CAMPAIGNERS head to the high court next week hoping to scupper controversial plans for an incinerator in Beddington Lane.
The group was granted permission for a judicial review earlier this year and, after months of preparation, the case will be heard on October 9 and 10 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
A judge will rule whether or not Sutton Council followed proper procedures when it granted planning permission for the plant last year. Judge Justice Collins said in June the case was "arguable".
The two-day hearing could have wide-ranging ramifications both for the multimillion pound 25-year deal and for the four councils - including Croydon - in the South London Waste Partnership (SWLP).
Shasha Khan, a prominent member of the local Green Party, has taken sole responsibility for funding the legal challenge, which could cost up to £35,000. His efforts recently received a boost thanks to a four-figure donation from Mark Constantine, the founder of handmade cosmetic business Lush.
Mr Khan, speaking to the Advertiser this week, said he was confident the group, originally formed in 2008, will succeed.
"I believe we have a convincing case that not only was planning permission granted incorrectly but any future application should be rejected because the land is protected," he said.
If built by developers Viridor the incinerator will burn 275,000 tonnes of waste each year as part of the SLWP involving Croydon, Sutton, Merton, and Kingston.
It would replace an existing landfill site but campaigners argue the incineration process presents serious environmental and health risks.
During the planing process the site - Beddington Farmlands - was been deemed to be "safeguarded", meaning it is must be used for the disposal or recovery of waste for the duration of the contract after the incinerator opens in 2017.
The campaign's case will focus on planning guidelines which stipulate the site should be incorporated into the Wandle Valley Regional Park from 2023 and, as Metropolitan Open Land, should be protected. "It's our banker argument," said Mr Khan.
Paul Pickering, chairman of Stop the Incinerator, said: "One of the things we hope the judge decides is that the land cannot be used as anything other than a country park after 2023 and [the council] has given it the go-ahead under false pretenses.
"My fear is that they may rule in our favour but will take issue with relatively minor planning problems and Viridor will come back in a couple of months' time and have sorted them out."
The group will be represented in court by Justine Thornton, the barrister wife of Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Sutton Council, the planning authority, is expected to argue that if the incinerator is not operational by 2017 then each council will face a heft landfill charge.
If Viridor cannot gain permission for Beddington Lane it may seek an alternative site, with a back-up earmarked in Kingston.
Stuart Collins, cabinet member for Clean Green Croydon, said he has sought advice from council officers about the potential implications of the review but, regardless of the result, the authority would not pull out of the £1 billion SWLP.
He said: "Croydon Labour Party's position is we're opposed to the incinerator. Our concern is if there are emissions it could harm residents.
"I can't, however, as a council we can't come out and say we're going to pull out [of the contract] because we would be subject to penalties. It would be tens of millions.
"We still oppose it but we can't risk taxpayer's money."
Phil Thomas, who backed the incinerator as cabinet member for highways and the environment up until May's election defeat, said a high court victory for the campaigners would have "a huge environmental and financial impact on all the four councils in the partnership".
Campaigners will stage a musical protest on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of the case opening next Thursday (October 9), including a performance from samba band Rhythms of Resistance.
Experts questioned need
SUTTON Council received expert advice during the planning process which questioned the need for an incinerator in Beddington Lane.
Grant Scott, assistant director of planning at the Greater London Authority (GLA), wrote to the council in June 2010, and advised it would be "difficult" to prove there was an "overriding" need for an incinerator on the site.
Mr Scott also said the incinerator and connected chimney stack would "clearly not fall within the defined acceptable uses of Metropolitan Open Land" and would require "very special circumstances" to justify such an "inappropriate" development.
Jim Redwood, a consultant working for Sutton Council, wrote to the GLA in May 2012 and described Viridor's plan as "visually harmful", that there were "other deliverable alternatives" and the incinerator could "adversely impact on Beddington, and possibly other communities".
Both documents were obtained by the Stop the Incinerator Campaign via the Freedom of Information Act.
Shasha Khan said: "I am stunned by these revelations, quite frankly. These same arguments have been put forward by campaigners all along. However, they have been continuously rebuffed by councillors, ignored in planning consultations and dismissed when submitted as objections.
"Yet, we find that in the past, the authorities quietly agreed with what we've been saying all along."
Sutton Council has yet to respond to requests for a comment.