Viridor had their £210million Beddington Lane incinerator plant on security lockdown yesterday, apparently out of fear of incursions from… local birdwatchers.
The controversial and troubled Viridor incinerator is already nine months late in being fully operational to meet the terms of the £1billion, 25-year contract to burn rubbish for four south London boroughs – Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston.
When operational, the incinerator is expected to burn at least 300,000 tones of rubbish per year, its emissions being pumped into the air above Sutton and Croydon. Thousands of polluting HGV lorry journeys will take place every week, ferrying the rubbish in to the plant and taking the ash by-product away.
Under the contract between Croydon Council and Viridor, which Inside Croydon has seen, the operators have a licence to burn radioactive waste at the site.
Yesterday, security restrictions made coming and going from the incinerator very difficult, if not impossible. Work on the long-overdue project came to a halt.
It is understood that the high-level security precautions were taken because there was a protest staged by Extinction Rebellion elsewhere in the borough on Saturday morning.
Extinction Rebellion, or XR, is a relatively new group of environmental urban warriors who last year managed to shut down main roads in central London for several hours in one week of action, as they shared their message of the imminent destruction of the biosphere.
Nearly 3,000 volunteers have already signed up with XR to obstruct some of the capital’s busiest roads for at least three days this coming week. Jim Davidson will be devastated.
XR cites the civil rights movement and suffragettes as inspirations, and the movement is backed by senior scientists and academics, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Yesterday, XR Sutton staged an action day among the sausage stalls and butchers’ vans at Wallington Farmers’ Market.
They were promoting a petition to Sutton Council “to declare a climate and ecological emergency in the borough and commit to change to reduce green house gas emissions and complete the Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve”.
In an extraordinary turn of events, the petition has been signed by independent councillor Nick Mattey and by Carshalton and Wallington LibDem MP Tom Brake, local politicians, once party colleagues, who have barely exchanged a word for four years.
Mattey is the whistleblower who exposed the financial “gifts” to Liberal Democrat-backed causes in Sutton from Viridor’s charity arm, which included £275,000 coincidentally paid ahead of planning permission being granted by the LibDem-controlled council.
“Brake said he would sign the petition if we stopped fly-postering his office,” an XR activist said yesterday.
The response from incinerator operators Viridor to XR Sutton’s activism was a good deal less benign, however.
They put the incinerator on full security alert yesterday and shut down the site. The incinerator has been built on what was once Metropolitan Open Land, in the middle of the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve, a favourite haunt of hundreds of London bird-watchers, who are sometimes known as “twitchers”.
Bird populations of key species on Beddington Farmlands have suffered stark declines since Viridor was handed control of the incinerator site and gave firm undertakings to conduct environmental improvements to the area, which for decades has been used for refuse landfill.
Beddington Farmlands was a nationally important breeding site for the tree sparrow. The population of that bird at Beddington Farmlands has fallen from 1,000 birds at the start of the century to just two or three breeding pairs today.
Viridor withdrew key access to the Farmlands from the local conservationist bird group after they found out about XR Sutton.
According to the XR Sutton activist, “The company are keen to build on local community co-operation to complete the nature reserve.
“Good to hear Extinction Rebellion are making a positive impact and directors of corporations are sitting up and listening.”
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