Council committee refuses to publish member’s investigation of housing scheme, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
An opposition group has accused Enfield Council of suppressing a report that raised “serious questions” about the environmental impact of its Meridian Water project.
Community First claims the report highlights “serious shortcomings” regarding the £6.5billion council-led scheme’s impact on air and water quality, flooding, climate change and available green space.
Written by Southgate councillor Charith Gunawardena before he defected from Labour to the Green Party, Community First said the report had not been accepted by the former chair of the environment and climate action scrutiny panel, Labour’s Hass Yusuf, despite having the backing of a majority of panel members.
A council spokesperson said the paper was not part of an official scrutiny work stream and there was no council officer input into it, adding that the chair of the panel had confirmed it had not been formally considered.
But Cllr Gunawardena said members of the panel had submitted questions to council officers in September and March and, when they did not receive any responses, decided to draw up the report without officer input.
The 34-page document includes a concern that Meridian Water would have a significant shortfall of around 50 hectares of parkland.
It also raises doubts over how achievable the ambitious waste and recycling targets are, along with significant concerns over the ratio of play, allotment and growing space on the site.
Other concerns include whether the scheme can deliver enough workspace for the proposed 6,000 jobs, the number of tall buildings planned, and the disproportionately high impact they would have on energy consumption.
Cllr Gunawardena said: “This is immensely frustrating. Councillors put in a huge amount of work into this report, asking important questions about the environmental impact of Meridian Water and making helpful recommendations.”
He added: “It is very hard for a scrutiny panel to work effectively and do its job properly when key information is not provided.”
Cllr Gunawardena claimed a previous scrutiny report on the Meridian Water scheme also had no input from officers yet was published and discussed at a meeting. He also pointed out that the council’s constitution allows the overview and scrutiny committee to have minority reports – which do not have the backing of all members – published.
A meeting of the environment and climate action scrutiny panel at which the report could have been discussed in April was cancelled because of purdah – the pre-election period during which political debate is limited. Cllr Gunawardena said officers scheduling the meeting should have known purdah would stop it from taking place.
Community First raised doubts about whether the report would ever be published, as the scrutiny panel now has a new chair and several new members. Cllr Gunawardena hopes it will be published and discussed at the next meeting of the panel, which is scheduled for Tuesday 13th July.
The Conservative group has also called for the report to be published.
An Enfield Council spokesperson said: “This paper was not part of an official scrutiny work stream and there was no council officer input into it, therefore the accuracy and credibility of its content has not been verified. The chair of the panel has confirmed this is not a paper that has been formally considered.
“Individual members are free to draft any paper in their private political capacity – this is not the same as council report, which would have independent professional officer input.”
The council has long claimed that Meridian Water will provide 10,000 homes, but its newly-published draft Local Plan – setting out development proposals for the next 20 years – only allocated 5,000 homes to the area.