MP questions controversial waste plant deal

Comments come just weeks after incinerator was given go-ahead

Friday, 11th February — By Charlotte Chambers

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Protester Ben Griffith outside the plant in Edmonton

LABOUR’S shadow climate change minister has questioned the wisdom of expanding waste-burning incinerators – just weeks after a deal for a new plant which will take in Islington’s rubbish was signed.

Islington Council’s representatives on the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) helped vote through the controversial rebuilding of a facility in Edmonton which will serve seven boroughs.

Alan Whitehead MP, Labour’s frontbench spokesman on energy and the green new deal in the House of Commons, told a parliamentary debate on Tuesday that the facility “would make the past even more nailed down in the future”.

He said: “How do we deal with our waste in modern times, and what are the best ways of dealing with it and, indeed, the energy that might come from it?”

Dr Whitehead added that where the UK once buried waste, and then in later years burned it, it should now regard waste as “resource” and find ways of reusing it.

Objectors to the new incinerator have warned about dangerous emissions which they say will be pumped into the sky, and environmental groups say waste strategy should be clearly focused on recycling.

Catherine West, the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said more “innovative” ways to deal with waste should be the future, and criticised the government’s slashing of local council budgets since 2010.

She added: “We are in a climate emergency, and our constituents want change. They want to recycle more and they want our polluted air to be cleaner.”

Haringey Council stood alone among the boroughs with representatives on the NLWA by calling for a “pause and review” of the new incinerator.

Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn called the recycling rates for the seven north London boroughs – which produce 820,000 tonnes of waste per year between them – “abysmal”.

He said: “Across the whole area, only 30 per cent is recycled. The recycling rates are abysmal, quite frankly. They are abysmal in many other parts of the country as well. Germany recycles 65 per cent. Other countries achieve that. We are nowhere near.”

He admitted that improving recycling rates was “difficult”, but added: “If we want to give our children clean air, if we want to fulfil the obligations that we have signed up to at COP26, we should not be investing more than £1billion in an incinerator that the CEO of the company says is over capacity anyway.”

The government’s climate change minister, Greg Hands, told MPs that the UK Health Security Agency – the public body which assesses all public health dangers including infectious diseases such as Covid – had said incinerators “are not a significant risk to public health”.

Building work has already got started on the massive site, but campaigners and politicians say they’ll be breathing toxic air for the next 40 years and have sworn to move heaven and earth to overturn the decision.

The debate had been tabled by Chingford and Woodford MP Iain Duncan Smith – a long-term opponent of the waste plant.

Mr Hands told parliament this week that the Environment Agency granted a permit for the plant in 2017, because the “UKHSA’s position relating to incineration is that modern, well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health”.

Islington Council’s environment chief, Councillor Rowena Champion, has said work to increase recycling was going on, but has added: “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.”

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