Calls for head of waste authority to resign over incinerator

Councillors denied chance to debate merits of incineration at annual meeting, reports James Cracknell

The plans for the new incinerator and (inset) NLWA chair Clyde Loakes
The plans for the new incinerator and (inset) NLWA chair Clyde Loakes

Campaigners against a new incinerator in Edmonton called for the chair of North London Waste Authority (NLWA) to resign during a series of passionate speeches at the body’s annual meeting.

Members of groups including Enfield Climate Action Forum (EnCaf), Enfield Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Enfield Black Lives Matter, as well as a doctor from North Middlesex University Hospital, addressed the meeting on Thursday to express their concerns over the £1.2billion North London Heat and Power Project, the official name of the new incinerator development.

But NLWA chair Clyde Loakes denied councillors on the authority a chance to debate the project at the meeting and told residents and campaigners who had spoken that he would address their points “in writing afterwards”.

Although plans for the incinerator are well advanced and preparation work has begun on site at Edmonton Eco Park, campaigners argue the project should be “paused and reviewed” to consider its impact on carbon emissions.

Concerns have been rising over the environmental impact of the scheme, which will be significantly larger than the current facility and burn waste collected from homes in seven London boroughs. Many of the local councils that form part of NLWA have declared climate emergencies in the years since the new incinerator won planning permission in 2017.

There are also long-running concerns over the impact of waste incineration on the health of people who live in its vicinity. Earlier this year air pollution was cited by a coroner as a “material” factor in the death of a nine-year-old Lewisham girl – the first time this has happened in the UK.

But Cllr Loakes has repeatedly refused to reconsider the plans for the new Edmonton incinerator, arguing it is the best way to dispose of North London’s waste, with landfill said to have a far worse environmental impact.

Olivia Eken, from EnCaf’s youth group, was the first of 13 people to address NLWA’s annual meeting. She said: “You may call it an environmental solution but to us our future is in flames thanks to this incinerator.

“This project will destroy our future.”

Delia Mattis, from Enfield Black Lives Matter, said: “Our petition gained over 1,700 signatures in support of pausing and reviewing the incinerator plans. Give that the NLWA consultation only garnered 72 responses in the first stage, 123 in the second, and ended in 2015, we argue our petition has more legitimacy.

“The Edmonton population is treated with contempt by this authority […] This is an area of great poverty and deprivation, and air pollution from the North Circular. No extra effort was made to engage with them. You simply didn’t care.”

She pointed to research by Greenpeace showing incinerators were three times more likely to be built in deprived areas, which themselves are more likely to have a racially diverse population. She also highlighted a proposed incinerator in Cambridgeshire that was refused planning permission “because of the middle class residents there”.

Delia was one of several speakers who demanded Cllr Loakes stand down from his role as NWLA chair, calling him “rude and disrespectful” in the way he has handled critics of the incinerator. She added: “We are calling on Clyde Loakes to resign for failing to represent the needs of the Edmonton and for inflicting environmental racism on black and brown communities.”

Helen Karamalakis, an Edmonton resident and school teacher, was another speaker. She said: “I can see the [incinerator] chimney from my bedroom window, but when the [NLWA] consultation was carried out I had no idea, I didn’t know about it until 2020.

“I know it is difficult to let go of our old ways, but it [incineration] is old technology. Lots of things used to be deemed acceptable; smoking indoors was common before, as was spanking children. These things are unacceptable now.”

Aurora Yaacov, from Enfield XR, pointed out that incineration was being opposed by Labour shadow ministers and the mayor of London, while being supported by Labour councillors in North London. Cllr Loakes is a former Labour leader of Waltham Forest Council and the current deputy leader.

Aurora said: “We need a new, properly-run consultation with residents in North London, with full up-to-date information, such as on carbon emissions.”

Another speaker was Edward Tranah, a doctor at North Middlesex Hospital in Edmonton who described the new incinerator as a “slap in the face for local people”.

The government does not currently include carbon dioxide generated by waste incineration in its emissions trading scheme, something that was recently challenged by Georgia Elliot-Smith, an Enfield climate activist, in the High Court. While her case was recently rejected, she spoke at the meeting to highlight some of the health concerns of waste incineration and said: “There is insufficient evidence to conclude that any incinerator is safe.”

After all the speakers had spoken, Cllr Loakes read out a prepared statement at the meeting and said: “I would like to thank all the groups and individuals for making deputations to the authority today. We can recognise the sincerity with which all the speeches have been made. I can promise that all members have considered these important matters over many years when planning for the North London Heat and Power Project.

“The project aligns with our efforts to protect the environment, public health, and tackle the climate emergency. North London’s boroughs have proud records on these issues and the approach of NLWA is entirely in keeping with this. Many of the points raised today have been addressed in previous meetings.”

Cllr Loakes championed NLWA’s plans to build a public recycling centre as well as a “resource recovery facility” at Edmonton Eco Park and, regarding the incinerator, said: “Our existing energy-from-waste plant is among the oldest in Europe. We need to build a modern replacement facility now or risk residents’ waste being sent to landfill.”