A £1million 'hush fund' announced for community groups by incinerator operators is being used to try to subdue local opposition, according to one activist. BELLE MONT reports
Viridor, which has a £1billion public contract to operate the incinerator at Beddington Lane, is freezing out local environmental groups from a grants scheme which they had promised would help "mitigate" the effects of their industrial-scale waste-burning operation being built on what was supposed to be a wildlife reserve.
The Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane, under construction last month
That's the suggestion of one leading environmentalist who spent a decade trying to get Viridor to honour its legal agreements to improve the local wildlife environment at Beddington Farmlands and around the site of the incinerator. "Mitigation" is the weasel word used by local authorities and multi-national corporations when they know that what they are about to do, often for vast private profit, risks damaging the environment and the health of people for miles around.
"Viridor want the local community to jump through hoops and wants to treat them like dogs," said Peter Alfrey, a professional environmentalist who lives close to Beddington Farmlands. "I suggest that the local community give them the dogs they don't want - ones that bite back."The South London Waste Partnership, comprising Croydon, Sutton, Kingston and Merton, will be paying Viridor for a quarter of a century to burn the boroughs' rubbish, as well as rubbish trucked in by thousands of HGVs from across south-east England. To mitigate the pollution and damage caused by the operation, Viridor were obliged to promise a series of packages for local interest groups. But with the incinerator due to be fired up and operational from 2018, having got the acquiescence of local groups by dangling the carrot of grants of a few thousand quid, Viridor is now telling some that they won't be getting any grants. Some suspect that the message is that they have not been quiet enough in their grumblings about the incinerator. Alfrey, who worked as a wildlife warden at Beddington Farmlands for more than a decade, has recently been "warned off" by Viridor from leading guided tours of what was supposed to become a public country park, before the incinerator scheme was pushed through. "I have stepped down from my role in the neighbourhood development group so that I can speak freely about the community manipulation and abuse that is occurring by Viridor and the members of the community fund panel," Alfrey told Inside Croydon.
Last November, Viridor launched the grants scheme, inviting "applications to share part of the funding pot worth over £975,000 spread across the 25 years of the partnership between Viridor and the South London Waste Partnership". To save you doing the arithmetic, that means a company receiving £40million a year from four south London councils to run an incinerator will be shelling out all of ... £39,000 per year. Generous, eh?
“Viridor’s community fund is hush money, simple as that,” was the reaction of Nick Mattey, an independent councillor for Beddington North who has campaigned against the imposition of the incinerator on his residents.The panel's terms of reference can be seen here in a draft document obtained by Inside Croydon. The document shows how the panel which determines who receives funding is quietly dominated by Viridor. The panel's quarterly meetings are at Viridor's offices in Beddington Lane, the panel includes at least one Viridor representative and one Sutton councillor (a LibDem appointee, currently Beddington North councillor Pathumal Ali), plus one member each from Hackbridge and Beddington community groups. "Membership of the BLGFP is by invitation only," the terms of reference state, suggesting strongly that Viridor will ensure that only pliant representatives are given the role of prefect, doling out the crumbs from the Viridor table.
The logo of Viridor's hush fund, a 'derisory' measure in return for burning millions of tons of rubbish for decades
The area in which community groups qualify is also quite tightly focused, limited to those bodies within two kilometres - barely 1¼ miles - from the incinerator. According to Alfrey, after months of work by volunteers from environmental and community groups on putting together three bids for funding from the panel, they have been told now that they will get nothing, and that they need to re-apply if they want to receive any of Viridor's "community help". Alfrey says that Viridor's "derisory mitigation package" is only an updated version of previous schemes for earlier planning applications (in 1995 and 2005). Alfrey claims that Viridor has failed to uphold some of those planning conditions, but has rarely been subject to any enforcement action by Sutton Council or the Greater London Authority over broken promises over habitat restoration, funding bonds and public access commitments. "I met personally with Dan Cook, a Viridor director, and Andrew Turner (their communications chief), and following on from their glorious victory in the Judicial Review at the High Court allowing them to build a 300,000-ton-a-year incinerator in a nature reserve, they said that they were keen to try to build relations with the local community," Alfrey said. "I explained to them that there was a very active local community and both the Beddington North and Hackbridge communities were both preparing Local Neighbourhood Plans, plans which when implemented would be statutory documents and would be a strong reflection of local community aspirations.
"They agreed that there was no more robust platform to support local community aspirations and confirmed that the various objectives and projects within the plans were exactly what they wanted to support. "Therefore the neighbourhood development group and also the Hackbridge Ecology Park Group submitted three applications to the community fund. "One application was for a wildlife gardening project, another for improving the green spaces and parks in Hackbridge and another was for developing plans for the visitors' centre in Hackbridge for the regional park. "All the projects had a strong public engagement element, to develop stronger local community and develop an improved and vibrant neighbourhood. All applications were policies or projects within the neighbourhood plan. All applications were also about furthering projects that already had a strong grounding with pilots, detailed plans and detailed implementation strategies. The applications tooks several months to prepare and were submitted accordingly with the encouragement of Viridor communications.
"Then last week, we heard from the community fund panel. All three applications had been rejected. The visitors' centre application had been rejected in its entirety and the other two had been requested to be completely re-submitted, both on grounds of minor details. A re-submission would involve going to the back of the queue again and starting the process from the beginning, with no guarantee that the new applications would be accepted.
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