The government watchdog, the Environment Agency, is actively encouraging incinerator operators to pollute more and so bank more cash, at the expense of south London residents’ health.
By our Sutton reporter, BELLE MONT
Any chance that Croydon or Sutton might achieve their stated aim of becoming carbon neutral within 10 years will go up in a very large puff of smoke tomorrow night, when councillors are expected to blithely nod through a proposal to but even more rubbish at the Beddington Lane incinerator.
A meeting of the South London Waste Partnership, which also includes Kingston and Merton, will be told that Viridor, the incinerator operators, are being encouraged by the Environment Agency to seek an updated permit to allow them to burn 50,000 tons a year more.
Viridor are already paid £40million per year jointly by the four boroughs for burning rubbish. The additional burn will cost each borough another £2million annually. The additional burn will pump 50,000 extra tons of carbon dioxide into the skies above Sutton and Croydon – boroughs whose recycling efforts so far manage between them to save just 36,000 tons of CO2 per year. Climate change? You’d think no one in charge at Croydon, Sutton or the SLWP had ever heard of it.
The SLWP is a placid quango, set-up to manage waste contracts across the four boroughs without any pesky intrusions or proper scrutiny from opposition councillors. To a great degree, it’s how Viridor managed to land the £1billion contract in the first place, with the incinerator getting planning permission when one of the senior LibDems on Sutton council, John Drage, just happened to be a lifelong mate of the company chairman.
Now, with Stuart “T-shirts and Slogans” Collins – an ardent opposer of incinerators who never challenged the Beddington project once he was in office – consigned to the dustbin of political history following the bankrupting of his council, Croydon is to be represented at the SLWP by Muhammad Ali, the cabinet member for unsustainable Croydon, and Nina Degrads, who according to the meeting paperwork is “deputy cabinet member for Cleen Green Croydon” (sic).
The increase in the amount of waste to be burned looks a done deal even before elected representatives get to discuss the matter, as is the case with so much SLWP business. And as with so many things this year, covid-19 is being used as a convenient excuse to bump up the burn and improve Viridor’s bottom line.
The report to the SLWP states, “The Beddington ERF…”, officials continue to peddle the myth that the plant is some kind of “energy recovery facility”, when it is no such thing; Viridor and their pliant customers do their best to avoid using the troubling but more accurate word incinerator, “… is currently permitted by the Environment Agency (EA) to treat 302,500 tonnes of waste per annum.” Of course, by “treat”, they actually mean burn.
“The facility is capable of processing more than that, but this annual limit takes into account planned downtime for maintenance (when waste is received at Beddington but transported on to alternative facilities for treatment).
“As previously reported to this committee, the planned downtime in the spring did not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been deferred to 2021. This means that Viridor is forecasting that it will exceed its permit for the volume of waste that can be treated in a calendar year.”
Viridor has a bit of a habit for exceeding its permits: it regularly exceeds the amount of pollutants emitted from the Beddington plant, with the dozing watchdog the Environment Agency never taking any action. Now, the Environment Agency is actively encouraging Viridor to do more damage to the environment, on a permanent basis.
The report states, “The EA… has advised Viridor to submit a formal permit variation to increase the limit of waste processed as opposed to applying for a one-year dispensation as this will enable future flexibility around the periods when the facility is shut down for planned maintenance.
“As a result, Viridor has made an application to the EA to vary the permit for the Beddington ERF, to increase the annual amount of waste the facility is allowed to process…”, that is, to burn, “by 15 per cent, up to 347,422 tonnes per annum.”
Viridor appear to believe that their customers, the SLWPand ultimately the four councils, are either thick or utterly gullable, as they claim that trucking in an extra 50,000 tons of crap down Beddington Lane each year won’t require an increase in the number of HGVs driving down the Purley Way or through Sutton.
“The variation is to the annual limits, the amount of waste the facility will process on a typical day will not change as the plant is already working at its daily operational limit,” they say in the report. “Traffic movements to and from the site would remain within those allowed through the planning process.”
None of this proposed significant worsening of the environment in Croydon, where air pollution is already often well above legal levels, has ever been put to any council meeting for discussion. And this despite the council last year, in the midst of widespread public support for the Extinction Rebellion protests, issuing a pledge to make the borough carbon neutral by 2030. Sutton did much the same, even though both councils are spending £10million each per year to burn hundreds of thousands of tons of rubbish.
Croydon councillor Muhammad Ali has often spoken of his concern for environmental issues and the emergency facing the planet through global warming. Tomorrow night’s meeting will put those convictions to the test. Can he really vote through his bankrupt borough spending an extra £2million per year to do something which directly contradicts his council’s stated policy?
At least one local councillor is gearing up to give his colleagues on the SLWP a tough time.
Nick Mattey, the independent councillor for Beddington North ward in Sutton, has demanded an opportunity to speak at the virtual meeting.
“I want to know why the SLWP has to prostitute itself to the demands of an American-owned waste company pledged to increasing dividends for its shareholders, at the expense of the health and well-being of residents in my ward,” Mattey said.
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