Opponents of new incinerator risk jail with refusal to pay whole council tax bill

Town Hall warned that burner battle is not over yet as protests go on

Friday, 21st January — By Anna Lamche

Jo Pearl

Sculptor Jo Pearl is refusing to pay her whole bill

RESIDENTS frustrated with Islington Council’s role in giving a green light to the expansion of the waste-burning incinerator at Edmonton are ready to withhold part of their council tax bills.

The objectors say they need to come up with “creative” new ways to oppose the project – as contracts were drawn up and prepared for signatures.

Jill Ellenby, who lives near Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, said she had decided to withhold a “symbolic amount” from her council tax payment – £10 a month.

She said this was a way of “stepping up the protest” – but it’s a move which comes with legal ramifications.

Residents who refuse to pay the monthly bill from the Town Hall can be brought before a court and punished with a range of penalties – including time in prison.

In response, Islington Council reminded residents that the payment of council tax was vital to keep services going. Environment chief Councillor Rowena Champion’s position can be read in full below.

Ms Ellenby said the refusal to comply with council tax demands was “a new way to capture attention and get our point of view across.”

She added: “We don’t want our money to be spent on this – but we’re only withholding a symbolic amount because we realise the council needs to run services.”

How the new eco park will look

Ms Ellenby is redirecting the withheld money into the council’s environmental bond scheme instead.

“We’re very keen on what the council is doing in terms of environmental improvement plans, we didn’t want to make that difficult for them,” she said.

Amid concerns about the emissions that will be generated by a larger plant at Edmonton – waste from seven boroughs including Islington will be sent there – Ms Ellenby said she felt the council’s handling of the scheme had been “unprincipled and underhand.”

She said the decision to give the incinerator the go-ahead will affect the way she votes this May. “I’m not going to vote Labour,” she said.

While she has “some concerns” about the potential legal consequences of withholding council tax, Ms Ellenby said the historical record shows it is a meaningful form of protest.

“Back in the 80s, people withheld their poll tax, and that turned out to be an effective means of dealing with that,” she said.

Ms Ellenby has been withholding these payments since November last year; she knows of six other households in the borough doing the same.

Jill Ellenby protesting at the current plant

This week she was joined by sculptor Jo Pearl, who has decided to withhold £20 a month from her bill in protest at the incinerator.

“I decided on £20 as it’s what I thought might be my little contribution that goes towards the incinerator. We’re not trying to undermine council services across the board,” said Ms Pearl, who lives near Archway.

“I believe in paying council tax and I’ve always paid mine in full. I don’t take council tax strike lightly.”

She said her refusal to pay in full came in a wider spirit of protest, adding: “I’m very upset about the Crime bill.”

Defeated in the House of Lords on Monday, The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a mammoth piece of legislation which, among other things, sets out to give the police new powers to stop protests in England and Wales if they are deemed to be too noisy.

The bill was paused after reaching the House of Lords on Monday, when peers rejected some of the clauses that would allow sweeping police powers.

Ms Pearl feels this bill puts protesters like her at risk – and says it has encouraged her to consider more “creative” ways to register her dissent. “I have no trust that normal political and democratic rights will be protected,” she said. “I risk being criminalised for protesting.”

Ms Pearl decided she would participate in a council tax strike last month, after police surrounded her as she was collecting soot from London Wall as part of an art work.

“The first question they asked us was: ‘Are you protesting?’ My answer was: ‘No, I’m collecting material to make art with’,” Ms Pearl said.

“It feels like police have already been briefed to behave as though protesting is a criminal activity.”

‘We must be realistic on waste’ – the council’s response in full…

ENVIRONMENT chief Councillor Rowena Champion (above) said: “We’re taking action to address the climate emergency, by creating a cleaner, greener, healthier Islington.

“Despite the positive steps that the council and its partners are taking to reduce waste, it’s very likely that the North London Waste Authority (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, which is becoming less resilient as the years go past – 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 standards.

“We’re determined to reduce waste of all kinds and we continue to work with partners including the NLWA to achieve this, as well as lobbying the Government for much-needed support.

“Council tax is essential in helping to fund the key services that local people rely on, as well as the council’s ambitions to create a cleaner, greener, healthier Islington that can achieve net zero carbon status by 2030.”

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