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new edmonton incineratorAn artist's impression of the huge new incinerator at the heart of the North London Heat & Power Project

Environmental groups have renewed calls for the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) to review its plans to build a huge new waste incinerator in Edmonton. A document sent to councillors in seven boroughs contains detailed "rebuttals" of claims made recently by NLWA board members in defence of the project. Their objections relate both to serious environmental concerns and to the project's value for money, especially in the light of changing circumstances.

"700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year"

In March seven local Extinction Rebellion (XR) groups wrote to all councillors in seven north London boroughs urging them to pause the North London Heat and Power Project (NLHPP). Their letter argued that the new incinerator would burn 150,000 tonnes of fossil fuels per year in the form of plastic and that it is likely to emit 700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, about half of which would be derived from fossil fuel sources. It argued that there are lower-carbon alternatives to incineration and district heating which would be much cheaper: reducing waste generation; boosting recycling of organics, metals, plastics and other material; and investing in real renewable energy sources.

The XR groups, along with other campaigners, also made the point that the new incinerator would be oversized for the volumes of "residual" waste which will need to be dealt with. Consequently, it risked becoming a "stranded asset" (ie a white elephant) or alternatively the need to "feed" it would be a disincentive to recycling and to progress towards a circular economy.

"Tell the truth"

In May two leading members of the NLWA board, Councillors Loakes from Waltham Forest and Burke from Hackney, responded in a letter and newspaper article, giving reasons for rejecting the call to review the project. In their Rebuttal document the XR groups challenge these responses, which they say include many questionable claims, and call on the NLWA to "tell the truth", setting out detailed rebuttals of each of the arguments made by the two councillors.

The points of contention include:

  • the NLWA says that not building the incinerator risks sending up to 700,000 tonnes of waste to landfill. XR argues that this amount is based on an overestimate of future waste generation, proposes methods of recyling or composting a much higher proportion of waste, and suggests that it might be preferable to bury the small amount of genuinely residual waste because it stores materials for future reclamation rather than transforming them into atmospheric pollution.
  • the NLWA claims that the incinerator would contribute towards reducing carbon emissions. The XR document includes a section setting out a step-by-step argument why the effect of burning 700,000 tonnes of waste would be to add 700,000 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere and not 28,000 tonnes, as claimed.
  • the NLWA claims that the project meets the requirement to safeguard communities from health and environmental risks. The campaigners say that, in addition to the environmental damage caused by carbon emissions, it is impossible to filter out ultra-fine particles that are particularly injurious to health.

A comprehensive value-for-money review needed "as a matter of urgency"

imageAnother group opposed to the NLHPP is Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now, many of whose supporters live in Chingford and Walthamstow, areas downwind from the incinerator when the prevailing westerly winds blow. The group has commissioned a report arguing for a value-for-money review of the project, written by the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network and paid for with help from the Frederick Mulder Foundation.

The report, published last month, concludes that

Given the scale of the Edmonton incinerator rebuild project and the many significant changes that have arisen since the project was first proposed, it would be prudent for a comprehensive Value for Money (VfM) review to be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

It discusses factors that could undermine the economics of the project and should be considered by a value-for-money review, including:

  • the discrepancy between the forecast amounts of residual waste used as the basis for planning the incinerator and much lower actual amounts - despite the increasing population, waste volumes have fallen
  • the risk of incineration overcapacity in and around London
  • the risk of increases in construction costs caused by various factors, including Brexit, exchange rate changes and the coronavirus outbreak
  • the risk that the government might bring in additional taxes on carbon emissions
  • the risk of regulatory changes, eg changes to recycling rules and targets, tougher emission controls, a ban on incinerating recyclables.

"A wall of denial and rebuttals"

The cost of the NLHPP will be borne by the seven councils represented on the NLWA. In theory the NLWA is ultimately answerable to the electors in these boroughs, but campaigners who have contacted their councillors have complained about "vested interests" and say that they have come up against "a wall of denial and rebuttals, no matter who we write to". The same appears to be true for another issue concerning the NLWA - its insistence that Pinkham Wood, a protected nature conservancy site adjacent to the North Circular Road, must continue to be earmarked as a site suitable for a waste processing facility. The north London councils are united in maintaining this stance and resistant to any calls for common sense, even when they come from planning inspectors.

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Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #5371 09 Jun 2020 12:39
Having been presented with these conflicting viewpoints, how did we get to a much-too-large-for-north London incinerator, set to worsen our air quality and produce London borough-scale volumes of CO2 just as we face a (legal) net-zero carbon future?

Start in 2004 and the draft of North London’s Joint Municipal Waste strategy (NLJMWS), completed by north London’s seven boroughs and the waste authority, the NLWA - a public body whose board of trustees is made up of councillors from the seven boroughs. Municipal waste, the type we’re most familiar with as households, makes up about 30% of the total waste arising in north London.

The seven boroughs (only) are separately required to produce a Development Plan Document for waste; that is the North London Waste Plan (NLWP). This was expected to be completed by 2010, ten years ago! The NLWP covers all waste, not simply municipal, and has two main purposes:
• To ensure there is sufficient protected land available for waste management; and
• To set policies relating to that land.

In-between these two dates came an Icelandic banking crisis, a secret financial deal between two public bodies to buy the nature conservation land at Pinkham Way, the start of (still ongoing efforts) to change that areas designation to Industrial land so as to be better suited for waste management, and a continued belief in extremely high waste growth forecasts despite ever increasing evidence to the contrary. The draft NLJMWS also went on to add a fifth waste management option (let’s simply call it “Pinkham Way”), deemed better than all the others, and its sign-off was pushed through the councils as an urgent item in 2008.

Then the NLWP failed at its independent examination.

Then PFI funding for the Pinkham Way approach was removed. (But the NLWA intent nevertheless continued).

Then “Pinkham Way” itself failed.

However the NLWA now owned the land at Pinkham Way, an asset later estimated to cost some £40m to clean up to make good for development yet still valued on its balance sheet at an eight figure sum.

Surely this was a good time to take stock and develop a viable strategy for our municipal waste?
Clearly not: instead the route was to double down and ignore all strategic trends dampening future waste levels, ignore the much lower demands made by the GLA for north London’s share of total waste to manage, and instead create yet more forecasts of waste growing relentlessly and plan for substantial capacity now to meet that far off assumed higher need. And also decide it would be via an incinerator.

The long list of caveats produced by the forecast’s authors contrasts with the NLWA statement that the incinerator supporting waste data is “robust” and highlights the extent to which this organisation has been happy to overwrite facts - this is shown on the attachment.

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Despite being based on what were then even higher forecast waste levels, all the Energy from Waste (EfW) options in the NLJWS proposed capacity substantially below that now being planned. How could it possibly be we now end up looking at something significantly larger than all of those?

The NLWA still holds the land at Pinkham Way, highly valued in its balance sheet, and in the absence of any strategy justifying its use, there followed a need to develop a NLWP supporting a land need to underpin the position. This latest NLWP also failed to pass muster at its public examination late last year. A second attachment outlines one of the several reasons why that situation is very unlikely to change quickly.

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A 15 year plan has so far taken 13 years to get nowhere, a full 10 years after it was first expected to be approved and now appears quite likely to be required to once again start-over.

The NLJMWS expires this year (2020), so we currently have no municipal waste strategy (supporting or otherwise an incinerator) and no NLWP.

The NLJWS will not be rewritten for at least two more years because the waste authority view the future as currently too uncertain to do so; not however too uncertain to pause a two generation term incinerator plan.

It is worth noting that the incinerator supporting waste forecast data, the same data so heavily caveated by its own authors, and which was then also used in the later NLWP, was not accepted at the latter’s public hearing.

We now look down on a mess of failures, inconsistencies and inaccuracy.

So what is needed? The message is the same as has been conveyed for the last ten years plus: waste is an issue that needs a solution. Our region needs a waste resource strategy based on supportable evidence, where a NLWP and a NLJWS are two sides of the same coin, and where public bodies are transparent and accountable to the public for their actions and for our money that they spend.

The linear waste model, such as where oil was drilled in the middle east, often fought over, shipped to the far east, converted into toys, shipped to the west, popped in as an adjunct to kids food, played with for ten minutes and then thrown out to be buried in the ground or burnt in an incinerator is coming to an end. A circular economy treating waste as a reusable resource will replace it, estimated by consultants for the GLA to reduce end of life waste (for eg incineration) by something like a third over the medium term. That’s where waste thinking needs to be planning, not the toss it away and burn it world of ten years and more ago.

So just why is all this happening to us in the absence of any supporting plan or strategy? Incompetence, ego, some other, you decide for there is no supportable reason for where we find ourselves; perhaps all public views could be aggregated onto a flag that could sit atop our planned “flagship” incinerator, something to look at while we pay for it and the still outstanding bill from Pinkham Way for the next three decades. Locking in necessarily huge levels of waste production as a must-have feedstock item for two generations and all those cries for school books, social care budgets, pothole repairs and more are literally going up in smoke.

More than that, why has north London put itself forward to be London’s and parts of the south east’s waste capital, and why within that is Enfield seeking to be the waste capital of it all?

Someone must know. Time they blew their whistle before it’s too late. What started as a secret deal shouldn’t now end up the same way.

(Municipal Waste levels are roughly 650,000 tonnes per annum and declining. London’s recycling target for this waste type is at least 65%, leaving roughly 225,000 tonnes pa to be disposed of. The incinerator however has a planned capacity of 700,000 tonnes.)
AURORA YAACOV's Avatar
AURORA YAACOV posted a reply #5373 11 Jun 2020 14:38
Karl Brown, there seem to be many reasons for concern about the NLWA's approach to the management of waste in North London. Among these, the lack of public scrutiny and accountability should be high on the agenda. In connection with this I noticed only yesterday that NLWA's new website (which popped up in the last couple of weeks) has little to say about the mechanisms of scrutiny available to the public. It is very concerning that campaigners get no reply to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. The latest development is that the new website gives access to only the last four annual reports and financial statements, whereas just a few weeks ago anyone visiting the old website could read reports of the last 10 years! Why has NLWA suddenly restricted access to older financial and annual reports? What has it got to hide from the public?
Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #5374 11 Jun 2020 14:53
Commenting on Aurora Yaacov's findings, I can't say why such data has so suddenly been removed from the NLWA web site. What I do know however is that in the last few weeks they received a mail which included the lines:

In the meantime, plans for the NLHPP are scheduled to proceed. However, and as the attached note spells out, that has implications:

• It removes any chance of securing Pinkham Way for waste use; so suggesting
• The c £14m valuation of Pinkham Way in the NLWA accounts is unlikely to stand scrutiny.

Conversely, the c £60m remaining PWLB monies to secure the 50% share of London Energy (Waste), along with the c£50m goodwill which remains on the NLWA balance sheet - despite the contrary statement in the 2009/10 NLWA audited accounts and proper practices in relation to accounts - can be absorbed into NLHPP funding,


This may or may not be relevant to what has just happened but it may be difficult to view the timing as insignificant.

There is no public scrutiny of NLWA and never has been. The organisation refuted attempts to be scrutinised by a Council scrutiny committee.

The Chair apparently once said he (NLWA) was accountable to no one - and the Standing orders would seem to support that - although later comment suggest that line has since been softened and their view is that the NLWA is accountable to Parliament.

Note also NLWA is a legal entity independent of the seven councils and so while sitting the board has responsibility to NLWA alone and no one else, ie their host councils.

Hope that helps
Bill Linton's Avatar
Bill Linton posted a reply #5376 15 Jun 2020 12:16
Given that the board members of the NLWA are appointed by the seven councils, it is hard to believe that they do not have any responsibility to those who appointed them. Even if they really do not, it is surely possible for any council unhappy with the views put forward by its representatives to recall them and replace them with others whose views are more in line with council policy.
However, waste is not a 'sexy' subject and few councillors will have any interest in it (probably including most of the cabinet). Faced with factually-conflicting statements from the NLWA and from a bunch of protesters many will assume that the NLWA knows its own business and seek to pass on rapidly to their own next business - even when the protesters' statement is meticulously cross-referenced and the NLWA's is just a blanket denial.
There are cracks in the wall, however: two Enfield councillors - Vicki Pite and Yasemin Brett - have come out against the NLWA. Hopefully that may make some of their colleagues wonder whether they ought not to take another look at the evidence, and it also makes it easier for any that do to break ranks as well - being first is always hardest. On the other hand, the current administration seems to be as little inclined to listen to other views as the NLWA is.
Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #5377 17 Jun 2020 10:29
Bill’s observation on the sexiness of waste surely is true and he also raises a hopeful point of a debate finally opening up between elected councillors, but on two of his other points it’s worth bearing in mind:
(Technically at least) Appointments to the NLWA are made by the NLWA not the 7 councils - they could say no; and
There is no evidence the councils themselves have a desired approach that is any different to that of the NLWA.
For us here in Enfield this latter point is perhaps the real killer (possibly literally) for why is the borough supporting the hosting of an incinerator three times as large as data / forecasts suggest is needed and which will be capable of pumping out the equivalent of two full years’ worth of all the CO2 produced in London over its expected lifetime just as we face - and announce - a climate emergency? I honestly have not the slightest idea. Let's just hope someone does.
Bill Linton's Avatar
Bill Linton posted a reply #5382 18 Jun 2020 17:34
Enfield Council are indeed quite happy to plough ahead with building this white elephant with money they don't have. My own approach to Cllr Ian Barnes on behalf of Extinction Rebellion was dismissed rather rudely without any attempt to engage with the arguments I put forward. As Ian has never been known to disagree with Cllr Caliskan, and what she says goes, we may assume that only a rapid (but improbable) return of democracy to Enfield offers any hope.
Ian Barnes's Avatar
Ian Barnes posted a reply #5383 21 Jun 2020 11:57
Bill
My reply to you suggested you contact the North London Waste Authority which has statutory jurisdiction over the new North London Heat and Power Project. Just because it's not the answer you want doesn't mean that it is rude.
And as for your final comment, which is frankly beneath you, the option assessment that the NLHPP scheme was the preferred option was made during the 2014-2018 administration.
Ian
Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #5385 24 Jun 2020 08:45
This Thursday (25th June) sees an important waste authority (NLWA) meeting. The agenda will include the latest annual accounts, high level risk plus key next steps for the proposed incinerator. Anticipating this Pinkham Way Alliance wrote to all board members with some related issues and risks.

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The highlighted legacy costs from an earlier exercise are substantial despite ignoring £5m compensation paid to bidders and ballpark £20m for the likes of consultants and lawyers. Chris Grayling aside, I always wonder where else the same leadership would remain in place having burnt through so much capital.

The conclusion, take a breath and make sure it's the right approach this time, is appropriate, as is it being undertaken in conjunction with completion of the necessary waste strategy and waste plan, both items currently missing.