Standing at the brow of Station Road N21 gives a splendid view of the current Edmonton Incinerator, tucked away as it is in the dip to lessen the dispersal effect of its big stack. Come 2025, after an OK from the Secretary of State, this 50 year old burner will be replaced by a new, significantly bigger burner, expected to be around for at least 30 and most likely 50 years – call it 2070. World temperature will then be …..
Consultation input was extremely sparse, possibly because even now not many seem to know of the plans. I made a case at the time, based on the project’s own numbers, that its processing size should be no more than 450,000 tonnes per annum rather than the proposed 700,000 (the current one is 500,000).
Totally ignored, but once the consultation was over the plans were rapidly changed to include sourcing waste from a 50 mile radius and not simply the originally stated North London, as well as to additionally burn commercial waste, not simply municipal (household) as had been proposed at the time of consultation. So it seems that someone’s analysis might have been in the right ball park.
But the SofS agreed it and a recent legal case failed to gain a review of the plans. The group, Stop the Edmonton Incinerator, centred in Chingford (the sort of Ground Zero for the plume), nonetheless are continuing their fight.
The burner will receive the majority of its feedstock from North London’s black bins. It’ll turn the 700,000 tonnes of waste pa into roughly an equivalent amount of climate impacting CO2 gas plus a range of nasties. “Skyfill”, as it’s commonly termed.
The presentation, given last week in Chingford by a hugely impressive local activist mum Carina Millstone, needed no support from me - the purpose of my invitation – for she nailed it.
We’ve seen recent and fundamental changes in fundamental decision-influencing issues:
Air pollution / quality has gone from zero to hugely important;
Climate, and so the huge quantities of CO2 influencing gas the burner will release for 50 years, is now an emergency;
After years of saying waste levels would go UP, both facts and now an acknowledgement from the boroughs and the Waste Authority, confirm they are in fact going DOWN. (And with dampening factors such as climate change and growing public awareness of the impacts of consumption and associated waste, PWA made a powerful case at last year’s Public Examination that such a trend would continue.)
So, let’s pause and think if a 50 year commitment is the right thing to do was the conclusion, and the request.
Waltham Forest Deputy Leader and Chair of the North London Waste Authority Councillor Clyde Loakes has apparently pinned this as a “Labour Party project”. (Six of the seven boroughs are-Labour led, 12 of the 14 NLWA Board Members).
Mayor Khan is said to have washed his hands of it because it was agreed before his term; so that approach rather than one following Keynes' seemingly more appropriate approach to situations that “when facts change I change my mind”.
Here’s a monumental spend (oh, the expected costs of which have just doubled) right in our borough, in one of the more deprived parts of our borough, committing us to huge loan repayments for the next 40 years and which is going against the key grain of several current macro trend issues, not least public health and a climate emergency.
So we have a “Labour Party project”, with a 20th century linear waste solution for a 21st century circular economy problem. Let’s see how much of a climate emergency commitment we seemingly have signed up to.
(And Carina has plans to answer the inevitable, “but the waste has to go somewhere”.)
Colin asks about any waste connections between Pinkham Way and Edmonton. Yes, and let me try to relatively briefly outline.
The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) is the Waste Disposal Authority for the seven North London Councils (Enfield, Waltham Forest, Barnet, Haringey, Camden, Hackney, and Islington). They have a statutory duty to dispose of municipal waste – that’s basically household stuff. These eight partner authorities operate under a strategy called the North London Joint Municipal Waste Strategy. The current version expires in 2020 and included such targets as 50% recycling (currently at 29% and going backwards). It was finished urgently and skewed at that time to reflect the desire to build a fuel pellet from waste site on Pinkham Way under then available PFI contracts. The plan needed lots of favourable assumptions, and money, and not surprisingly to many of us crashed into the ground – PWA will say because of them, the NLWA will say because despite the related nine figure sum by then spent (yes) they thought of a better way at the last minute.
Fuel pellets from waste is no longer an option in the world of waste, and never should have been.
Having long argued the Edmonton incinerator was no longer fit for purpose and couldn’t be repaired, miraculously after this failure they reversed that thinking too. Now it’ll tootle on just long enough to sort all the requirements to build a bigger one on the overall site.
The case for this new one needed herculean estimates of future waste volumes and awful levels of recycling; together maximising the amount of residual (black bin) waste to burn.
Both assumptions were nonsense and now look transparently so. But the case had been made, and was agreed.
All this is the NLWA and 7 boroughs.
Sitting above all this, in theory, is the North London Waste Plan (NLWP) put together by the seven boroughs (only is the theory) and addressing all waste in North London (Municipal waste, the domain of the NLWA, is less than a third of all waste).
The 10 year NLWP has been in preparation for something like the same period of time and has kept many a consultant in wages. The latest attempt went to public examination in November 2019 and didn’t do well at all under questioning. My money is on it necessarily going back to GO, albeit I understand the boroughs believe they have enough sticky tape to still make a job of it. We’ll see.
This wider, umbrella strategy, includes the identification of (any) land needed to process waste in North London. So you need waste forecast, existing capacity, capacity optimisation opportunities, other key metrics and more. You also need to have some idea of what you plan to do as a strategy over the medium term (15 years). As the independent inspector put it in summary, there are a lot of major issues with the NLWP.
Basically there’s no strategy effective at any level, no one knows what they’re doing in an integrated strategic manner and so things are taken forward on an opportunistic basis. It costs us Council Taxpayers shedloads of otherwise useable cash a fortune as a result.
Then back to PW. The NLWA bought it, paying over the odds under their first waste pellet plan. Now they are stuck with it and if it reverts to green field there’s a non-trivial chance that their balance sheet will look silly. So best try to find a waste use for it, although they can’t say that for technical reasons in the NLWP, not least for that would stop part of it being available for housing – oh, another strand going on.
In summary, it’s all the same messy pot and the same actors wasting our cash.
There's a major issue relating to the "green" aspect of PW, and that's essentially PWA; and a second issue relating to the need for a viable strategy for all this, and that's basically me.
Developing an effective waste strategy? 6 months tops for a capable team of 3.
Any need for PW? Not a supportable case in all the years I've followed this. Some very dodgy numbers over the years trying to make the case mind you.
Will the not in our back yard brigaded who generate the waste, please tell us the alternative to the plans to up grade the present system to a more environmental one , as for the pinkam way site I lived, brought up and played there when it was a rubbish's dump and sewerage farm not a nature reserve no complaints and would be best served the people of Haringey as a waste disposal site so they don't have to transport it to Enfield
The “not in my backyard brigade who generate the waste” are the approximately two million residents of the North London boroughs plus waste from all associated organisations – commercial, industrial, demolition, excavation and a few smaller more specialise strands. Under the Edmonton plans in particular, that back yard will extend to a 50 mile radius of the plant for commercials waste. That’s a very big back-yard.
As for alternatives, yes they exist, indeed the NLWA spent the best part of £200m quite recently pushing one to destruction. We’ll all be paying for that for a long time yet. The £1.2m latest estimate for the latest build will be a 40 year bill for all of us residents. Get it wrong and that’s capital and revenue not available for a myriad of other worthy purposes.
Pinkham Way? The sewerage plant closed in 1963. Undeveloped for roughly 55 years, it includes Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), the edge of an ecological corridor, and is a Grade 1 Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). It is part of a larger ecological complex and corridor including other SINCs (and MOL) e.g. (Hollickwood Park, Muswell Hill Golf Course, Tunnel Gardens, Bluebell Wood, Albert Road Rec and Rhodes Avenue Spinney). So quite important, given the current focus on environmental matters.
The most recent specialist estimate put its clean-up costs alone in the order of £50m, albeit what is under the 13m or so of clay capping might make this sum more and will, reports indicate, inevitably increase the flood risk into the Pymmes Brook and other watercourses further towards the Thames as its hydrological buffering capacity is lost.
As for Pinkham Way best serving the people of Haringay to avoid the need for them to transport waste to Enfield, maybe I’ll just ask – does it indeed go there or to the Hendon rail transfer station? And what constitutes “better”, for that is unquestionably a matter the independent Inspector has been forced to ponder for several months now. As yet neither he nor the seven boroughs have been able to answer it.
I’m advised that social media has various comments on the waste situation, broadly NIMBY and TINA in form, and typically fact-free supporting a layer of anger. So,
NIMBY: rather than simply the two sites mentioned (Edmonton, Pinkham Way) there are over 60 active waste sites in our area and another twenty or so others considered as part of the current draft NLWP. Our area’s waste is additionally exported to sites in over 70 other Waste Disposal Authorities and we import a roughly equivalent amount; so as I’ve pointed out previously, it’s a (very) big back yard that’s being considered. Fact-free off-the -cuff solutions simply won’t cut it in that matrix.
TINA: this was also the case with the Pinkham Way PFI, at least until they found an alternative.
The main focus is household waste (it’s what we tend to know best, even if it’s only the third largest waste segment). Here’s what’s been happening to that: we’re consistently generating less individually and as household units.
Against that, population has been growing and is expected to continue. So what’s the balanced outcome? The Waste Authority envisage (and have always envisaged) a never ending rise in waste. The reality, despite substantial population growth, has been precisely the opposite - something they have finally acknowledged, if not yet acted upon.
If this now established trend continues – and think about the increasing awareness and pressures on producers from eg climate aspects driving it – then 15 years out we could be looking at 700,000 tonnes of LACW (basically household waste) per annum. Apply the Mayor’s London recycling target of (at least) 65% to that – reasonable since this authority is roughly a quarter of London – and you’re left with about 250,000 tonnes of residual waste for disposal (burn or whatever). The new incinerator at Edmonton is going to be roughly three times that size. Once it is switched on it needs to be fed, at 700,000 tonnes pa, throughout its roughly 40 year expected lifetime.
Crude estimates I accept, but even if 100% out it is still significantly too big and seem to me that new data generates an argument to pause and reflect on the planned, and then irreversible, direction of travel.
That is unless it’s being deliberately set to be an income stream of course; North London as a waste incinerator centre for the greater south east to help with our stretched council budgets. That would be some story.
Otherwise, the Edmonton incinerator cost estimates have seemingly recently doubled (to £1.2bn). Add on running costs and it certainly is a costly solution. (The Waste Hierarchy is much cheaper – don’t consume as much, then, for what is consumed, repair, reuse, recycle and finally, if all that fails, then and only then, look at disposal options. Currently we run at a paltry 29% recycling rate, surely that should be a major focus of attention and resource? )
Get these things wrong and we do end up with real bills. Consider the Pinkham Way failure where related loans of £120m are being met over a period of years, in Enfield’s case through a budget line of £2m pa. The cost of the site plus various lawyers, consultants and others now exceeds £30m; that’ll be met via the annual payment for waste collected, ie absorbed and effectively hidden in our regular waste budgets; while the balance sheet continues to retain another £50m of Goodwill related to the project that very strong arguments indeed say should have been written off by now. Those arguments will get stronger shortly when the goodwill relates to a heap of rubble once Edmonton is redeveloped. That’s £200m give or take. A lot of school books.
So it needs to be the right decision and that, I suggest, can only be achieved by starting from a realistic and truthful base of facts relating to the current and future position. That would be the correct start point and something all too often absent from the last decade of waste resource planning. Consider, ten years to develop a fifteen year waste plan that still seems nowhere near completion, completely failing on recycling targets, hundreds of millions of sunk costs we are lumbered with as council tax payers, and all to show for it is a few hectares of field transferred from one local public authority ownership to another under a (hoped for) secret deal.
This is what the acting consultants said about the waste forecasts developed to support the Edmonton Incinerator:
• Providing forecasts of waste arisings for over thirty years in the future is extremely difficult … in essence it is unknowable (E.2.1)
• It is worth re-emphasising, however, that given the paucity of historical data there is limited scope for making accurate predictions (4.2)
• We would not normally advise forecasting for more than a very small number of years into the future on this basis (3.4)
• The use of this type of analysis for long-term projections remains questionable and open to challenge (3.4)
• One limitation of this type of analysis is the number of historical data points which are available (3.2)
• Although the quality of data has been steadily improving since 2000 (although vagaries remain), the time series for the datasets used are relatively short and the quality of data in the early years is questionable (3.2)
• the longer the dataset, the lower the average quality of the data becomes (3.3)
• There is also a danger in over-complicating matters with spurious levels of detail; detail which in and of itself is based on relatively high-level sampling and assumptions (4.5)
• to account for what we would speculate (author’s embolding) is the cumulative effect of waste prevention and minimisation measures (E.2.2)
• the analysis of a number of alternative scenarios show that waste arisings could vary significantly depending on the assumption made (4.11)
Or as the Waste Authority chose to view it: “The model was developed based on …. a robust analysis of historical trends and a robust set of assumptions about what will happen to these trends in the future.”
Check the chart above, one of several highly challengeable uses of data, all of which had the effect of increasing the planned incinerator capacity. My money certainly wouldn't be on the waste authority but sadly it is.
So of-course, lets run with it under NIMBY or TINA for surely there can't be a better way.