the public enquiry, judicial review, scrutiny committees, select committees and so on, Viridor continues to bulldoze over democracy and nature conservation law,” Alfrey said.

“We really need to make Beddington a national symbol of corporate abuse of nature, and get the entire conservation world to recognise Viridor as the ecocidal maniacs that they are, and the power they have over the local authority and the democratic system.”

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