Wednesday, June 10, 2015

South London Incinerator: evidence of corruption

From PRIVATE EYE 1st May-14th May

There was also some additional coverage that I helped instigate just before the election. Private Eye carried a piece on the latest revelations in the infamous Rotton Boroughs page. Councillor Nick Mattey has been excellent in exposing this stuff. As someone who quietly cajoled Nick to come out in the way he has, I am so pleased with the results!

Jim Duffy from Sutton Greens has written an excellent letter to the CEO at Sutton Council which explains where we are at now.

Niall Bolger
CEO Sutton Council
Dear Sir


I read with some dismay, but not with surprise, that Viridor has donated £275,000 to the Holy Trinity C of E Church Hall in Wallington which is used routinely as a meeting venue by Sutton Liberal-Democrats.  The figure is so high that it draws attention to the fact that the local Lib-Dems have also been pushing through the planning application for the company's incinerator and it makes one wonder if this, in some way, is a reward for the council's co-operation in this matter.             
I would be grateful if Sutton Council could set up an independent inquiry into the whole process with a wide scope allowing investigation into any connected areas.               
In asking for this inquiry I would submit the following points:             
1. No other local churches or charities have received anything in the order of £275,000 from Viridor Credits, the committees allocating monies from Viridor's land-fill tax revenue. All Saints church, the nearest to the planned incinerator received just £15,000 despite being considerably less well off than Holy Trinity church hall. Apart from the church-hall, only national-level monuments such as Canterbury Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey have received six-figure sums. Although there have been claims that the money is for the church building restoration, it does in fact appear destined to go to the adjoining well-appointed church-hall, for a car-park, landscaping and drainage. One must question the justification for such a huge donation to an already affluent church hall and how it is possible to spend so much on a car-park.            
2. I understand the £275,000 was allocated to the church hall shortly after the three Lib-Dem councillors of the Wandle Valley ward had run a campaign promoting the Viridor incinerator. Two of the councillors are apparently regulars at the Church. The third one also sat as liaison person on 'Viridor Credits' at Sutton Council, helping advise how Viridor money should be best spent. Elaine Drage, the wife of John Drage, one of the Wandle Valley councillors is also an elder of the church and, like her husband, a major sponsor of Tom Brake who has from the beginning promoted the incinerator. It is now public knowledge that John Drage (and Elaine Drage) has had a long term personal friendship with Colin Drummond the recently retired chairman of Viridor but it is not clear at what stage in the promotion of the incinerator this declaration was made. Apparently he did not declare this conflict of interest to the SLWP, on which he served, until after substantial contracts had been awarded to Viridor.
3. It is believed that Viridor may hold some sway over the Viridor Credits Scheme.  Or perhaps pressure was applied here from some other quarter. It is perhaps here that special emphasis  of the inquiry needs to be focussed.

Points on the broader planning process:
4. National Lib-Dem policy is against waste incineration. Many Lib-Dem councils have fought against such planning applications on the grounds of health-risk to the public and that incineration would undermine recycling. It was in this respect somewhat 'contrary' for Sutton Lib-Dems to support the incinerator.             
5. At Sutton's second planning meeting to decide on the incinerator the Chief  Planning Officer wrongly stated that "there's a strong economic case" for a heat supply system from the incinerator to the Felnex estate. This statement seemed to sway the argument in a meeting delayed due to a split vote at the initial meeting. However a London conference of waste experts called "Where there's muck there's money" had previously unanimously agreed that such heat transfer systems are not economically viable. Also it was already known that the South East London Combined Heat and Power (SELCHP) incinerator was not supplying heat to local residences for economic reasons, despite the incinerator being in existence for some twenty years. Recently a Sutton Council document has come to light, through the Sutton Guardian, showing the heat would be more expensive than from conventional boilers, not less expensive as had earlier been claimed, thereby throwing further doubt on its viability.
6. Councillor Stephen Fenwick has said publicly that he was coerced into changing his vote to favour the incinerator.              

7. Councillors Margaret Court and Monica Colman also changed their votes. It is not known what pressure if any was applied to them and all the councillors and officers involved in the planning process.
8. Viridor has been tardy in implementing timetabled planning agreements in Beddington Farmlands, due for transformation to a regional wildlife park, resulting in the loss of some rare species. Sutton council for its part seems to have let Viridor 'off the hook' in applying these crucial habitat agreements. As the unimproved land consequently had less ecological value this arguably balanced the planning application in favour of the controversial incinerator. Eleven local bird species were defined as rare and important in Viridor's planning applications. Two have now disappeared from the site, four are dangerously low in number and two were predicted to colonise but didn't. Viridor felled trees used by rare Tree Sparrows two years ago but this was met with impunity by Sutton Council.       
Lost birds: Redshank, Yellow Wagtail
Dangerously low in numbers: Tree Sparrow (Beddington is only one of two habitats in the South UK), Little Ringed Plover, Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting
Predicted to colonise but didn't: Common Tern, Ringed Plover             
There appear to be numerous inconsistencies and opportunities for a conflict of interest which need to be questioned and I believe it would be best if Sutton Council could undertake a thorough means to clear up what might to outsiders seem like corruption. There is firstly the narrow question of how the Viridor Credits scheme could possibly justify such a large donation to an affluent resource which is so intimately linked with the ruling political party. Then there's a wider question of whether suspicious-seeming planning decisions could be linked to this (and any other unknown) donation, or pressures or coercions. 
The inquiry should be open and transparent and, in my view, should be undertaken by a local authority not involved with the South London Waste Plan, or otherwise by some other entirely independent agency with respected experience in this type of investigation. I would like to see representation from the Stop the Incinerator campaign in setting the parameters and agreeing the executors of the inquiry. I'm happy to help with any aspect of the investigation.
Please acknowledge receipt of this request by return and copy all replies to Paul Pickering from the Stop the Incinerator Campaign (above) as I may be off-line during the half-term break.               


Jim Duffy 

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