On Thursday, the North London Waste Authority (NWLA) held their 2022 Annual General Meeting at the Crowndale Centre in Camden.
The NWLA is the statutory waste authority for seven London boroughs, and their governing board is made up of two councillors from each borough. Some of their board are also directors of the private company, London Energy Ltd, which is owned by the NWLA.
London Energy collect waste from six of the boroughs, and they run the Edmonton incinerator where they burn any waste they don’t currently recycle. Heat from the process powers turbines for electricity, which they sell to the National Grid. Therein lies the problem, say climate campaigners – it’s more profitable to burn than to recycle.
The Edmonton incinerator is reaching the end of its serviceable life, and for the past few years, the NLWA have been planning how to replace it.
They claim a new bigger plant, built by the controversial Spanish-based corporation Acciona, will be a state of the art facility with near zero emissions and much higher rates of recycling. Acciona was the only bidder.
Edmonton has been poisoned by air pollution for many years, with above average levels of pollution-implicated diseases. It’s also a poor borough, with a higher than average percentage of people of colour. Studies show a trend towards building incinerators in poor areas.
After years of lobbying, petitioning, and engaging in democratic processes, campaigners feel they have been ignored, and they believe that profit and hidden agendas are at work, pointing at the issue that the current Chair of the NLWA, Clyde Noakes has been re-elected to that post for more than a decade, while he is currently also a director of London Energy. While this is lawful, it is unusual and not generally regarded as good governance to have someone in the same elected post for so long.
After a noisy protest outside the Crowndale Centre last Thursday, around a dozen campaigners took seats in the AGM, and two were given a few minutes to address the councillors with ‘deputations.’ They called for time to ‘pause and reflect’ and asked the board not to nod through another year of Chairship by Councillor Noakes.
After the deputations, they burst into song, along with call and response speeches. After several minutes, councillors were forced to suspend the meeting and try to move to another part of the building.
The activists feel they’ve exhausted the democratic process and not been listened to. The NWLA put out an angry statement afterwards claiming it was the protesters who were ”preventing democratic process”.
Scotland has recently joined Wales in issuing a total moratorium on developing any new incinerators, instead promoting recycling, re-use and circular economy.
In Wales where the moratorium came into effect more than a year ago, they are managing recycling rates of more than 65%. In the NLWA London boroughs, the figure is less than half that.
In Europe, incinerators have lost their exemption as carbon emitters and have to pay into the Emissions Trading Scheme, producing an incentive to cut down on incineration and improve circular economy. Although the UK has left the EU, there is pressure to adopt parallel legislation here, and the government is now considering its options after a consultation ended earlier this month.
If the government decides to mirror the EU scheme, some of the economic argument for the huge replacement incinerator in Edmonton vanishes. Campaigners say that the plant, likely to be London’s largest single carbon emitter, could end up costing tax payers even more.
With some building already in progress, and more than a billion pounds worth of contracts signed, climate activists have looked to an unusual saviour, writing a detailed letter to Michael Gove claiming that NLWA is a failing statutory body and that the government should intervene.
If Gove doesn’t step in, it’s looking increasingly like a sustained campaign of civil resistance to the build is all that’s left for local people frightened of more air pollution and angry at not being heard.
More info at Stop The Edmonton Incinerator Now