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notice about demonstration outside the crowndale centreOn Thursday 23rd June campaigners from the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now (StEIN) coalition will be protesting outside the annual general meeting of the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) in opposition to its decision to build a new waste incinerator in Edmonton. The latest anti-incinerator demonstration follows the news that, following intervention by Chingford MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, communities secretary Michael Gove has ordered a review of whether the £1.2billion project represents "best value".

The StEIN demonstration starts at 12.30 and will be outside Camden Council's Crowndale Centre at 218 Eversholt Street NW1 1BD (near Mornington Crescent Station).

The questions raised about the business case for the new incinerator and about the governance and finances of the waste authority have been reported extensively on Palmers Green Community, along with the vitally important question of whether or not building a new incinerator is at all compatible with the requirement to take tough actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The news that Michael Gove has ordered officials to scrutinise the project was reported last week on the Enfield Dispatch website

The communities secretary has also been written to by StEIN. Their letter, sent on 6th June, raises detailed questions about many aspects relating both to the incinerator contract and to the way that the NLWA operates, specifically in terms of its governance arrangements, the communications it releases to the public and the adequacy of the audit of its finances.

With regard to NLWA governance, StEIN refer to its "lack of transparency and accountability, its dysfunctional culture, and its failure of scrutiny and accountability". They say the waste authority spends more on public relations - and in particular, "greenwashing" -  than on action, accusing it of seriously misrepresenting the new incinerator's "green" credentials and the viability of alternatives to incineration.

The letter from StEIN to Michael Gove can be read on their website.

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PGC Webmaster posted a reply #6480 23 Jun 2022 23:34
The managing director of the North London Waste Authority has written to the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now(StEIN) campaign rebutting the points made by StEIN in their letter to communities secretary Michael Gove .

The letter, which does not address any of the issues in much detail, can be read on the NLWA website and contains links to various earlier letters concerning objections to the contract to build the new incinerator.
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PGC Webmaster posted a reply #6481 23 Jun 2022 23:48

"Think it over!"

At the waste authority's annual general meeting today, anti-incineration protesters serenaded the NLWA board members, who subsequently moved their meeting to another room.

More information on what went on and more videos on this Twitter thread posted by local democracy reporter Josh Mellor:

Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #6482 26 Jun 2022 10:41
A splendid lead vocalist, perhaps best enjoyed towards the end of the 19 minute public meeting before the CCTV plug was pulled camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/669792

The deputation, which kicked off these proceedings, angled in on the inappropriateness of re-electing the NLWA chair for a 14th (fourteenth) consecutive term; and we had one councillor highlighting the succession issue of board members. Such key items have previously been raised on PGC.

The recorded session ended with one councillor making a claim – via a question – that the NLWA board were more accountable than equivalent commercial incinerator operators. (The new incinerator is expected to be the UK’s only one run by a public body.) I reflected and consider that view as highly suspect:

- If accountable to commercial shareholders, would the cataclysmic failure of the Pinkham Way attempt, with its costs of circa £40m; a related £50m goodwill issue, which remains outstanding over a decade later (and is a major cause of the ongoing audit hold ups); plus related loans of which have been rolled over into the 2050’s and 2060’s been nodded through and also left the leadership team in situ in a commercial world?
- Would incinerator build costs, said to be 20-40% higher than market equivalents, been accepted?
- Would ever rising waste forecasts, with their direct influence on plant size and hence capital needs, challenged at the time as being completely inappropriate, and subsequently shown to be exactly that, been nodded through?
- Would a commercial operator, subject to market discipline and scrutiny, promoted two conflicting arguments as get out of jail cards, without consequence? (See attached letter).

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Would a (very) long-running recycling target of 50% so massively missed been all but ignored for consequence?
- If you plan to bring the recycling approach of all seven boroughs into line to better recycling output and then do nothing, would nothing follow?
And so on. I suggest the commercial equivalent would be much more accountable for its failures.

The councillor's implication was that local taxpayers ensure the accountability via the ballet box. And there lies a fundamental misunderstanding because no one votes for NLWA members in local elections; the NLWA is a public body separate to the seven councils.
It was said some years back the NLWA believed they were accountable to no one; that changed and reports now say they are accountable to Parliament, but regular scrutiny does not happen. The current efforts facilitated by one local MP, prompted by StEIN, is the first example of Parliamentary oversight. Certainly, there is no evidence of local scrutiny being undertaken, or accepted by the NLWA when requested by a council.
The equivalent commercial element of the NLWA, its operating arm, London Energy Limited (LEL), also has its own board and MD, and some directors in common. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the NLWA. I wonder how some specifics of accountability sits there: for example, what happens in the new incinerator world if (NLWA) waste forecast prove to be optimistic, meaning feedstock has to be imported at higher cost, or is not available at all. LEL would carry the operational and accounting risk and costs. Resultant costs are passed on to north London councils, LEL possibly becomes loss making. Who takes the bullet for that failure? If you don’t know where to point the gun you don’t know where accountability lies and without clear lines of accountability decisions inevitably are sub optimal, if taken at all (see eg recycling).
In this waste group, accountability and governance are inextricably entwined, and occur without scrutiny. Were the NLWA to release the currently secret EY report we may be able to see just how bad things have been.

To do? Cap the NLWA chair’s term at a max of 6 years; ensure succession plans and training is in place for members; scrutiny to fall to a committee of the seven councils with members being outside of the NLWA board (parts of which look a little too executive-like in their modus operandi) ; clarify and publicise accountability between NLWA and LEL for key issues and targets, and track them; LEL chair, although not necessarily all directors, to be independent of NWA.
And a lot more transparency. This is a £1bn plus piece of national infrastructure with climate, social and health implications, as well as budget choices affecting us all. It needs to be run in a manner reflecting that and certainly not believing you are accountable because taxpayers vote for you. As I said, we don’t.

Note: As originally published, this post erroneously stated that "The equivalent commercial element of the NLWA, its operating arm, London Energy Limited (LEL), also has its own board and MD, and the same chair". This sentence has now been amended to read "The equivalent commercial element of the NLWA, its operating arm, London Energy Limited (LEL), also has its own board and MD, and some directors in common".