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Burning issue simmers as Croydon incinerator verdict is deferred


Rachel Millard looks at a divisive issue, still in balance...

Officers from the ruling authority Sutton Council had recommended plans for the Viridor incinerator off Beddington Lane be approved – in the face of widespread opposition from residents.

But councillors could not be split when voting for and against the plan and, with development control committee chair John Leach refusing to exercise his casting vote, the decision has been deferred.

It had been hoped that, barring blocks from the council, the Mayor of London or the Environment Agency, the facility should be up and running by 2017. It would allow Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston to fulfill a 25-year contract with Viridor who would process waste otherwise destined for landfill.

Opponents of the scheme have promised to keep fighting to the bitter end.

Shasha Khan, founder of the Stop the South London Incinerator, said: "We will also lobby the Mayor of London.

"Our fight is not over until the first brick of the 95-metre chimney is laid."

The four boroughs' South London Waste Partnership claims the facility would save the taxpayer £8 million per year.

Partnership director Frank Smith declined to discuss details of the costs, citing commercial confidentiality.

Mr Smith and others say the contract also promotes recycling by setting a declining minimum amount of waste guaranteed each year.

He would not say how much was guaranteed each year, claiming it would compromise Viridor's competitiveness.

But he said the partnership had made sure to commit "no more than was necessary" and aimed to achieve "the best level of recycling".

One of the other sticking points of the incinerator is that once built, it will need to be fed, regardless of locals' recycling habits.

Viridor accepts it needs 275,000 tonnes of waste each year to run the plant.

It plans to make up the amount with commercial and industrial waste from its 'catchment area' of south London and Surrey, expecting this to rise by 2020 to 582,000 tonnes, of which 495,000 would be suitable for the facility.

Viridor spokesman Victor Perez-Mares added: "This projection takes into account that on average business waste grows one per cent every year and that recycling and composting of this business waste reaches 70 per cent by 2020.

Keeping the incinerator running at near-full capacity is considered important, partly so it can generate all the heat and electricity billed among its benefits.

Using steam from the burning waste, the facility will generate up to 26 megawatts of electricity, fed into the supply grid via a sub-station at Latham's Way.

Another four megawatts will be used by the site.

Viridor declined to say how much money would be made selling on the electricity, citing confidentiality "due to contractual agreements with the SLWP".

Mr Perez-Mares added the site will be ready to provide heat to outside homes or other buildings as soon as it is up and running.

"A dedicated room is provided to house the necessary heat exchangers and pumps to move heat through pipes to users off-site," he said.

A Sutton Council spokesman said a third-party organisation would actually deliver the heat. Viridor was talking to developers of the forthcoming Felnex residential development in Hackbridge, he added.

"Our commitment to such schemes is already demonstrated in operating facilities such as our Derriford Clinical Waste incinerator," added Mr Perez-Mares, "which provides heat to the hospital nearby."

Possible electricity and heat aside, residents have been thrown various sweeteners to lessen the visual impact of the building.

Viridor has to set up a community fund for "community projects".

It must make an initial payment of £250,000, 25 annual payments of £25,000, and a lump sum of £100,000 in 2024.

"In general terms, the community fund is required to address the well-being of the community in the face of the adverse impacts," said a report by Sutton Council officers to its planning committee.

That report added that the development could help address high youth unemployment in the area by providing apprenticeships.

The total number of those set out in the legal agreement is three, across the "operational life" of the facility.

The proposed Section 106 agreement asks Viridor to run workshops for local businesses "with the aim" of increasing local supply during contstruction.

Those living in the shadow of the incinerator can expect less-concentrated nitrogen dioxide than at first feared, however, after Viridor raised the chimney of the incinerator from 85 to 95 metres.

It will also reduce the concentration, Mr Perez-Mares explained, by treating oxides with the chemical urea, around 900 tonnes of it each year.

Residents remain a hard sell, however.

"Does this sound like a responsible approach in the 21st century?" said a spokesman for the Hackbridge and Beddington Corner Neighbourhood Development Group. " The solution to pollution is not dilution."

Burning issue simmers as Croydon incinerator verdict is deferred

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