The Green’s Darren Johnson visits the Pinkham Way area
The Labour and Conservative councillors from seven North London boroughs who form the North London Waste Authority are scheduled to vote in December on two multi-billion pound procurement contracts, one for waste management services and one for incinerating the proposed bricquettes made from waste fuel, supposedly to generate electricity.
These contracts will govern the disposal of waste from North London over the next 25 years and it is vital to get them right.
We have surprised even ourselves by identifying no fewer than 23 reasons why the award of these contracts should be postponed for further consideration or better still both bids for each of the contracts should be rejected and new bids sought under revised terms. Failure to take these reasons into account would certainly lead to expensive problems for the authority and probably lead to expensive litigation. Reasons are grouped under letters A, B, etc and listed individually as numbers 1, 2 etc.
A/ The whole of the £4.7 billion North London Waste Plan is in disarray after inspector Andrew Mead halted the public inquiry and told the authority to start again. The plan will have to be substantially revised and therefore the contracts will have to be revised at some point, so why award them now? Reasons for delay/rejection below. It would be much better not to award the contracts at all until the final structure of the plan is clearer.
A-1/ Whatever authority chair Clyde Loakes may say, Mr Mead’s reasons for halting the inquiry were far from being purely “technical”. He upheld the objections because the plan foresees the continued dumping of rubbish in landfill in rural areas outside Greater London up to 2020 and beyond. The authority has admitted that this is no longer “an option” so the plan will have to be revised to find an alternative way of handling that rubbish. This is certain to impact on both the contracts the authority proposes to award.
A-2/ The authority withdrew its planning application for a 300,000 tonnes a year MBT (mechanical bio-treatment) plant at Pinkham Way, Friern Barnet, after Haringey Council indicated it didn’t like it. Given the strong local opposition by the 20,000 local residents whose lives would be blighted by the plant (full details below), the Pinkham Way proposal will have to be substantially altered before it is likely to be acceptable to Haringey Council, especially in the light of the council elections coming up in 2014. Whatever the changes, are they are certain to impact on both the proposed procurement contracts.
A-3/ As the public inquiry never took place, there was no chance for further problems with the plan to be identified. These may only come to light at a potential public inquiry into the revised plan, requiring further amendments to the plan and therefore to the procurement contracts.
B-4/ In the light of the fiasco over the West Coast Mainline rail contract, the authority ought to comprehensively review its invitations to bid and urgently review the bids themselves to ensure that the financial terms of the contracts would be as beneficial as they could be to the authority and the residents of North London. Independent expertise should be sought. This may take some time so the award of the two contracts should be delayed at least until the experts are satisfied the terms of the proposed contracts would be beneficial.
C/ The terms of both of the invitations to bid and of the two remaining bids for each contract (ie four bids altogether) contain HUGE UNCERTAINTIES. Both bids for the fuel contract also contain a promise which is DEFINITELY IMPOSSIBLE to carry out. Veolia’s bid for the fuel contract contains a BLATANT CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
C-5/ Both bidders for the fuel contract — Veolia and EOn/Wheelabrator — say they will transport the bricquettes to their (distant) incinerators by rail, but the North London Waste Plan itself admits there is NO POSSIBILITY of rail transport from the main proposed waste handling site, ie Pinkham Way, as the nearby railway is a main line and in any case the elevation of the line would making loading very difficult. The impossibility of rail transport for the briquettes would therefore be certain to mean even more road journeys into and out of Pinkham Way on top of the predicted 560 trips per day by dust carts and other vehicles to and from the site along already congested roads. The contracts should not be awarded until this problem has been resolved.
C-6/ Both bidders for the fuel contract plan to transport the bricquettes to incinerator sites outside London, in one case to Kent and in one case to Hertfordshire. Not only is this morally unacceptable, as it is exporting the problem just like exporting London rubbish, but could well spark fresh legal action when residents in those locations discover they are being asked to burn London rubbish.
C-7/ Veolia’s proposed incinerator does not yet have planning permission. Given the controversy over incinerators all over England (plenty of examples available on request) there is a strong chance that it could be rejected by local authorities or subjected to major delays. [Sadly, it seems Eon Wheelabrator's incinerator has received planning permission]
C-8/ The contract terms for the waste services bids talk of waste handling plants at Pinkham Way, Edmonton, and Geron Way near Brent Cross, yet people living near Geron Way have been COMPLETELY UNAWARE that there is any live plan for waste handling at Geron Way. In fact is there a live plan? Barnet Council itself has recently submitted a planning application for homes nearby as part of a commercial and residential development. If there is a plan, what are the details? If there is no plan then the contracts would need amendment to remove the Geron Way option. Either way, the waste services contract would need amendment.
C-9/ Veolia’s bid for the fuel contract creates a MAJOR CONFLICT OF INTEREST as not only is it also a bidder for the waste services contract but it operates the rubbish collection and recycling services in some of the seven boroughs. Incineration of rubbish for electricity can be highly profitable so it would be in Veolia’s financial interest to maximise the amount of rubbish sent for incineration, minimise recycling and minimise efforts to reduce the total amount of household arisings. This would be in conflict with the authority’s own aims, never mind Londonwide or national targets and IF ONLY FOR THIS REASON ALONE Veolia’s fuel contract bid should be rejected.
C-10/ Veolia admits that its reputation has been damaged by its participation in development of a light railway across Palestinian land in contravention of international law and UN regulations. The fact that it took part in such a controversial project shows that there are questions about the standard of corporate governance at the company. Veolia should be disqualified from both contracts.
D-11/ There are unresolved disputes between the NLWA and the member councils about the terms of reference of the contracts. In particular, some councils reject the proposal that the NLWA’s waste services contractor should take over the running of local authority community recycling centres. Barnet Council has reaffirmed that it wants to retain control of its large and popular Summers Lane recycling centre. The waste services contract needs to be amended to take this into account.
E/ Technology has moved on since the North London Waste Plan was drawn up and also the number of reported problems caused by incinerators has mushroomed. The terms of the contracts need to be updated to minimise incineration and
E-12 to maximise alternatives, notably biomass/anaerobic digestion/pyrolysis and
E-13 step up the reduction, re-use and recycling of waste materials, for which there is considerable scope in the light of 80 and 90 pct recycling rates achieved by many cities across Europe. See Barnet Green Party’s list of 38 ways in which the NLWA and boroughs could improve reduction, re-use and recycling.
These changes could also benefit the financial terms of the contracts.
F-14/ The cost implications of the contracts are uncertain after the government turned down the North London Waste Plan for Private Finance Initiative Funding. The public needs to know how major capital spending programmes such as Pinkham Way would be funded before operating contracts are issued.
G-15/ The short-listed bidders are all foreign: Veolia (French), FCC Skanska (Spanish and Swedish) and Eon/Wheelabrator (German and American). The contracts should be delayed while investigations are made into whether the terms of reference favoured foreign companies and whether British companies or consortia would be interested in bidding under revised terms given the likelihood of changes to the contracts (as described above).
H/ Pinkham Way objections. As mentioned above, the plan for a 300,000 tonnes a year Mechanical Bio-Treatment Plant at Pinkham Way, Friern Barnet, should be abandoned for the following reasons:
H-16/ The NLWA’s own projections show that a plant on that scale is not needed within the current NLWP proposals. The NLWP projects a steady rise in household waste arisings although arisings have been falling across the NLWA area as they have across the country. This could lead to waste having to trucked in from other boroughs in order to fulfill operating contracts.
H-17/ The site is as unsuitable as it is possible to be because of its proximity to the homes of upwards of 20,000 people. Their lives would be blighted by the pollution, smells and noise the plant would be likely to emit in the same way as most other waste handling plants do across the world, whatever their operators may promise.
H-18/ The site has been empty for many years and is recognised in the NLWP as an important wildlife area, something in very short supply in North London. Surveys have identified many species of plants, animals and birds living on the Pinkham Way site.
H-19/ The roads around the site are unsuitable for the projected 500 or so journeys per day by dustcarts into and out of Pinkham Way, likely to add to the noise and pollution impact on the people living nearby as well as causing congestion and delays.
H-20/ The site is adjacent to the congested North Circular road, adding further traffic to that busy road.
H-21/ Traffic delays are frequent on the North Circular and whenever one occurred it would prevent refuse vehicles getting to and from the Pinkham Way plant, hindering production at the plant and adding yet further to the congestion, pollution and noise caused by the plant.
H-22/ There are fears the plant would cause ground water pollution. This would need proper research before any plant is built.
H-23/ The scale of the proposed plant as submitted to Haringey Council would make it a visual eyesore in an area with few other large buildings. This on its own could affect the image and character of the district, potentially having a negative impact on property values.
All of the information used in this document comes from the North London Waste Plan, the NLWA website or other public sources. I will post references in an update setting out where all the information can be found.
Barnet Green Party’s 38 proposals for stepping up reduction, re-use and recycling of waste materials in the NLWA are available at: