Andrew Johnson: Decision day looms for £4.7bn waste disposal deal

Letter from Andrew Johnson to Camden New Journal.

TOWN Hall chiefs from across north London – including Camden – will meet in secret on Friday to decide a 25-year waste deal that will cost council tax-payers more than £4.7billion – £600million for each of the seven boroughs involved.

It is thought to be one of the biggest ever private finance deals contracted by local government.

North London Waste Authority (NLWA) is owned by seven London boroughs – Enfield, Barnet, Camden, Haringey, Enfield, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Islington.

It currently takes household rubbish collected in the boroughs to a depot in Tottenham, where it is sorted into recycling, landfill and waste for incineration.

It is now looking for a new contractor to take over from North London Waste Limited – a company it owns – from 2014. Two councillors from each authority sit on the Labour-dominated body, which holds its meetings at Camden Town Hall.

Camden’s representatives are Labour councillors Phil Jones and Jonathan Simpson.

Despite the enormous sums of council tax-payers’ money involved, the procurement process is shrouded in secrecy on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality”.

Critics of the process are aghast that it is going ahead despite NLWA’s business plan for the next 30 years being thrown out by the planning inspector. He said last month that the company had not consulted enough with authorities outside London through which waste will travel on its way to landfill.

Also, plans to build a massive new waste processing plant at Pinkham Way, near the North Circular Road, have been thrown out by Haringey Council, further raising a question mark over NLWA’s plans.

Residents and green campaigners say that the deal will not produce enough waste for incineration due to new government targets for recycling – meaning the new contractor might be tempted to burn rather than recycle waste. The incinerator – currently in Edmonton but a new one has to be built – generates electricity.

Campaigners say that burning waste causes pollution and provides low-yield power – about half as much as coal, for example.

Two companies are in line for the new contract – Veolia, which wants to build an incinerator in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, and Eon/Wheelabrator, which says it will build a combined heat-and-power (CHP) plant in Sittingbourne, Kent.

CHP is considered to be more efficient but more expensive. Because Veolia’s offer is cheaper by about £100m it is favourite to win the contract.

Matters are further complicated by calls for Veolia to be boycotted because of its work in Israel.

The UN Special Rapporteur of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, Professor Richard Falk, has written to all the councillors involved asking them not to pick Veolia because of its “complicity” in the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel.

But despite these setbacks and uncertainty, NWLA – effectively the seven London boroughs – is to press ahead with handing out the contract.

 

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