Political editor WALTER CRONXITE has obtained a copy of Croydon Council’s contract with Viridor for the operation of the Beddington Lane incinerator. It includes clauses for the disposal of radioactive waste. Trouble is, the council leader clearly hasn’t bothered reading it
Five years since coming to power at Croydon Town Hall on a manifesto that stated “Labour has always opposed” the industrial-scale waste incinerator that has since been built at Beddington Lane, council leader Tony Newman has revealed that he hasn’t got a clue about the council’s multi-million-pound contract with operators Viridor, which includes a key provision for the disposal of potentially lethal radioactive waste.
Newman was a guest on the Eddie Nestor Drivetime programme on BBC Radio London on Monday night. It was a rare occasion when Newman has allowed himself to be grilled live on air by an experienced and expert broadcaster, and unable to hide behind the protections of Town Hall procedure and a friendly Mayor’s gavel.
Fifteen minutes into the wide-ranging interview, Nestor read a question from one listener which asked, “How is it possible to hide the fact that they’re burning radioactive waste?”
Typically, Newman blustered and obfuscated through a very poorly briefed response which did little but reveal the council leader’s lack of grasp of detail, and outright ignorance of what has been a £1billion burning issue across south London for the whole decade.
“I assume they’re referring to the incinerator… or energy from waste facility in Sutton,” Newman said, opting for the terminology used by the incineration apologists among the Liberal Democrats who run the neighbouring borough, where the incinerator is sited.
Having bought himself some thinking time by waffling through 30 seconds, apparently trying to distance his council from any responsibility for the incinerator it has helped to pay to build, Newman then got his facts wrong.
“It does serve five boroughs in the South London partnership,” he said.
In fact, the South London Waste Partnership, of which Croydon is a member, comprises just four boroughs, and not five – as Newman really ought to know, after supposedly being in charge of the council since 2014.
Perhaps, when Croydon takes over the chairing and hosting of the SLWP meetings next month, he could take a closer interest in its business and actually attend once in a while.
But while on air, perhaps flustered by the potential political damage that having a radioactive waste disposal plant on the borough boundary might cause him, Newman pressed on to reveal his absolute ignorance of the matter.
“Someone’s got a story there that’s no body is aware of,” Newman said.
For “nobody”, Newman clearly meant himself.
“It doesn’t burn radioactive waste,” Newman claimed.
Except, Croydon Council has indeed been signatory to a “Private and Confidential” contract which specifically includes the disposal of radioactive waste at the Beddington Lane incinerator. The matter has even been discussed at Town Hall meetings, when Newman was the leader of the opposition and was still promising the voting public that he would oppose the building of an incinerator “that will be a potential health risk… particularly one so close to residential areas”.
Inside Croydon has obtained a copy of the contract, and gone to the trouble of reading it. Which is more than Newman appears to have done, despite his £57,000 per year council “allowances”. The other three boroughs within the South London Waste Partnership – Sutton, Kingston and Merton – probably have similar documents, demanding similar facilities from Viridor, though we have not had sight of their contracts to confirm this.
The incinerator is not yet fully operational. It is nine months overdue, with no new date yet announced for when it will start burning at least 350,000 tons of rubbish each year, the waste being trucked in from across south London, and potentially from further afield as well.
According to the council’s contract with Viridor, there are three categories of waste which the plant is expected to handle for the duration of its operation, which is at least 25 years.
Category A is “‘Core’ Contract Waste streams”, including residual household waste, bulky waste (“including but not limited to co-mingled fractions of… xi. b. 2 Reusable materials” … so much for improving recycling rates).
Being used for incinerator fuel under Category B is “‘Specialist’ Contract Waste streams”, and these include dog faeces, tyres, asbestos, car batteries, gas cylinders and pressurised containers.
And then there’s Category C, or “‘Ad hoc’ Contract Waste streams”.
This calls for Viridor to burn, under its contract with Croydon Council, “animal carcasses”, “Separately collected household hazardous waste”, “Separately collected clinical waste”, “Car parts >25kg or where there are reasonable grounds to suspect they may contain hazardous substances”, “bombs/explosives”, and “septic tank sludge”.
A potentially toxic mix for anyone who has the misfortune to breathe in the resulting emissions.
And there, in paragraph xi. z of Schedule 2 (in case Newman decides to go to the bother of doing some work and actually looking for it), there is the clause which has been festering away in the Town Hall files for seven years, but with a half-life of much, much longer:
Inside Croydon first reported the startling revelation that the Beddington Lane incinerator would be equipped to handle radioactive and nuclear waste as long ago as November 2011, after Croydon’s then Tory-run council administration was forced to answer a question from Friends of the Earth.
The formal council response at that time admitted that the contract for the incinerator “covers the full spectrum of normal waste through to the worst possible radioactive and nuclear waste etc.” Nice.
To deal with the incinerator’s radioactive functions, it was admitted then that the council had been forced to update its “mass casualty disaster planning” as a consequence.
In answer to the public question, the council said it had “been revisiting and refreshing our plans particularly to mass evacuation and mass casualties as well as other shelter arrangements for those evacuated”.
Which will reassure no one.
That Councillor Newman is, nearly eight years later, blissfully ignorant of this potential nuclear disaster on our doorstep is even less reassuring.
Of course, confronted with the uncomfortable truth that our local councils have commissioned and built a waste disposal facility which is capable of handling “the worst possible radioactive and nuclear waste”, the standard response we can expect from council officials and their patsy councillors is that, of course, there’s never any real intention to make use of such facilities.
Which, just like Newman’s radio ga-ga performance on Monday night, is entirely unconvincing. After all, why bother including radioactive waste in the contract and specification for the incinerator, since the engineering required to deal with such hazardous materials would add significantly to the cost of building and managing the facility.
We would ask Councillor Newman, but a source on Katharine Street says that, since Monday night, he’s gone nuclear…
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