‘The people of Edmonton will stop this incinerator’ - Protestors promise more action if plan is signed off

Edmonton incinerator protest

The group assemble behind a banner at the march - Credit: Blanca Schofield

“Pause and review now,” said a sign held by a young girl at Sunday’s protest on Edmonton Green where hundreds rallied and marched against the planned rebuild of the Edmonton incinerator. 

With the rebuild contract due to be signed between the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) and chosen construction company ACCIONA today (January 18), a sense of urgency filled the speeches delivered at the green by campaigners of different ages and backgrounds.

One of the speakers at last weekend's event, local campaigner Malcolm Stow, spoke to the Gazette before he took to the mic.

He said: “These incinerators are always built in poor working class areas. 

“Our health concerns have been raised and dismissed. There’s no point continuing dialogue with the NLWA, the councils and the mayor - we’ve done enough of that and have given them enough information for them to be completely aware of the issues.

“So our lawyers have launched an administrative judicial review of the contracts to try to stop them signing.”

Malcolm Stow at the protest against the Edmonton incinerator

Malcolm Stow at the protest - Credit: Blanca Schofield

The need to pause before signing was also the primary message delivered by Carina Millstone, founder of the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator campaign, in an interview she did with the Gazette ahead of the protest. 

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“It’s quite possible that eight years ago it would have seemed like a good idea, but since then we’ve declared a climate emergency," she said. "Think of Ella who died in South London and had air pollution on her death certificate. 

“Before spending £1.2billion of our tax money, let’s review if this is the right way to deal with our waste.

“According to an FOI we did, the current incinerator will continue to work until 2027. A pause would not mean there would be bin bags piling up on the street.”

 Trudy Warner at the incinerator protest

Trudy Warner at the incinerator protest - Credit: Blanca Schofield

With recycling rates still below 30 per cent in the seven boroughs covered by the North London Waste Authority - having even decreased during the pandemic - Carina and Malcolm insisted now is not the time to embark on this project without a review.

The health impact of the proposed incinerator expansion and the 700,000 tonnes of CO2 it will release annually was another issue raised by campaigners at the protest, particularly in light of the warning released to Londoners on Friday to avoid strenuous physical activity due to “very high” levels of pollution.

Walthamstow protester Trudy Warner said: “I used to work as a social worker in child protection and I’m so worried about the impact increased air pollution will have on young people in the area.

“It’s not by accident that the incinerator is here in this community, which is one of the most deprived in London. This project is racist and it’s environmentally irresponsible.”

Protestors united in their thousands

Protestors united in their thousands - Credit: Blanca Schofield

Delia Mattis of Black Lives Matter, who led the march and introduced each speaker, also denounced the project as an example of environmental racism as 65 per cent of Edmonton residents are of ethnic minority backgrounds.

Standing on a makeshift podium by the North Circular junction, she called on protesters to use their May local election vote to kick out any councillors who were in favour of the incinerator and to vote for independent candidates instead. 

In a statement for the Gazette, NLWA chair councillor Clyde Loakes claimed the new facility will use waste as a resource for society in the form of heat and power for thousands of homes. 

Yet campaign founder Carina argues this energy is neither renewable nor low carbon. 

She said: “It incentivises the production of waste. We know we need to decarbonise the energy grid, but we will keep on having to feed the beast and be producing more polluting energy.”

Clyde also put pressure on central government in his statement, arguing the NLWA does not have the necessary powers to make systemic changes:

“While NLWA appreciates the strength of feeling from some residents and those who choose to protest, it would be far more beneficial if we could campaign together. 

“We all need to call for greater and speedier action from the Government to make the systemic change that’s needed to solve our country’s colossal waste crisis. NLWA welcomes discussions and the community’s support for working together to achieve this.”

Councillors have voted for the incinerator to go ahead.

Councillors have voted for the incinerator to go ahead. - Credit: Blanca Schofield

In response to a request for a statement on the issue, councillors from Hackney and Islington stressed the rebuild is the only solution for waste management in the area

Hackney councillor Mete Coban said: “We face a choice about what to do with Hackney’s rubbish - send it to landfill, where it would emit hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-busting methane, or use it to generate power, with significantly lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions, which we have been doing in north London for the past 50 years.

“We’re working hard to increase recycling rates - from 1 per cent in 1998 to nearly 30 per cent today - but we are likely to still have high levels of rubbish even as we transition into a circular economy.

“The new EcoPark is the only viable option to deal with north London’s waste and is part of our efforts to reach net zero and tackle the climate emergency.”

Rowena Champion from Islington Council said: “The current Edmonton Energy from Waste plant is a very old facility, which is becoming less resilient as the years go past – it needs to be replaced now.  

“If we make unrealistically optimistic assumptions about the amount of residual waste in years to come, it is extremely likely we will be left to find ways of disposing of significant amounts of waste using other, less accountable and remote private facilities, which I do not believe is the responsible way to act.

“If the situation changes, and the amount of waste is significantly less than expected, it can run at reduced capacity, without the need to import waste from outside north London boroughs, so north London is able to manage its own waste in line with the Mayor’s objectives.

“The council will continue to work with the NLWA to ensure that the facility operates within the very strict environmental guidelines. We’re determined to reduce waste of all kinds and we continue to work with partners including the NLWA to achieve this, as well as lobbying the Government for much-needed support.”  

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Responsibility for approving the Edmonton scheme lies with the Government; Sadiq has been clear that London is facing a climate emergency and that he will continue to oppose new incinerators.

“City Hall is working with the Edmonton facility - and London’s other incinerators - to minimise their environmental impact by ensuring they only manage truly non-recyclable waste, maximise the heat and electricity generated, and operate to the most stringent air quality standards.

“The Mayor is aware that air pollution is often worst in the poorest areas, which is why he has introduced the boldest measures of any global city to clean up London’s toxic air.”

More information about the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator can be found here

More information of the proposed redevelopment plans can be found here