Sutton planners add fuel to incinerator fires with dirty diesel

Fuelled up: the Beddington incinerator has been polluting the air you breathe for nearly five years

Think those plumes of smoke coming out of the polluting Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane are just from the burning of hundreds of thousands of tons of rubbish?

Think again.

It’s not entirely the case. Some of the pollution comes from burning vast amounts of dirty diesel.

To get their furnaces up to the required temperature – about 850 degrees celsius – Viridor use industrial-scale quantities of diesel to get the fires going, as daily they produce huge volumes of climate crisis-causing greenhouse gasses.

And now Sutton Council is recommending the granting of planning permission to allow Viridor to build a second diesel storage tank next to the incinerator, so that they can hold more than 20,000 litres of industrial fuel on the site.

As was feared and predicted a decade ago when Sutton’s Liberal Democrats bent the planning laws to breaking point to grant Viridor permission to build the incinerator next to what is supposed to be a nature reserve, the very presence of the industrial plant they encouraged to be created is now being used to justify building even more polluting infrastructure.

In favour of pollution: Sutton’s Spencer Palmer

According to the somewhat circular argument made by Sutton’s “strategic director of environment”, Spencer Palmer, in a report for a planning committee to be held on June 8, building a big storage tank for 11,000 litres of diesel won’t make any difference to the area, because Beddington is already blighted by the presence of the incinerator…

“The proposed development has been considered to be acceptable in principle as the use
would not impact adversely on the openness of the Metropolitan Open Land,” Palmer states in his recommendations to the committee.

“The proposal would not impact on the visual amenity of the site and is acceptable in
design terms nor would it result in undue harm to the amenity of neighbouring occupiers.”

In other words, Sutton’s incinerator-loving, polluting LibDems and their partners in the unaccountable civic quango of the South London Waste Partnership, including Croydon Council, have conspired to make Beddington Farmlands such an blighted area, you could build any old shit there now and it won’t “impact adversely”.

There’s more than a suspicion that Sutton are going out of their way to help their pollution partners Viridor with this latest application.

Concrete plan: an extract from the Sutton planning report for Viridor’s fuel dump application

The council sent out a grand total of three… yes, three… consultation letters.

They also went to the trouble of posting a notice on the private road outside the Viridor plant.

As a result, the council received no objections.

When they sought comments internally, from the council’s officials, there was no response. You can almost see Sutton’s biodiversity team shrugging when they were asked about letting Viridor double its diesel storage capacity at the incinerator. “What’s the point?” they might have said.

Beddington is one of 11 incinerators operated in this country by American-owned Viridor.

Construction of the £210million plant sited close to the Sutton-Croydon borough boundary began in 2015, and after a series of development problems, it began full operation around the end of 2018. So it has been polluting the air that you and millions of south Londoners breathe for nearly five years.

The incinerator exists for profit-hungry Viridor to receive £1billion from a 25-year contract to burn the rubbish of four south London boroughs, the members of the SLWP: Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon. Each council is paying Viridor at least £10million per year for the privilege of creating toxic air. Earlier this month, we reported the latest serious breach of Viridor’s licence, this time for acidic hydrogen chloride.

In all four boroughs, since the incinerator became fully operational, their waste recycling rates have fallen significantly. As Inside Croydon reported six months ago, according to official figures, almost two-thirds of Croydon’s rubbish is now used as incinerator fuel.

In Croydon, the incinerator scheme was first pushed by the local Conservatives, and later embraced by Labour once they took control of the Town Hall.

Planning permission was achieved, under Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London, by claiming that the incinerator would produce “green energy”, providing power to a local heating network. Viridor and their mates in the local councils of Sutton and Croydon still persist with that myth to this day, referring to Beddington as an “ERF”: an Energy Recovery Facility. Had the incinerator not promised to provide this less-than-eco-friendly energy, it probably would never have been granted planning permission.

But four years after going operational, the Beddington incinerator has never been plugged into the expensively established pipes of the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, SDEN.

Keep on trucking: Viridor wants to double its fuel storage at its Beddington plant

Doubling down on the green energy myth, the Viridor corporate website today carries the claim “59,025 homes equivalent powered”. The Beddington incinerator has in fact provided power to zero homes, and there remains little prospect of it doing so any time in the near future.

Viridor now wants to increase the volume of rubbish that they burn at Beddington – where there’s muck, there’s brass for the industrial waste incinerators. It’s likely that this extra volume of rubbish will require extra diesel to help fuel up the furnaces.

Diesel is listed as a hazardous substance in the Dangerous Substances and Explosives Atmosphere Regulations. Right next to an incinerator with provision to burn radioactive waste when required…

As well as more air pollution from the plant itself, this latest increase in volumes burned will also means thousands more journeys by HGVs, to and from the plant, using the roads around Beddington Village, the Purley Way, Waddon and Broad Green.

Viridor’s licence variation has to go before the toothless watchdog that is the Environment Agency. The EA approved an increase in Viridor’s burning capacity only last year.

The worrying thing for the residents living in and around Beddington about Viridor’s application to build an extra diesel storage tank is that when Sutton Council consulted the Environment Agency, they raised no objections.

Greenwash: Viridor’s Beddington incinerator has never provided energy to any homes

Nick Mattey is an independent councillor in Beddington, who has been waging a decade-long campaign against turning his corner of Sutton into an industrialised waste-handling complex.

Speaking to Inside Sutton about the diesel tank planning application, Mattey said, “I believe that the extra fuel tank’s principal function is to ensure that the greatly increased amount of waste Viridor now wants to burn each year means that extra diesel is needed to get the furnaces up to 850 celsius.

“Given that Sutton Council says it opposes increasing burning by Viridor, then why are the council’s planning officers recommending approval of this new facility?”

The Liberal Democrat leaders of Sutton Council have recently been congratulating themselves on some spurious calculation that the borough is moving towards being carbon-neutral.

Mattey says that this claim is just as much hot air as the idea that the incinerator is an “energy recovery facility”.

“So much for carbon-neutral Sutton,” he said. “Every time you burn 21,000 litres of diesel, you put 56 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

Read more: Mayor will have little say over borough’s rubbish contractors
Read more: ‘People will die’: Dombey accused of Viridor ‘Faustian pact’
Read more: Viridor incinerator given 20 warnings in just 15 months
Read more: Viridor breaking rules over incinerator’s pollution reports

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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5 Responses to Sutton planners add fuel to incinerator fires with dirty diesel

  1. Timothy Horgan says:

    We need a incinerator we can’t keep using land fill as an option.

    • James Seabrook says:

      Not one run by complete liars though who have no intention of fulfilling their contractual obligations, ie energy recovery.

    • There is no need for an incinerator now, nor ever was there, apart from in the view of the accountants at Viridor who have a burning desire to make easy money from public bodies.

      The false alternative offered between incineration and landfill was provided by those in favour of handing millions to a US-owned industrial business a decade ago. It was not the sole alternative then, and it certainly is not now.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Beddington is a pollution disaster for South London as the SW airstream bearing fresh air in from the Atlantic and leafy Surrey, where all those trees adds much needed fresh air and moistrure to revive the air, is now polluted at Beddington, just before it gets to South London.

    The only place I can think of for incineration would be expansive rural areas like the Trent Valley, although there are centres of population like Nottingham and Derby to avoid.

    Residual rubbish would need to be shifted by rail from perhaps one or two railheads located in each area. It would have to be pre-sorted , with (as now) a large volume being processed in the bio-digesters that seem to be working well in various locations in London.

    It –the residual rubbish, dirty and non recyclable– would be taken to an Eastern location and burned. The toxic plume would drift over the North Sea. The Dutch and Danish would breath in our fumes, as it were, but bthe distance from the Trent Valley to Denmark is a lot more than the distance from Beddington to Broad Green and Thronton Heath or Upper Norwood.

    Landfill undoubtedly has a legacy problem of toxic leachate, and methane, both needing tongoing capture and treatment . We are also fast running out of holes in the ground or flat areas on which to build hills of rubbish. Water-filled holes inthe ground should be keot for wildlife and recreationa and—water supply.

    Waste minimisation through banning single use products–like Polystyrene cups and food containers- would do a very great deal. Using biodegradeable plastic bags instead of non-recyclable or stamping out all uses of — that insidious “Not yet recycled” — category of waste would also do a lot. My feeling, looking at the care shown, is that the Public and the manufacturers and Supermarkets really do care, and are in fact light years in front of the UK Government, which lags behind in its traditional “laissez faire” manner.

    People tend to forget that municipal waste from our wheelies is only part of the rubbish burned. A huge amount comes from trade waste and building waste.

    I read some years ago that about 25 years ago, an entrepreneur developed an all-singing, all dancing, total recycling plant in the Midlands, and it all worked–but no-one wanted to pay for it. Very sad– and penny wise, pound foolish.

    Where there’s muck, there’s brass– for someone. Normally the ones that fly tip, and those that discharge untreated sewage into our rivers and coastal waters, and ……..

  3. Jim Duffy says:

    There’s a viable alternative to incineration which the Italians have developed. It’s called Material Recycling and Biological Treatment, MRBT. One community near Venice with a ‘pay as you throw’ system, achieves an 85% recycling rate this way, aiming for 94% this year. The small amount that can’t be recycled is cleaned before it’s landfilled so it gives off no greenhouse gases. Sutton’s recycling has now plummeted to a sad 41%.

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