Client councils are failing to hold polluting Viridor in check

Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, on the feeble opposition from south London boroughs to the Beddington incinerator creating even more toxic pollution

Mass polluter: Viridor’s Beddington incinerator has broken its permit conditions with toxic polluting events 40 times in 42 months

The South London Waste Partnership, the arm’s-length, unelected and unaccountable quango formed by Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton to manage the boroughs’ waste and the £1billion Beddington Lane incinerator contract, is doing little to prevent Viridor burning even more rubbish at its plant on the Sutton-Croydon borough boundary.

The Viridor incinerator is pumping massive volumes of greenhouse gases into the south London atmosphere all through the year. And they want to burn even more – if Viridor’s permit variation gets approved by the Environment Agency, they will be burning 43 tonnes per hour, 1,052 tonnes per day, and 382,000 tonnes per year.

Although Viridor is supposed to be operating the Beddington incinerator on behalf of the four councils, the profit-hungry multi-national is pushing ahead with its request to up the tonnage burnt at the facility, to 382,286 tonnes per year, in an application to vary its operating licence with the Environment Agency.

Viridor’s application has been lodged after the incinerator’s 40th breach of its current licence limits in 42 months. The application is now subject to a public consultation.

But the boroughs’ opposition, in the interests of the health and well-being of their residents, has been feeble.

All four councils, as long-term clients of Viridor, have been utterly compromised to the point where they do the company’s bidding in the hope of getting rid of their boroughs’ waste on the cheap.

High octane: Barry ‘Biggles’ Lewis used to sell old aircraft. Now he is an ‘inspirational’ speaker for Sutton’s greenwashing LibDems

Sutton, under LibDem leader Ruth Dombey, have been cheerleaders for Viridor and the incinerator since before the plant was granted planning permission under controversial circumstances. One senior LibDem councillor, John Drage, happened to be life-long chums with the chairman of Viridor, something they failed to declare at council committees or SLWP meetings.

In Croydon, Jason Perry, the borough’s part-time Mayor, was a senior member of the Tory administration in 2010 that deliberately deceived the public by dismissing fears about an incinerator by announcing that none would be built in this borough – when they knew very well that the proposed site was just in Sutton, with Waddon, Broad Green, the town centre and Addiscombe all downwind…

Last month, Perry demonstrated his lack of interest in the matter when, at a council meeting, he didn’t even know what SLWP stood for.

Perry and Croydon’s Tories have been silent on the latest incinerator consultation, while Labour – after supporting Viridor’s business during their disastrous eight years in charge of the Town Hall – have also remained schtum.

Sutton, in its latest efforts at greenwashing, is staging a TedX talk tonight in which they are claiming that council cabinet member Barry “Biggles” Lewis, the failed businessman and former used aircraft salesman, is an “inspirational speaker” on environmental issues.

Inside Croydon revealed in 2019 that LibDem Lewis was a director of two companies that were placed in liquidation with a trail of debts – including to the taxman – of nearly £9million.

The focus of Lewis and the LibDems has been to bellyache about the pollution caused by an increase in lorry traffic delivering even more rubbish to the incinerator if it is allowed to increase its capacity, all the while ignoring the massive elephant in the room of the toxic emissions coming from the plant’s chimneys.

Stark realities: the Beddington incinerator has been polluting the atmosphere of south London for five years – all laid bare in this Sutton Labour leaflet

Merton says it is objecting to Viridor’s plans, and is submitting a joint response to the proposal with Kingston, Sutton and Croydon. None of the councils, as clients of Viridor, have offered any kind of explanation why they won’t simply forbid their contractor from burning more at the plant.

The Environment Agency describes its permit as having “stringent conditions”, although the watchdog has done little than issue a slap on the wrist to Viridor for the multiple permit breaches at Beddington. “We will not issue an environmental permit for a site if we consider that activities taking place will cause significant pollution to the environment or harm to human health,” the EA said, despite mounting evidence that that is exactly what Viridor has been doing at Beddington since they fired up the furnaces five years ago.

Air force: Elliot Colburn, MP for Carshalton and Wallington, opposes Viridor’s application

In Sutton, there is rare outbreak of cross-party agreement, with Labour councillors agreeing with one of the borough’s Conservative MPs, Elliot Colburn, who yesterday tweeted, “Say no to more incineration.”

Sheldon Vestey, the leader of the Labour group on Sutton Council and a consistent opponent of the incinerator and the local heating network that is supposed to be powered by Viridor, will be leafleting at the TedX talk tonight.

He told Inside Croydon, “Objecting over vehicle movements is simply not enough.

“We need to be clear with residents about the health concerns and environmental damage linked to incineration.”

Councillor Vestey described as “absurd” that jet plane enthusiast Biggles Lewis is being put forward at tonight’s event.

“It’s almost like the council is trying to validate his views by using the Ted talk platform,” Vestey said.

Read more: Drage-Net: Complaint filed to police over incinerator lobbying
Read more: Report: Incinerator is ‘as polluting as coal-fired power stations’
Read more: Viridor going for the burn: will councillors stand up to them?

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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3 Responses to Client councils are failing to hold polluting Viridor in check

  1. Mark Gale says:

    The Merton Cabinet Member Cllr Natasha Irons who has made comments via the council Press Release talking about the increase of burning “add to existing traffic problems caused by the HGVs coming through residential roads”, which indicates that she has failed to read the consultation at all as the Environment Agency addresses the point of additional traffic as not being under their control – Merton should have objected at the planning process, not backed the build.

    The Environment Agency say on page TWO of the briefing:

    “Can you consider vehicle movements to and from the site?
    • The Environment Agency’s principal legislation for regulating waste activities is the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016. These Regulations specifically preclude us, in paragraph 3(b) of Schedule 9, from “addressing nuisances and hazards arising from traffic beyond the site of a waste operation”. Therefore, we cannot include conditions in our permits which address the volume of, or emissions from, traffic.
    • Vehicle movements are specifically covered by planning legislation, which falls under the remit of the Local Authority, which we do not have any powers to enforce.
    • The Environment Agency are a statutory consultee for planning purposes. This means local councils must consult us when considering any planning applications.
    • Our comments on planning applications relate to environmental matters that we are responsible for reviewing.
    • We only comment on planning applications and do not have a role in deciding them. The local council will make the final decision after considering our comments.”

    If that doesn’t fill you with confidence about her research of the the issue (not reaching page 2 of the 2 page document”), then perhaps the important status she has as Chair of the SLWP South London Waste Partnership – the “administration-party-only” committee that has failed to manage their contractor, failed to get them to turn up to a single SLWP meeting and did so poorly last time that when Viridor increased their original permit by 15% it was a resident that informed the shocked members that while they were back slapping their great work they were achieving that Viridor had applied and successfully achieved the permit variation.

  2. Lewis White says:

    How much of the ” 43 tonnes per hour, 1,052 tonnes per day, and 382,000 tonnes per year” is actually municipal waste produced by the 4 SWLP councils?

    Or is Sutton merely hosting an incinerator that is pulling in 50% of its rubbish from Surrey and the rest of Londn?.

    I suppose that it would be fair for the incinerator to burn stuff generated within the 4 SWLP boroughs, but it would be very difficult to trace where the stuff actually comes from.

  3. Peter Underwood says:

    Croydon has just been listed as third amongst outer-London boroughs with the most premature deaths from air pollution in the London Assembly debate about the Ultra-Low Emmissions Zone (ULEZ).

    We know that ‘local Conservatives’ don’t support extending the ULEZ and they’ve said nothing about closing down the incinerator – or stopping it burning even more rubbish.

    Jason Perry says he wants people to live healthier lives for longer and he wants to clean up Croydon. So I wonder what his plan is to clean up air pollution?

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