Monday, October 26, 2009

Democracy stifled at local meeting

Last week's Broad Green and Waddon Neighbourhood Partnership meeting was nothing more than a forum for the South London Waste Plan (SLWP) to peddle their CONsensus (Not CONsultation) on the incinerator.
The SLWP agenda item was moved up the list (from 8 to 6). We realised afterwards that this had been done so that the police were still around (after their presentation) as it was assumed the debate would be heated. Is this a proper use of police time? Those attending were specifically warned that people ran the risk of ejection from the meeting should there be any deviance from accepted protocol!
Unlike any other discussion at the meeting, those who were permitted to ask a question were asked to state their address before posing their question.
I did put my hand up but the Chair, Syd Cheeswright, ignored he said he would do.

A few weeks back, I was invited to the Agenda setting meeting by the Vice Chair of the Neighbourhood Partnership (NP) with a view to making a contribution at the next meeting because the SLWP was provisionally an agenda item. Mr Cheeswright listened to what I had to say but said I had gone too far when I started talking about the Stop The Incinerator campaign. Essentially, I wasn't allowed to be political. After deliberation with others present, including a Tory councillor, I was allowed to submit a text of no more than 200 words (see end) to the Chair for the consideration. Initially, I though I would be allowed to read the text.

You can see from the letter that it was rejected even though I basically regurgitated what I said at the meeting on to paper.

On the day, Andy Day Planning Officer at the council, made a presentation along with SLWP Project Manager Emma Smyth. She originally was not scheduled to speak. Arguably, she came along after it became apparent that concerned residents who understood the motivations of the SLWP could be in attendance. Additionally, as Mr Day and Ms Smyth were both making presentations, the opportunity to scrutinise afterwards would be further limited by time. Andy Day actually emailed me earlier in the afternoon to say:

I have been given notice of some questions that might be raised at the Broad Green and Waddon Neighbourhood Partnership meeting to be held this Wednesday. I am aware that you have had previous discussions with Emma Smyth (Project Officer - JWPDPD) on the same subject and as I understand it those of us working on the Waste Plan have been consistent in advising that it is not the purpose of the Plan to address particular technologies. It follows that we will not be responding to the questions you raise.

At the meeting, Dave Pettener, who lives in Waddon ward, did manage to ask, how he was supposed to contribute to a consultation when he wasn't given any relevant data or accurate information to make a proper judgement. However, with regard to the response: obfuscation was the order of the day. Only two other residents were allowed to ask questions.

Extraordinarily, Tory Cllr Clare Hilley shouted out, "Who the hell are you?" when Mr Pettener offered to leave his written objections on the table by the exit - alongside SLWP handouts.

What this whole episode does is portray a classic tactic of the authorities: Limit the platform that objectors may have to convey their arguments; Marginalise those that want to raise objections; Intimidate objectors with a police presence at a public meeting to give the impression that these activists somehow threaten order. Hopefully, this in turn will deter them from future action. Actually it does the opposite.

200 word text submitted and subsequently rejected by the Chair:

The government has passed EU waste reduction targets to councils under the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS) which is a kind of landfill credit system, except these credits cost councils millions of pounds. This coupled with increasing landfill prices means that councils are scrambling to find alternative ways to deal with rubbish.
One way to deal with the rubbish is to burn it but incinerators are unpopular. They waste resources, release greenhouse gases and are a danger to human health. However, the EU gave authorities a get out of jail card. It decided to rebrand incinerators as ‘energy from waste plants’ – which has an environmentally friendly ring to it. Also, Waste industry consultants are pushing for this solution and councils are attracted to it because it is less complex than a reduce, reuse, recycle and compost strategy which minimizes waste.
The most plausible location for such a site is Beddington Lane – now confirmed as Sutton council’s preferred site. Because prevailing winds blow from the south west, it will be the disadvantaged western wards in the top half of Croydon that will be affected.
Last Autumns consultation which was hardly publicized. However, thanks to leading questions in the questionnaire, the procurement process was triggered. So now this juggernaut will be difficult to stop.
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