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Industrial and Commercial Waste Incineration

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 28th January 2020.

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Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington 4:59 pm, 28th January 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate Stephen Doughty on securing this debate.

The contributions we have heard so far were made by Members who face the threat of an incinerator being built in their constituencies. I am in the unfortunate position of representing a constituency that lives in a shadow of the massive Beddington incinerator. I hope to give a perspective of what it is like once such things have been built.

The incinerator was championed, in an extraordinary show of arrogance, by an out-of-touch Lib Dem council, which has shown a total lack of ambition in tackling air quality in Sutton. Thanks to its complete incompetence, the incinerator is now an eyesore on the landscape that we can see from every single corner of the constituency. In 2018 alone, bearing in mind that it was not fully operational at the time, it pumped more than 21.5 million kg of CO2 into the local atmosphere.

I am a local councillor and my group and those of other parties—but not the Lib Dems, unfortunately—campaigned to put additional air quality monitoring next to the site. That would have given local residents the assurance that if emissions were breached, they would have full access to the data—I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth for the good point he made about data—so that swift action could be taken in reporting the issue to the Environment Agency. At least that would give people some peace of mind that the air they breathe is safe. Time and again, however, shamelessly, the Lib Dem council has continued to oppose that proposal and to spout the benefits of a so-called “energy recovery facility”.

I stress the fact that it is not just the incinerators that are significant; there are other consequences to having one in the area. As we have heard, they have a potential impact on recycling rates. As the UK Without Incineration Network has rightly pointed out, for an incinerator to be anywhere near commercially viable, waste often needs to be imported and sometimes even non-recyclables are burned. They also have an impact on traffic and air quality. The route to Beddington incinerator on my patch of Carshalton and Wallington is already congested. Rubbish from four south London boroughs is taken along Beddington Lane, which leads to the incinerator. They all take their waste to that incinerator, all against the backdrop of seemingly endless roadworks that never seem to be completed but are meant to help Beddington Lane cope with the capacity.

The final impact is on energy bills. The Beddington incinerator is one of a few with an operational decentralised energy network, which in Sutton we call the SDEN—the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network. It is a way to justify having an incinerator in the constituency, because it creates energy to heat local homes. The development of New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, in my constituency, is connected directly to the incinerator via a series of pumps and so is being heated by the Beddington incinerator.

That SDEN, however, has trapped New Mill Quarter residents in an energy scheme that they cannot get out of. They are not allowed to go on the open market to change their energy provider and, I am told, the cost of their energy bills is at least three times higher than the highest market average currently available. That is completely outrageous. Thankfully we now have a price cap under energy legislation, but we are pushing it to the limit for our New Mill Quarter residents, many of whom were not told about the energy scheme when they were being sold their house.

Now that we are unfortunately stuck with the Beddington incinerator, I hope the Minister will agree that the council should heed our calls to put additional air-quality monitoring on Beddington Lane and not let Viridor hold itself to account. The council should also get on with delivering its promises of proposed farmlands in the area, which are supposed to offset some of the damages. It should also improve Beddington Lane and allow New Mill Quarter residents to go on the open market to change their energy provider, if that is what they want to do. We need to be so much more ambitious in tackling air pollution.