Dump plans for waste incinerator, the Town Hall is told
Eco activists urge Islington Council to rethink plans for a larger rubbish-burning plant
Friday, 3rd December 2021 — By Anna Lamche
Environmental campaigners want Islington Council to rethink plans for a larger waste-burning incinerator [All photos courtesy of Robert Royston]
THE Town Hall is under pressure to oppose plans for a new rubbish-burning incinerator over environmental concerns.
Seven local authorities are working together to commission the new, larger plant in Edmonton, but on Tuesday night Haringey Council became the first to call for a “pause and review” of the scheme.
Now Islington and the other partners are being urged to follow suit and apply the brakes.
In a letter to the North London Waste Authority (NLWA), which handles rubbish for the seven boroughs, Labour councillor Peray Ahmet, the leader of the Haringey Council, said: “Before members of the NLWA take a decision on the procurement it is vital that the authority is absolutely clear that the proposal is the best way to dispose of waste in north London and the environmental concerns of residents have been properly taken into account.”
The campaign against the new incinerator has been gathering steam in recent weeks, with demonstrations and pleas to the NLWA’s membership to think again.
A vote on the project is due to be held on December 16. Islington has two representatives on the NLWA’s board: councillors Rowena Champion – the Town Hall’s environment chief – and finance supremo Satnam Gill.
Ben Griffiths, an Extinction Rebellion campaigner and member of the Labour Party in Islington, said: “[Islington] Council could call for a pause and review if they had the political will. They’ve declared a climate emergency and it’s time they start acting accordingly.”
He said: “I’m delighted Haringey is calling for a pause and review. It’s a shame Islington Council hasn’t taken the leap and I very much hope other councils will follow their lead.”
Haringey’s letter to the NLWA was delivered on the same evening as Islington’s environment scrutiny committee – one of the council’s last opportunities to put their questions to the authority’s managing director Martin Capstick before the key vote. He was cross-examined by a range of councillors along with Mr Griffiths, who delivered a community deputation and urged everybody to do everything they could to stop the project. The current incinerator in Edmonton will be demolished to make way for the larger facility.
Mr Griffiths argued that the plan was too costly and conflicted with the council’s pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030, suggesting the new facility far outstripped projections for how much waste will be created. Doubt was also cast on as yet undeveloped “carbon capture” technology, which the NLWA claims will be central to reducing the incinerator’s emissions.
Mr Capstick acknowledged that “waste forecasting is a very difficult business” and said the facility would not have to operate at full capacity, and could run by burning 490,000 tonnes of waste a year, offering “flexibility.” He suggested the new incinerator would produce energy that can be used to power nearby homes.
But Labour councillor Gary Heather said more money should be directed into recycling.
“In my view we need to find a pathway away from incineration… we’re never going to be able to do that unless this recycling rate goes up,” he said.
He also suggested that the plans, which were approved in 2017, should be reconsidered if there have been any “material changes” since “those plans were hatched”.
Some councillors registered their concern about the incinerator’s impact on air quality, questioned whether the site would eventually become a London-wide incinerator, and asked what the NLWA was doing to lobby the government over laws to decrease non-recyclable packaging.
Mr Griffiths told the Tribune: “There’s clearly concern among some Labour councillors. But whether that’s enough for the council to take a new course remains to be seen.”
Martin Franklin, Islington North Labour Party’s environment officer, said: “If Haringey is looking at this seriously, at the problems related to the incinerator, and going ahead without a pause and review, we hope that other councils will do the same.”
Islington’s branch of the National Education Union has also called on the council to follow Haringey’s example.
The union’s Ken Muller said: “We welcome Haringey’s decision and congratulate campaigners in the borough for persuading their councillors to change their mind. We call on Islington to follow suit.”
Cllr Rowena Champion, Islington’s environment chief, said: “Despite the positive steps that the council and its partners are taking to reduce waste, it’s very likely NLWA will have to deal with considerable amounts of residual waste for years to come.
“Planning for this is the most responsible way to make sure that NLWA can dispose of waste in the most environmentally-friendly way possible. It can also help ensure that carbon capture and storage – to which NLWA has made clear its commitment – is achieved as soon as it is feasible.
“The current Edmonton Energy from Waste plant is a very old facility – it needs to be replaced now.
“If we make unrealistically optimistic assumptions about the amount of residual waste in years to come, it is extremely likely we will be left to find ways of disposing of significant amounts of waste using other, less accountable and remote private facilities, which I do not believe is the responsible way to act.
“If the situation changes, and the amount of waste is significantly less than expected, it can run at reduced capacity, without the need to import waste from outside north London boroughs, so north London is able to manage its own waste in line with the mayor’s objectives.
“The council will continue to work with the NLWA to ensure that the facility operates within the very strict environmental guidelines.”