Labour group waters down Conservative-led motion calling for Edmonton incinerator plans to be reconsidered, reports James Cracknell
Councillors have rejected a demand that Enfield Council call on North London Waste Authority (NLWA) to “pause and review” the construction of a new, larger Edmonton incinerator.
At last night’s full council meeting at Enfield Civic Centre, an urgent motion tabled by the opposition Conservatives was amended by the Labour administration to instead ask the council to write to NLWA ask for its “response to calls made for a ‘pause and review’”.
The amended motion was opposed by the Conservatives and by the Community First group of independent, Green and Lib Dem councillors, but was passed with Labour votes.
It followed a protest outside the civic centre prior to the meeting, at which campaigners held banners demanding Spanish firm Acciona, the sole bidder for the contract to build the new incinerator at Edmonton Eco Park, pull out of the scheme. A previous protest in September saw hundreds of campaigners march along the North Circular.
At the recent COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Acciona’s chief executive José Manuel Entrecanales was quizzed on the incinerator at a panel event and said: “The massive oversizing of the plant is something that is beyond our control”.
The motion agreed by Enfield councillors last night included a demand the council write to NLWA “to consider Mr Entrecanales’ comments” and “offer reassurance to residents concerning the size of the proposed facility”.
Lindsay Rawlings, the Conservative councillor who tabled the original motion watered down by Labour, said: “I am extremely angry – and I am sure the residents of Edmonton will feel the same – that this will not be looked at again.
“I am absolutely furious the [original] motion has not gone through. I will write to him [Entrecanales] to ask him to pull out.”
Cllr Rawlings had earlier warned the incinerator would “end up as a white elephant – and a very expensive one at that” because she said it was far larger than was needed for the seven North London boroughs that would use it. She added: “As it will be in our borough, I feel we have an obligation to talk to the other boroughs about our concerns.”
Her comments were echoed by Conservative group leader Joanne Laban, who said: “The decision was taken many years ago and, during that time, concerns around climate change have gone up the agenda, while the costs have spiralled.
“We need to pause this scheme and look at whether it is the right size. Even the chief executive of the company bidding to build it has said it is too large. It is not beyond us to review it – our needs have changed.”
Community First councillor Derek Levy highlighted the health concerns around incineration and said that because the decision to pause and review the incinerator was not one that could be taken by Enfield Council alone, it should “liberate councillors” to speak out.
Deputy council leader Ian Barnes hit back, accusing Cllr Levy of “scare tactics” and claiming there was “no proof” of the harm caused to people’s health by incineration. Cllr Barnes also pointed out that emissions from motor vehicles in Enfield were substantially higher than that from incineration and said: “When you ask residents to drive less you get shouted at, so it easy to go for low-hanging fruit [like incineration], but we will never agree to increase landfill.”
Cllr Levy later responded by citing a scientist who had made a link between incineration and poor health and said: “I know that’s just one, but there are many more.”
Another key argument from campaigners is that building a bigger incinerator contradicts aims to raise recycling rates. But Cllr Barnes claimed the new incinerator “can operate at lower levels” and “will not need to import waste from other boroughs”.
Responding to complaints that the cost of the project had risen from £650million when the incinerator was first proposed to £1.2billion, Cllr Barnes said the total bill now included the cost of a new recycling facility at Edmonton Eco Park.
But Green Party councillor Anne Brown said she thought the drive to expand incineration would “draw resources away from developing alternative methods of waste disposal” and claimed the incinerator posed “a significant health risk”.
Another Labour councillor who defended the council’s position was Ergin Erbil, who said he could see the incinerator from his bedroom window. The Edmonton Green councillor accused the Conservatives of being “selective eco-warriors” who opposed measures to reduce pollution from motor traffic in Enfield while “cherry picking” other environmental causes to support.
At the end of the debate, the amended motion was passed. It included the call for NLWA to “consider” the comments from Acciona’s chief executive, respond to the pause and review demand, “continue to scrutinise costs” and “urge NLWA to redouble its efforts to educate residents on the benefits of recycling”.