Gove asks burning questions about incinerator

Government department will scrutinise ‘value’ of plans for Edmonton incinerator rebuild, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

The plans for the new incinerator at Edmonton and (inset, left) Iain Duncan Smith MP and (inset, right) secretary of state Michael Gove

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has demanded the £1.2billion Edmonton incinerator project be further scrutinised – after lobbying from a local MP.

North London Waste Authority (NLWA), which represents seven borough councils, signed the contract to replace its current Edmonton incinerator in December last year, with construction work now underway.

The authority claims the new incinerator is needed to replace the ageing current plant, built in 1971, with a cleaner and safer ‘energy recovery facility’ that will produce heat for local homes.

But following lobbying by Chingford MP and former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who opposes the project, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will now re-examine whether the incinerator is the “best value” option.

The move partly stems from the rise in the estimated price tag of the rebuild, from £500million in 2017 to £1.2bn in 2019. The total price also includes construction of additional recycling facilities at Edmonton Eco Park.

Concerns have also been raised around NLWA’s transparency, with part of the waste authority’s work managed through its arms-length commercial operator London Energy Ltd.

Michael Gove, in a letter dated 29th April, said: “I have asked officials in the department to engage directly with NLWA and its external auditor Mazars to better understand the arrangements the authority has in place for decision making, including governance, scrutiny and external audit.

“Alongside this, I have asked that we ascertain how NLWA are managing and delivering the [project].

“I expect my officials to make comparisons to other waste authorities and large capital projects to provide assurance the NLWA are meeting the standards we would expect across the sector.”

However, Gove added there is a “high bar and evidential basis” for his department to be able to intervene in the incinerator project.

In response, a NLWA spokesperson said it has provided “extensive information” to show how it has achieved best value for money since 2017. They added: “The overall budget was established in 2019 at £1.2 billion. NLWA regularly reports on the project’s delivery and costs: it is being managed within this budget.  

“The analysis then and now is that the project provides excellent value for money to build world-class infrastructure to deal with the waste of two million residents. 

“Not only would other options cost taxpayers millions of pounds extra every year but also would result in a far less positive outcome for the environment.  

“The project includes London’s biggest investment in recycling facilities in decades as well as the UK’s safest and most technologically advanced energy recovery facility to generate heat and power for local homes.”

Residents and local politicians who oppose the plan argue that North London, with its low recycling rates, should not build a new incinerator that needs at least 490,000 tonnes of waste a year to function – 100,000 tonnes less than the amount North London produced in 2020/21. But NLWA modelling predicts that more waste incineration capacity will be needed even if household recycling rates increase.