Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Controversial incinerator rebuild moves ahead despite protests

All but two members of the NLWA voted to move ahead with the rebuild yesterday

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The Edmonton Incinerator (credit: James Cracknell)
By Victoria Munro 17 December 2021

The controversial expansion of North London’s waste incinerator has moved forward despite protests from campaigners, including two arrests earlier this week.

On 16th December, the North London Waste Authority - which manages waste from seven London boroughs including Waltham Forest - awarded a multi-million contract to rebuild the Edmonton Incinerator to Spanish company Acciona.

The NLWA, chaired by Waltham Forest Council’s deputy leader Clyde Loakes, heard multiple calls to “pause and review” the project from those worried about health, environmental and financial risks.

However, the majority of board members insisted any delay, given the “fragile state” of the current facility near Chingford, would risk waste being shipped elsewhere or sent to a landfill.

Work on the project, which will cost an estimated £960million, will now begin in the middle of next year, to the disappointment of those who spoke at the meeting yesterday.

Doctors protesting outside the meeting yesterday (credit: Jane Leggett)

Dr Edward Tranah, who works at North Middlesex Hospital, urged the board to pause, arguing that a larger incinerator "takes us further away from our goals to reduce waste and increase recycling".

He added: "I worry it justifies the status quo and commodifies the very waste we are trying to reduce by supplying it to a district heating network.

"I'm terrified of the climate emergency and I promised myself I would do as much as I could to mitigate the impact it will have on everyone here, in our lifetimes, and that includes being here today.

"I also have a responsibility to my patients to speak up when I see things that are going to damage public health.

"I know [the NLWA] takes the climate emergency seriously but to try to make us believe that... the only alternative is untreated landfill is misleading."

Activists blockading the facility earlier this week (credit: Extinction Rebellion)

Dr Rembrandt Koppelaar claimed the incinerator contract would “waste at least £150m of taxpayers’ money” and called on the NLWA to instead invest in technology that could sort black bag waste and automatically extract recyclables, such as "optical sorters" used at facilities elsewhere in Europe.

Meanwhile Professor Vyvyan Howard, a specialist in toxicology, discussed in detail how waste incineration releases particulate matter that can be damaging to health.

Responding to concerned speakers, Waltham Forest Council deputy leader, Clyde Loakes, who chairs the NLWA, said he recognised it was "a massive decision".

He said: "We have made this plant [built in 1969] last as long as it possibly can, there is no other in Europe that's as old as the one we have.

"Our residents still do not do the right thing [by recycling] so we have a duty to ensure we provide facilities to deal with the residual waste in the best possible way."

A protest outside Waltham Forest town hall (credit: LDRS)

NLWA vice-chair and Barnet councillor Peter Zinkin sought to reassure speakers that their efforts were not in vain, arguing previous speakers had "accelerated" the inclusion of carbon capture at the new plant

He said: "We need to be clear, it would cause a monumental series of problems if we were to pause the project because of the state of our existing facility.

"We were genuinely sceptical at the start of this process and thought it would simpler to extend the life of the facility but the engineers told us what would happen and now it is happening, we see that in every report from LondonEnergy Ltd."

Earlier in the meeting, the board heard from LondonEnergy that wear and tear had taken part of the incinerator out of operation for "longer than expected", forcing some waste to be sent to landfill.

LondonEnergy is the company owned by NLWA that runs the incinerator. Cllr Loakes and Cllr Zinkin are both on its board of directors but declared at the start of the meeting that they had a "dispensation" from their home councils to still participate and vote on the decision.

A mock-up of the incinerator (credit: NLWA)

Cllr Mete Coban, from Hackney Council, noted energy from incineration at the new plant would provide electricity to 127,000 homes and heating to 50,000 and argued not going ahead would be "more costly both for taxpayers and the environment".

He said: "We can't pretend residual waste doesn't exist and what will be really disheartening is if everyone walks away from this conversation on how we can increase recycling."

Earlier in the meeting, the board discussed their efforts to "deal with more challenging items" not recycled "anywhere else in London", for example through a mattress recycling scheme.

They were told that the number of mattresses already recycled since the scheme started in June would, if placed end to end, stretch for 30 miles.

A protest against incineration earlier this year (credit: Extinction Rebellion)

Addressing the concerns over emissions, NLWA managing director Martin Capstick said the plant would be the first in the UK to use “selective catalytic reduction” to control nitrous oxides and a “combined wet-dry scrubber system” to reduce particulates, acid gases and other emissions.

He also added that, if the contract were not awarded, the NLWA would have to restart the process of looking for a company to rebuild the plant, which took "probably two years" the first time around.

Given that "the energy-from-waste market is seeing price increases", he suggested such a delay could cost the NLWA an extra £20m for every year the process took.

However, the vote to award the contract to Acciona, the sole bidder, was not unanimous.

Haringey councillor Isidoros Diakides voted against, saying he was "not convinced" the contract "offers the best value for money" as it "looks expensive in comparison" with similar projects.

Haringey’s deputy leader Mike Hakata also abstained, after expressing similar concerns over procurement.

All other members voted to award the contract, although the second representative from Waltham Forest Council, Rosalind Doré, had recently resigned and was replaced by Cllr Paul Douglas.