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planned new edmonton incineratorThis artist's impression shows the sheer size of the planned new incinerator compared with the lorries bringing in its "feedstock"

Councillors in seven north London boroughs have been urged to radically re-think the draft plan for dealing with the area's waste and to put on hold and review the planned construction of a huge new incinerator in Edmonton, adjacent to and intended as a replacement for the existing incinerator.

Every councillor in the boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest, whose councils constitute the North London Waste Authority (NLWA), has this week received two letters: one from the Pinkham Way Alliance (PWA), set up to defend a nature conservation area on the borders of New Southgate and Muswell Hill that was earmarked as a waste processing site; the other from a coalition of local Extinction Rebellion (XR) groups, campaigners for urgent action to avoid the worst consequences of the global climate emergency.

Both letters are intended to alert the 400 plus councillors to what the authors see as the dire consequences, financial and ecological, of continuing with the policies supported by the NLWA, which all the councils have been signed up to for some time. In the case of the PWA letter, the emphasis is on what they see as gross deficiencies in the most recent draft of the North London Waste Plan (NLWP) and the continuing threat to the nature conservation area, but they also call into question the rationale and business case for building the new incinerator. The XR letter is concerned entirely with the environmental consequences of the incinerator.

A "narrow window of opportunity" to review the incinerator project

xr abandon incineratorThe Extinction Rebellion letter calls on the councillors to "immediately pause" all work related to the construction of the new incinerator and to "issue a public announcement to this effect no later than 20 May 2020". Noting that construction is due to start in 2022, the XR letter urges councillors to "take advantage of this narrow window of opportunity" to launch an independent review of the project. The XR groups say they are "confident" that such a review would lead councils to conclude that the project is no longer viable and that it should be abandoned "in favour of a renewed focus on efforts to reduce waste, recycle more of the waste that is generated, and manage the smaller quantity of residual waste in a more responsible manner".

The letter urges councillors to refrain from building "facilities that will lock North London into high waste generation and high greenhouse gas emissions for decades, and possibly beyond 2075". It points out how national environmental priorities have changed since the project was consulted on.

"Tantamount to adding 360,000 cars to North London’s roads"

The XR coalition highlights that the facility 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, which is tantamount to adding 360,000 cars to North London’s roads. It also stresses that the incinerator risks becoming an "entirely stranded asset" if London drastically reduces its waste and recycles more, in line with national recycling targets of 50 per cent in 2020 and 60 per cent in 2030, as well as the London Environment Strategy target of 65 per cent recycling by 2030—and as national legislation sets additional requirements on emissions, packaging, and recycling.

To "move North London towards net zero", the letter proposes far less costly, lower-carbon alternatives to incineration: reducing waste generation; boosting recycling of organics, metals, plastics and other material; and investing in real renewable energy sources. The XR groups estimate that more than half of North London’s waste that is currently being incinerated could be recycled or composted. (In fact, according to an email sent to journalists, rather than increasing, the proportion of total waste sent for reuse, recycling and composting actually fell from 31.2 per cent in 2017-18 to 29.9 per cent in 2018-19 - meaning that the boroughs are nowhere near meeting their target of 50 per cent in 2020.)

The PWA letter makes similar points:

"The case for the new Edmonton plant is anyway weakening as time passes. The long term trend for waste is down - N London overall waste levels have hardly moved for a decade or more, in spite of a 20%+ increase in population; Mayoral recycling requirements have increased; the concern about long term CO2 emissions and air quality from incineration has ballooned, and will only increase after this week’s judgment on Heathrow and subsequent murmurs about road-building plans; the NLWA requirement to source feedstock from the far reaches of SE England runs contra to a principal NLWP objective to reduce ‘waste miles’; the costs have nearly doubled, meaning an increased funding burden on N London boroughs for a very long term fixed capacity plant operating against a fast changing background."

"North London’s 13-year journey to nowhere"

pinkham way alliance logoThe PWA extends its criticism to the totality of the draft waste plan. The letter it sent to councillors takes the form of a briefing paper with the title "North London Waste Plan - North London's 13-year journey to nowhere"'. It points out that, 13 years after the start of drafting, the most recent iteration of the waste plan was subjected to strong criticism by the Planning Inspector:

"Last November the Planning Inspector found the proposed NLWP so unsound that he refused to make any proposals for modifications that might rectify it. At the end of the hearings he advised that so much was required – some of it fundamental – that the boroughs should consider whether to attempt modification at all or start again."

In the view of the PWA a major factor in the difficulties with developing a satisfactory new waste plan was the purchase by the NLWA of the Pinkham Way land at great cost as the proposed site of a new waste processing facility. This project was abandoned in 2013. Despite the absurdity of classifying an officially listed nature reserve as suitable for industrial use, it has been included in drafts of both the NLWP and the Haringey Local Plan ever since in order to cover up the embarrassing mistake of paying £12 million for an unsuitable site.

"[The] highly suspect inclusion [of Pinkham Way] in the present NLWP was a convenient way of avoiding any embarrassing explanation of why the Authority is land banking a Grade 1 Nature Conservation Site for which it paid £12m, a site for which a) it has no planning permission and no plans and b) has never shown either need or suitability. To say nothing of £170m plus of expenses related to the site and the procurement of which it formed part."

An "oversized pseudo-entrepreneurial project"

Summing up its appeals to the councillors from the seven boroughs, the PWA letter concludes:

"Our elected councillors must insist on the development of an integrated Municipal Waste Strategy and Waste Plan for North London based on actual data, objective need and a sensible analysis of future trends. They should not be driven by a single stakeholder, a single oversized pseudo-entrepreneurial project, a single waste stream which long term policy anyway aims to reduce drastically, or by the desperation to include a single wholly unsuitable site which the same stakeholder should never have purchased."

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See also...

  • 20 January 2020

Stop the Edmonton incinerator

Karl Brown reports on a meeting last week organised by campaigners against the replacement of the current Edmonton incinerator by a much larger plant. Read more

  • 08 October 2019

Preserving the Pinkham Way woodlands - a new appeal

The long drawn out process of finalising the North London Waste Plan is continuing. The next important stage - the examination in public by the planning inspector - is scheduled for November. Its outcome has the potential to determine whether or not a waste processing plant is built on an important nature conservation site - the woodlands adjacent to the Pinkham Way section of the North Circular Road. Read more

  • 27 March 2019

Sign before 10th April to safeguard the Pinkham Way nature conservation site

The Pinkham Way Alliance is urging people to sign online in support of its response to the draft North London Waste Plan (NLWP). Their submission calls for removal of the Pinkham Way nature conservation site (close to the Enfield/Barnet/Haringey borough boundaries) from a list of potential sites for new waste processing facilities. Read more

  • 20 May 2017

Pinkham Way campaigners celebrate a major step forward

Pinkham Way will be removed from Haringey's 'Site Allocations' - the Council admitted at the hearing that it wasn't needed for its employment strategy. So, potential developers will no longer be able to argue that a development's benefit (i.e. its contribution to the borough's employment needs) outweighs the harm to nature conservation. This is a very big win indeed for residents. Read more