Single waste authority plan rubbished by boroughs

Londoners could see annual council tax bills soar by £135 and rubbish collection in the city thrown into chaos if mayoral plans to bring in a single waste authority get the go ahead, according to those who oppose the strategy.

The massive Western Riverside Waste Authority – which deals with the rubbish from Lambeth, Hammersmith & Fulham, Wandsworth and Kensington & Chlesea – has come out against the plan arguing it would be impractical, uneconomic and impossible to implement.

“London is absolutely enormous and this would be chaos,” Tim Coleridge, chairman of the WRDA, told edie.

“We don’t object to any kind of plan to make London more efficient and we have no fear of change.

“But when you look at the mayor’s plan in the cold light of day we don’t believe it will make London easier to run.”

Mr Coleridge, a Conservative councillor for the Hanstown ward in South Kensington, said the authority’s objection was not about scoring points or trying to obstruct the Labour-led Greater London Assembly (GLA).

“This isn’t a political thing, it’s a practical matter,” he said.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s stated desire is to use relatively new disposal methods such as mechanical biological treatments (MBT) alongside increased composting and anaerobic digestion.

Cllr Coleridge told edie these methods had not been proven on a large scale and putting them in place could almost triple disposal costs, sending them rocketing up from todays’ £58/tonne to more than £150/tonne.

The WRDA chairman claimed this would mean an extra £135 on the annual council tax bill for the average household.

The mayor’s hopes of establishing 330 new waste facilities around London might also prove problematic, claimed Cllr Coleridge.

While he agreed with proximity principal and disposing of rubbish as close to collection point as possible to reduce journeys and pollution, as advocated by the mayor, he said there were practicalities that needed to be considered.

“This is bound to cause huge conflicts and delays compared to the current arrangement where local councils identify any sites needed,” he said.

“Try finding a site in Kensington where you can dispose of huge amounts of rubbish,” he said.

“It doesn’t exist.”

While some might say the WRWA undermines its own position by showing that one authority can manage the waste of a sizeable swathe of London, Cllr Coleridge said there were limits to how far waste authorities should scale up.

WRWA worked because each of the boroughs had similar needs and all had ready access to the Thames so could use barges to ship the waste to a central facility in Wandsworth and on to a landfill down river in Essex, he said.

While this was a solution that suited boroughs close to the river, it would not necessarily make sense for others, he said.

Cllr Coleridge claimed the mayor’s ideological opposition to energy-from-waste incinerators was also misguided.

As landfill in Essex fills up the WRWA is pushing for an incinerator in Bexley to process its boroughs’ waste.

“These things aren’t like the chimneys at crematoriums,” said Cllr Coleridge.

“The air comes out cleaner than it went in, you’re not going to get a great plume of black smoke coming out of the top.”

Clean incineration should be coupled with carrot-and-stick rewards and penalties for recycling saints and sinners, said the councillor.

Those who failed to recycle should be fined, he argued, while areas that produced less waste per head should see a drop in their council tax, moves he believed would be difficult to implement under a single, city-wide authority.

There were also legal obstacles to the mayor’s vision, he added, as many of the existing waste authorities were locked into long-term contracts agreed with waste disposal companies to guarantee them a steady stream of waste, to allow them to invest in infrastructure.

But the mayor has issued a rebuttal of the WRWA’s claims, criticising the authority’s methods as well as its position.

“It is misleading to suggest that council tax will go up as a direct result of London getting a single waste authority,” said Mr Livingstone.

“In fact independent estimates show that savings made by a London Single Waste Authority will be in the order of hundreds of millions of pounds over the next 15-20 years compared to remaining with the current arrangement.

“It is the current system for waste disposal that will cost tax payers money – at current rates London faces fines of as much as £2.5billion for landfilling too much of biodegradable municipal waste.

“A London Single Waste Authority and enhanced waste planning powers would mean that strategic decisions could be made for London.

“We can no longer carry on dumping our waste outside of London and burning our rubbish, which is a method favoured by the Western Riverside Waste Authority.

“This is not a sustainable way to dispose of our rubbish.”

By Sam Bond

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