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Edmonton EcoPark: Proposed Expansion

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2022

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential environmental and health impacts of the proposed expansion at Edmonton EcoPark.

It is a privilege to serve under your stewardship, Mr Hosie. This debate does not directly have an effect on you, but I hope that you will find something interesting in it that may be applicable elsewhere.

This debate on the proposed expansion at Edmonton EcoPark, with its health and environmental impacts, is critical to those in my area and in my constituency, and I have an apology from the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who is unable to attend. I want to read out a list of those who have signed letters and been involved in campaigning to stop the proposed incinerator, who include myself and the hon. Member for Edmonton; my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell); my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing), who has expressed her views on this; the hon. Members for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) and for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer); the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who is here; and Assembly Members Emma Best, Joanne McCartney, Siân Berry, Andrew Boff, Caroline Pidgeon, Zack Polanski and Caroline Russell. The AMs obviously could not be here. Some of the Members of Parliament could not be here either, but I thought it would be useful for that list to be read into the record. Those people are all in support of what I am about to say.

The problem is that, for some years, I have been deeply concerned about the way in which the process has been going. The incinerator that was built originally is about to be significantly increased in size. This is a cross-party issue, not one that divides along normal party lines, because it affects ordinary people in the constituencies and areas to which I have referred. They are affected regardless of their political views. I have pretty much never come across a constituent who actually wants this project.

The incinerator sits like an eyesore just below my constituency but, because of the prevailing winds from the south-west, the whole constituency is hit by what comes out of the chimneys. The other day, I happened to visit a shopping centre nearby. It was a cold day and the plume engulfed us as it travelled across my constituency. However, it goes to others as well.

I pay tribute in all of this to the active local campaign group, Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now, which represents the feelings of many of our constituents. Carina Millstone in particular, and others, have been active on this issue. That is a good sign of how local politics is alive and well and talking about real issues, rather than some of the stuff we sometimes get bound up in in this building.

The project does not represent good value for money, which is the key element of the argument that I am making. In almost everything else we do in the Government or Opposition, we ask whether what we are about to do is good value for money and, further down the road, if costs increase, whether it still represents good value for money. I do not think that the incinerator expansion is a good return for taxpayers in our constituencies. The costs have spiralled, almost doubling from the original £650 million to £1.2 billion now, and nothing has yet been built. The North London Waste Authority has already spent £4.3 million developing plans for the new incinerator. Everywhere, I and other Members have asked for a value for money review of the project, from the Public Accounts Committee right the way through to every single Department and pretty much every single Secretary of State—I do not think I have asked the Defence Secretary, but who knows. The fact is, I have tried to ask everyone.

In normal circumstances, with a budget of £1.2 billion, might someone not want to ask whether a project still represents good value for money? However, nobody seems to say that they will take responsibility for it in Government or local government. It appears that the only body that is capable of reviewing or changing the project is the North London Waste Authority itself. In a way, it sets the exam question and answers it for itself every time. That cannot be right. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will give us some inkling as to whether the Government think that the project carrying on is right.

The high cost is a key reason why we should pause, review and ask fundamental questions about whether this is still the best course of action for our constituents. Let us look at overcapacity. The incinerator is already burning over 320,000 tonnes of waste that could be recycled and composted—just imagine that we are pressing ahead on that basis. Since the plans to expand were originally drawn up, waste generation has actually fallen, because most members of the public are reacting to the drive for recycling and taking greater care in what they do.

The NLWA had a long-standing goal of reaching a 50% recycling and composting rate by 2020, but it is currently still below 30%. If it had got to the 50% marker, there would be even less reason for the incinerator to be there for the local area, and the plan was that it was for the local area—north-west London. I am therefore concerned about the plans because they are no longer about north-west London. To make the project viable, we will now have to drag stuff all the way across London to keep this thing burning. Now we are going to have more traffic on the road, extra fumes and extra environmental damage—just to keep an incinerator going. Why are we so fixed on having this huge thing near my constituency—so much so that we have to drag waste from all over London and clog up the roads just to keep it going? If it does not have enough from the local area as it stands at the moment, what is its purpose?

There are serious health implications for our constituents if the expansion goes ahead. Some 700,000 tonnes of waste will be incinerated every year, releasing what we call ultrafine particulate matter over residential areas. The levels of air pollution over parts of my constituency are already dangerously high. I am informed by Plume Plotter, an independent organisation that plots the plumes of incinerators across the country, that today the plume from the incinerator is blowing right across the whole of my constituency, but particularly the north part, and across the other constituencies I have already named.

We already have many hotspots in my constituency where air pollution is above the World Health Organisation’s air quality guideline levels. Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation have calculated that 100% of schools, GP surgeries and care homes in my constituency are in areas that are already above the recommended guidelines. Even before any attempts to expand the Edmonton EcoPark, air pollution is having a significant impact on the health of residents across the constituency.

Public Health England has shown that short and long-term exposure to air pollution has significant health risks, including reducing life expectancy and having an impact on lung function, which increases asthma cases and cardiovascular admissions—all extra costs in pure value for money terms, even if we do not think too hard about the terrible health implications.

Seventy NHS GPs from across north London wrote to the Prime Minister last year and said that the plans to expand the incinerator should be pulled. In their letter, they claim that the Prime Minister could save more lives by pulling the expansion than they will save in their entire careers. So here is a big dilemma: the Government tell me that they do not have the power to intervene, but it seems that the waste authority has an unlimited demand for money. Something has gone badly wrong in all this.

The environmental impacts are huge. The issue is that incineration captures only a small amount of carbon from the material it burns. We know that alternative waste disposal methods exist, such as mechanical biological treatment, steam autoclaving and anaerobic digestion. All those things are now being used elsewhere, but not here. Over all the years, we have remained wedded to the idea that we have to burn waste. The methods I have mentioned have all lowered carbon emissions, yet the waste authority continues to push for incineration. Most notable scientific advisers have said exactly the same and questioned the suitability of incineration as a method of waste disposal.

I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the Edmonton EcoPark is right in the middle of a residential area. It is not as though this is some industrial park; it is right in the middle of a very densely occupied residential area, which covers all the constituencies that I named. The chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the UK should move away from incineration and find better ways to use the value of materials, rather than turning them into carbon dioxide.

This is meant to be a competitive bid, but it is not. It is now down to one bidder. In other words, it is a slam dunk—name your own price. Acciona, the company involved, won the contract with no competitors. The chief executive officer of Acciona acknowledged the other day that the proposed plant is significantly larger than it should be. The man who is building it now does not actually think it should be built. It is bizarre. Every day I look at this project and wonder whether this is a parallel universe. The CEO said at a panel event at COP26:

“The massive oversizing of the [Edmonton] plant is something that is beyond our control. It’s a specific issue of the plant.”

I have raised this issue with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with Housing, with the Chancellor and even with the Prime Minister. Civil servants have said constantly that it is not feasible to intervene, but the North London Waste Authority, surely, somewhere along the line, needs to be held to account on all the points I have made, which I am sure hon. Members will add to. What more evidence do we need?

Here we have the intransigent, inflexible, arrogant North London Waste Authority—and I mean arrogant, because at hearings it has just swept evidence from doctors and scientists to one side—refusing to budge on a policy that is clearly wrong and that is failing. It is a shameful state of affairs when a public body can no longer be held to account, because it no longer represents what the public want.

When something goes so badly wrong, the Government have to look at it again and ask how it can be that, amidst spiralling costs, health damage and pollution issues, we still plough ahead with a technology that is no longer needed and that will damage people’s lives in my constituency and others. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to answer those questions.

Before I call the next speaker, I would just say that if the Back-Bench Members could contain their remarks to around eight minutes we will have plenty time for the Front-Bench speeches. I call Jeremy Corbyn.

It is a pleasure to be in this debate with you chairing it, Mr Hosie. I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for the energy he has put into obtaining this debate. I also thank the cross-party group that has supported him.

It is essential that we think seriously about where we are going with our environment and our natural world. They are subject to debate all the time, and we have just had COP26. We have to challenge the conventional orthodoxy about waste disposal—that, somehow or other, incineration is a good thing. If we do not, we will continue to damage the lungs of our children and our communities with not just particles but nanoparticles that are very invasive of the human body. The excellent “Pollution from waste incineration” report from the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), describes that issue very well.

I want to say a big thank you to all the local campaigners —those around the incinerator in Edmonton, who my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) represents so well, as well as the people from all over the seven boroughs that make up the North London Waste Authority.

Before I became an MP, I was a councillor in Haringey. I remember well the discussions about developing the incinerator and cross-borough co-operation to get rid of rubbish. Back in the day—we are talking 40-plus years ago—it was seen as an environmental step forward to burn waste in order to generate electricity, rather than to put it into landfill. It was seen as a good thing to do. I do not think many of us on the council in those days thought very much about what would happen beyond that. Incineration saved landfill and was a way of getting rid of waste. It was lamentable. We should not have done it; I know that. Lots of things should not have been done. But now we have a great opportunity to change the dial on whether we go for further incineration or really put pressure on all of us, local authorities included, to develop a much more effective and comprehensive system for recycling our waste. The technology of the 1970s is not appropriate for the 21st century, and we need to move on from it.

The health effects I have mentioned. The emission effects I have mentioned. But as the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, who actually suffers as a result of the pollution that comes from incineration? I get that the plant now being considered for development at the Edmonton site is a lot better than the one there now. I get that there are filters and all that. I fully understand all of that. The fundamental problem is that we are piling a lot of waste, including plastic, into an incinerator; it burns and gives off emissions that are gas, which clearly cannot be picked up by a filter, and the nanoparticles, which I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, are very invasive of the human body and particularly damaging to children in schools, out in the streets or playing. We are polluting the next generation.

The opposition around the country to incineration is enormous. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West will be speaking in a few moments. People defeated the idea of an incinerator in Swansea. There is a huge campaign going on now against a proposed incinerator in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, and there are many other such campaigns around the country. Why? Because people do not want to be polluted, but also because they recognise that it is simply the wrong direction to take and is outwith everything that was agreed at COP26.

The truth is also that there are now so many new technologies, which others are using, that mean that incineration is no longer necessary. There are other, cleaner ways to get rid of waste.

I absolutely concur. If we look at the processes of waste disposal—perhaps we not talk about waste disposal but about recycling as the priority—that are happening in Germany and Scandinavia, we see that they are far in advance of so much of what we are doing in this country. We could do so much more and do it so much better.

The North London Waste Authority area—the seven boroughs—produces about 820,000 tonnes of waste per annum. Much of that goes into the incinerator. Across the whole area, only 30% is recycled. The recycling rates are abysmal, quite frankly. They are abysmal in many other parts of the country as well. Germany recycles 65%. Other countries achieve that. We are nowhere near.

I remember being appointed as chair of Agenda 21 by Islington Council—this was as the local MP—to try to increase recycling rates. We managed to double the rate, up to 30%, after about 10 years of very hard work, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) when she was leader of the council. I just felt so disappointed that we could not get so much further. I get it: this is complicated; it is difficult. The collection systems are complicated. But if we want to give our children clean air, if we want to fulfil the obligations that we have signed up to at COP26, we should not be investing more than £1 billion in an incinerator that the CEO of the company says is over capacity anyway. We should instead be looking to a reduction in incineration over 10 years; we should go from where we are now down to somewhere nearer to zero in 10 years’ time. That would certainly concentrate the mind and help us to bring about much higher rates of recycling.

On the decision that has been taken by the North London Waste Authority, I have heard the financial arguments that it has put. I have been asked, “Well, what’s your alternative if you’re opposed to this?” It has been quite a robust debate. I am not accusing the North London Waste Authority members of being anti-environment. They are not. In their individual boroughs, they have done a fantastic job in improving the environment and recycling rates. But we have to go a lot further and a lot faster, and that is why I want to make the case, and support the case that has been made today by others, for some kind of intervention by the Government to prevent this thing from going ahead and to prevent the expenditure of this huge amount of money through “green” bonds—yes, “green” bonds to pay for an incinerator that is, I think, not needed and not necessary.

I will finish with this point. I have had a long discussion with a number of people, who have spent an awful lot of time and are much more knowledgeable on all of this than probably any of us in this Chamber today, about how we can reduce incineration. They point out all the technology that is now available that was not in the past: the separation of metals, paper and glass, and the reduction in plastics. That has to be accompanied by a much tougher campaign on packaging, waste and plastic production. What we will end up with is a massive incinerator without enough rubbish to fill it from the neighbourhood area. We will import rubbish from other parts of London, or from abroad, to burn in that incinerator, because we are locked into a £1 billion contract to build it. Can we pause for a moment, think of what we are doing and the opportunity we now have to turn the corner from incineration to reuse and recycling? That is surely the legacy we want to leave to all our children.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and to follow the former leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties in talking about incineration and looking to the future. I speak as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution. Like previous speakers, my focus is on air quality and climate change. We wish to pause the forward direction of incineration, while the Government’s current plan is to double incineration by 2030. The APPG has published research on the impact of ultrafine particulates, which get through filters and are much smaller than the PM2.5 particulates that we normally talk about.

The World Health Organisation has reduced PM2.5 advisory levels from 10 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre, but latest evidence suggests that if 5 micrograms of PM2.5 are broken up into much smaller particulates of less weight, they actually do more damage to the body, because they penetrate immediately into the bloodstream and vital organs, causing permanent chronic damage.

We are concerned about a new incinerator in Edmonton generating carbon, burning 700,000 tonnes of waste. That quantum in an urban environment, where there are often poorer households, will have significant impact on public health at a time when we have not cracked the air quality problem in Britain. We have wood-burning stoves in urban environments, giving rise to 38% of PM2.5, for example, and we still have a problem with diesel cars. If we add this on, it is a real problem.

There are opportunities, as has been pointed out in the case of Edmonton, where the recycling rate is in the region of 30%. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said it would be difficult to get to that, but in Swansea the recycling rate is 62%. If we can double the rate, we can halve the amount we are burning. That is simple mathematics. The Government must ask themselves how to provide the incentive structure to do that. My right hon. Friend said that when he was a councillor, there was an incentive to avoid landfill tax, and therefore the council moved towards burning.

I appreciate that Treasury representatives are not here, but if we had an incineration tax, there would be more focus on recycling. As has been mentioned, new technologies for chemical and mechanical recycling are available. The risk of this venture is that we will end up with excess capacity, and instead of an incentive for more recycling, there will be one for more burning. It could import burning and produce more waste, which is clearly not what we want.

Some environmental impacts can be far-reaching. Studies in Holland showed that eggshells had dioxins in them from incinerator waste 10 kilometres away. There are issues with heavy metals in children’s toenails, which can give rise to leukaemia. A lot of this science is emerging and not known. The science that predicates this particular planning agreement is basically older technology. Technology is moving quickly, as are medical knowledge and science. There is a case for a moratorium to pause and think. Indeed, there is a moratorium on incineration in Wales.

A pre-action letter for judicial review was written on 28 January. It points out that some of the claims that have been made do not stand up to scrutiny. In particular, it is claimed that the incinerator would produce only 28,000 tonnes of carbon; however, according to the North London Waste Authority’s own figures, it will produce 683,000 tonnes of carbon for something like 700,000 tonnes of waste. It is claimed that the incinerator will be developed to be carbon capture ready, but it will not. Again, that is in breach of the Government advice on energy national policy statement, EN-3.

What has been happening is clearly not in compliance with what the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are saying. The Mayor of London predicts that there will be 950,000 tonnes of excess burning capacity in London if this goes ahead alongside other plans. We need a holistic plan. We may want to substitute some of the dirty incinerators for a cleaner incinerator. However, we need to see that in the round with the best technology available.

On that point, this plan does not include a dedicated pre-sorting device for the extraction of plastics and recyclables that should be used again. Those are resources. We need a broader plan of taxing plastic and having fewer types of plastic, so that it is more cost-effective and profitable to extract, reuse and recycle. We need to use less and we should have a fiscal strategy. We hope that that is the benign future. In this case, however, we are simply locking ourselves into old technologies and old science, even though we know that the precautionary principle would make us think, “Actually, let’s step back and not do this.”

The North London Waste Authority is in breach of the advice from the Climate Change Committee on using the expression “low carbon”; energy from waste is not counted as low carbon. There are questions as to whether changes to the national grid and other changes will be compliant with that.

It has been mentioned that the project will be funded by a new type of green bond. However, when speaking about the future for green bonds, the Chancellor has said that the UK would not embark on a generation of tax, as it was called for many years, for sustainable finances that was not up to at least the standards of the EU. Of course, the EU standards for green bonds exclude energy from waste, and the EU taxes plastic at £650 per tonne as opposed to £200 per tonne.

I think this is a moment to pause. If these green bonds go ahead, they might be the source of the next 50 applications. There will end up being financial risks for the bondholders because, as has been said, there will be excess capacity. We will be in the farcical situation of providing incentives to grow incineration, which, ultimately, will mean more pollution in highly urban areas and will affect all our constituents. I very much welcome this debate and it is a great privilege to be part of it.

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing the debate and on his outspokenness on this matter, as well as the work he has done on trying to achieve a solution with the Treasury. It is a pleasure to hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who has a record going back to the 1970s as a local councillor in Haringey; he is known for his work in the areas of recycling, cycling and generally standing up for a more sustainable planet.

It is also a pleasure to hear from the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has talked about his outstanding work in Swansea West and beyond, responding to the challenges presented by COP26 and calling for us to be a bit more ambitious and a bit braver on incinerators. This feels like old technology, and that is why I am pleased that Haringey was the only borough that voted to pause and review when it came to the vote on the bid for the scheme.

I want to put on the record our memory of seven-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who tragically died from air pollution poisoning, as was found subsequently. Her mother, Rosamund, who spoke in this House on health and safety day, has spoken powerfully about how she took Ella’s case to the coroner to have the way that she passed away looked at. Ella was the first person to be formally found to have passed away from air pollution in the UK, and that was put on her death certificate posthumously.

I also want to put on the record that we in this House are all aware that air pollution does not affect us all equally. Pregnant women, babies and children, older people, people with lung conditions and those living in the poorest areas and in ethnically diverse communities are particularly at risk. I want to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who worked as a health professional before coming into this House, and also my Haringey colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who has led on a number of issues to do with ethnically diverse communities and their exposure to pollution, as well as the high numbers of our constituents who suffer from lung conditions. We know that 88% of people with a lung condition are affected by air pollution, and 58% of people with asthma have their condition triggered by air pollution. That is the context of today’s debate.

When the plans were first signed off, when the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was the Mayor of London, the solution might have been okay, but that was a long time ago and things have moved on. It feels as though the project has not had the COP26 test applied to it, and now would be a good time for the Government to look again and challenge whether there is more that can be done. In particular, with the introduction of the green bonds, this might be a good time to explain exactly how they work—there does not seem to be a proper explanation of that—and to see how the project could introduce some best practice around the green agenda.

We are in a climate emergency, and our constituents want change. They want to recycle more and they want our polluted air to be cleaner. They are anxious that the size of the incinerator will mean there is an incentive to produce more waste in order to feed the associated district energy network. They are concerned about the environmental impact of incineration and the emissions that that process creates. They want 21st-century solutions to the management of waste that do not harm the health of residents or our environment.

Our constituents know that it is the poorest areas that pay the heaviest price, and there is real disappointment about the fact that the request for a pause and review was unsuccessful and the contract has now been awarded. It is vital that the design properly recognises the advances that we all expect to see in carbon capture and storage so that it is ready and equipped to take full advantage of them. Haringey’s council leader has urged the North London Waste Authority to bring forward the carbon capture and storage element of the plant so that it is operational as soon as possible to reduce CO2 emissions, and I fully support her in that goal.

It is important to say that it is very difficult for local authorities to be innovative when they have had cuts of up to 50% to their budgets. Collectively, the eight local authorities’ budgets have been cut back enormously since 2010. The Government have failed to fund local authorities properly for the past 11 years and failed to be ambitious in their approach to waste. I urge the Government to work with the North London Waste Authority and our communities to radically increase recycling levels and to meet and beat the Mayor of London’s target of 50% by 2030.

The other measures that the Mayor of London has introduced around expanding the congestion charge and the ULEZ are painful for many of London’s motorists. It seems that the project that we are debating could make a very big difference with one installation, so it is a pity that we have not looked at its impact on making our air cleaner, as we desire to do.

It is vital to recognise the environmental and health impacts of incineration, but also to make sure that we do not simply push the problem out of London by transporting the capital’s waste to other parts of the UK or overseas. As other Members have mentioned, it would be unenviable to see waste from other parts of London coming back to London because there is capacity in this incinerator. Not only would that be bad for the environment, but it would be socially unjust.

I will conclude with this: all of us in this House care deeply about cleaner air, and about the new information we have regarding the impact of air pollution on asthma sufferers and others with lung conditions. I hope that the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), and the Minister will work to ensure that we belatedly get the best possible outcome for our north London constituents.

Sorry, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). My office companion is my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), so that is on my mind all the time, as it should be. I need to get my nomenclature absolutely straight.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green on having secured today’s debate. The debate appears to be about a specific incinerator in a specific place with specific proposals for its extension, but it encapsulates much wider questions: how do we deal with our waste in modern times, and what are the best ways of dealing with it and, indeed, the energy that might come from it? By examining those wider questions, we loop back to the best thing to do with the North London Waste Authority, and the Edmonton incinerator in particular.

The first thing that is important in addressing this modern debate is to recognise—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has correctly pointed out—that although we have been talking about waste this afternoon, we should not be talking about it in this way, because the vast majority of waste is actually a resource. In the context of the modern circular economy, the idea that we place a material that we have used into a stream, and then it is gone out of the system one way or another—it used to be buried; now it is incinerated—is clearly not appropriate if we regard that waste primarily as a resource. The duty of authorities dealing with waste should be to make sure that as much of that resource as possible can be recovered for use elsewhere, one way or another.

I thank my hon. Friend for what he is saying. Does he not think we should be recording the level of composting, as well as recycling? Sadly, a huge amount of food waste and green waste probably ends up in incineration or landfill when it could be efficiently composted and provide compost for local people.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: that is one of the elements of regarding waste as a resource, because waste—particularly municipal waste—will have a number of elements in it. It will have putrescibles in it, it will have waste from household activities, it may well have wood waste and metal waste and it will certainly have plastic waste. All those types of waste can be reused, recovered and dealt with in different ways. The very last thing that we should do with such products—what we should do only when nothing else can be done with them—is to burn them, even if we think we are recovering energy.

In 1971, when the Edmonton incinerator first came into production, the convention was that we took the rubbish from the bins, put it in a truck, took it smartly down to the local tip and buried it in landfill. That was it. For a long time, we were the worst country in Europe for landfilling our waste. In recent years, that has turned around but, unfortunately, only into the next stage up on the waste hierarchy, which is to incinerate, rather than to bury in the ground. Both the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North mentioned in their excellent contributions that we have come a long way since that sort of analysis—not just whether we should move waste up the hierarchy more efficiently than we used to, but what is available to work with once we decide what we want to do.

I appreciate that the task for a waste authority, such as the North London Waste Authority, is difficult. It has huge amounts of waste coming in every day, it has to do something with it, the task never ends and, in recent years, the Government have not helped, providing little support for innovative and novel ways of dealing with waste, separating resources out and so on. A little while ago, for example, the Government pulled a number of PFI—private finance initiative—plants that local authorities had in the pipeline for waste. Authorities are pretty much left to their own devices to bring forward innovation.

A waste authority under such pressure might well think, “This is a real problem. Here’s the easiest way to solve it without putting it into landfill.” That seems to be what has happened with the Edmonton incinerator. Not only have we had a large incinerator there for a number of years, but plans are now in place to extend it, which would make the past even more nailed down in the future, with that future being incineration. Believe me—this has happened across the country, including in my own county—once a contract for a large-scale incineration facility such as that is entered into, it is with us for a long time. It freezes the technology in time, at that particular point.

As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green mentioned, however, that means that, as we begin to go up through the waste hierarchy, we start by taking further fractions out of the waste. It becomes a beast that is more and more hungry to be fed, because of the contracts for the incineration plants. So, waste is pulled in from a wider and wider area and, in the end, it can start to impede efforts to move up the waste hierarchy with all that waste.

Those concerns are over and above the one expressed by hon. Members this afternoon about what comes out of the chimney stack from incineration. We have learnt a lot more these days, than we had in the early ’70s when the arrangements first came into place. Although techniques for dampening emissions such as nitrous oxide, particulates and various other things that come out of the chimney stack have improved, that is still a very real issue, as hon. Members have mentioned, for the health of the neighbourhoods around incineration plants and, indeed, a wider area, as we have seen from studies that have taken place on the subject.

We have a proposal, which I have described on other occasions as a throwback. It tries to take technology from two decades ago into the next decade and land us with it for a long time to come. It should not happen.

There are several other ways, both emerging and in quite widespread practice, of dealing with those waste streams, particularly through fractionalising them out. Another small matter to put at the Government’s door: we still do not have sufficient plastics recycling and reprocessing facilities in this country. We are still in the business, possibly for a long time to come, of exporting plastics waste. We need Government action to make sure that those plastics recycling plants are available so that waste authorities can ensure that their plastics collection is properly dealt with afterwards.

We also know that there are techniques available to gasify waste in general and produce syngas and dimethyl ether for use in vehicles and various other plants. It is a renewable form of gas that could be useful for the future of heating, which is very topical. Those techniques do not produce the sort of emissions that arise from incineration plants. They can deal with massive amounts of waste. Indeed, anaerobic digestion, which is a rather grand way of talking about composting—

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is coming close to the end of his remarks. I want to leave time for the Minister.

Indeed, Mr Hosie, I am approaching the end of my remarks and I am guided by your instruction.

There are modern techniques that can deal with waste. My first plea to the North London Waste Authority is to think about those new techniques in a positive way and not simply decide to take the same old tried and tested routes. There are so much better ways of doing it. My second plea is that, if the North London Waste Authority decides to have a review of the matter, the Government will support that. I know that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green has written on several occasions to request the Government’s support for some of the new measures that can deal with waste and resource in a different way.

We have the low carbon future to think about. We have got to get waste and resource management techniques in place that address that, either through carbon capture and storage or new methods of collection and dealing with waste. I am certain that the current proposal, should it go ahead, will not stand the test of the future. We should have our eyes on that future and together make sure that the waste arrangements for north-west London are fit for it rather than harking back to the past.

It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing this important debate.

The Edmonton incinerator was given development consent in February 2017 after the consideration of relevant issues, including potential environmental and health impacts. The Government have no statutory or financial basis for undertaking a cost review of the Edmonton project. That would be a matter for the local auditors, but I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend and, having heard what he said today, if I were a council tax payer in his constituency, I would be concerned about whether there is value for money in the project. He reports costs increasing from £650 million to £1.2 billion, which is a huge increase. I am not surprised to learn from him that local people are testing whether the North London Waste Authority has the necessary robust practices in place.

Let me lay out the process. All large energy-from-waste plants in England must comply with strict emission limits and cannot operate without a permit issued by the Environment Agency—in this case, the one granted in 2017. The Environment Agency assesses the emissions from new plants as part of its permitting process and consults the UK Health Security Agency on every application it receives. UKHSA’s position relating to incineration is that modern, well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health. I will come back in a moment to the arguments about weighing them up versus other means of waste disposal and waste avoidance. The concerns raised by my right hon. Friend’s GPs could usefully be directed towards the UK Health Security Agency, if he thinks that there is evidence that their conclusion does not abide with what is going on locally.

I want to make some more progress. I am going to describe the policy, and then I will respond to the points raised in the debate and, if I have time, I will take some interventions.

In relation to the Edmonton energy-from-waste plant, the Environment Agency issued a permit for the new plant in 2017. Once the plant becomes operational, the Environment Agency has pledged to perform regular inspections and audits to ensure that the plant is complying with the requirements of its permit.

I will now turn to the debate itself. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green is coming up to 30 years in this House. He has had a wide variety of roles, including six years as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and has always been an extraordinary champion for his part of London. He is a fellow London MP and has been a brilliant representative on a huge number of fronts, not least this issue, working with local campaign groups. He has raised the issue with the Prime Minister, various Secretaries of State and me. He made some very strong points on value for money and the process.

A number of Members made the point about recycling falling short, and I agree with them. I represent two local authorities, and Hammersmith and Fulham has one of the worst recycling rates in the country, so I have every sympathy with my right hon. Friend and every other Member, including the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), when it comes to recycling.

My right hon. Friend said that there was only one bidder. It is not right for me to comment on the operation of the process, but I think he reported that the winner of the bid said that there was “massive oversizing”. I am not at all surprised that local taxpayers would be concerned to discover those reported comments from the chief executive of the bidding company.

The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) also spoke. Waste incineration with energy recovery should not compete with waste prevention, re-use or recycling. We do not see them as being competing technologies. Notwithstanding new technologies, which he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green raised, the evidence available shows that it remains the case that the carbon impact of most mixed waste streams is lower if sent to energy-from-waste plants than if sent to landfill. Obviously, that is not a comparison with recycling or waste reduction, but in terms of the strict comparison with landfill—I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I agree on this—energy from waste is better than from landfill. I am not suggesting that he was making an alternative point. I think that his point was that recycling is better. We do not disagree with that at all.

The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) talked about the doubling of incineration. I am afraid that I do not recognise that figure. That is not our understating of what is in the planning pipeline. In line with the commitment in DEFRA’s resources and waste strategy to monitor residual waste capacity, officials are currently assessing planned incinerator capacity against expected future residual waste arisings, so that we can understand what future incineration capacity may be required following the implementation of key commitments in the RWS. There is, therefore, an assessment of our overall waste capacity vis-à-vis the incinerator capacity. That is being carried out by DEFRA, which is the policy lead on the waste element, while I am the policy lead on the energy element.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) rightly drew attention to the tragic case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah and her mother Rosamund. We London politicians are all keenly aware of the findings in that case and the reverberations that it has had across London and the country for public policy on air quality and air pollution, which has been improving significantly in London since 2010. However, it is still not satisfactory for any of us as Londoners or London MPs. We still have a way to go, and the tragic case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is a stark reminder of the important work that has to be done.

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage at the incinerator is a matter for local decision making, but the Government have very ambitious targets on CCUS, including 6 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030, rising to 9 megatonnes by 2035. We have an industrial decarbonisation and hydrogen revenue support scheme to fund our new hydrogen and industrial CCUS business models. The Government take our air quality obligations extremely seriously, and we are already taking significant action to improve air quality. The Government absolutely recognise that there is more to do to protect people and the environment from the effects of air pollution, and that is why we are taking the action set out in our world-leading clean air strategy, which includes proposals to reduce emissions from domestic burning.

Does the Minister accept that the doubling of incineration that I mentioned is predicated on the 50 consent orders that have been given by BEIS—his Department—for new incinerators? The 2022 standards of technology and health, rather than those of 2017, should surely be applied to the Edmonton EcoPark incinerator, but the main point is that his Department is giving out development consent orders.

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, and I will go back and check that. My understanding is that that is not consistent with the consent orders that have been granted, but I will write to him on the detail as to whether we have the same set of figures and whether we are arguing at cross-purposes. I am very happy to write to him and give him some more detail.

Our clean air strategy includes proposals to reduce emissions from domestic burning, industry and farming, alongside stronger powers and an improved framework for local government to tackle more localised issues. The legacy of our reliance on landfill is responsible for around 75% of the carbon emissions from the waste sector, so it is not simply a matter of switching back to landfilling any non-recyclable waste. That is why we have been clear in the resources and waste strategy that we wish to reduce the level of municipal waste sent to landfill to 10% or less by 2035, and why we are actively exploring policy options to work towards eliminating all biodegradable waste to landfill by 2030.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green has raised some serious concerns about the North London Waste Authority, the finances of the incinerator at Edmonton EcoPark, and whether it represents value for money. I have listened very carefully, and I am sure local taxpayers will be very concerned at what he reports to the House. I hope the waste authority responds in full, as I have done, to the points that he has raised today. In the meantime, I commend him for securing this important debate, and I hope I have laid out the Government’s views on the overall national policy behind waste and energy.

It has been a very good debate in the short amount of time available, and the cross-party nature of it is important. Nobody has stood to defend the nature of what is going on with the North London Waste Authority. I take the comments from my right hon. Friend the Minister to suggest that, should things be otherwise and should the Government have the capacity as they see it, they would be concerned about the nature of what is going on at the North London Waste Authority. I therefore say that this has been a very important debate. We have flushed out the idea that an organisation is riding roughshod over the views and concerns of local people, and that there are serious health concerns, economic concerns and environmental concerns raised by the massive increase in the size of the incinerator at Edmonton EcoPark. I call on the North London Waste Authority, which will have heard the debate, to act reasonably, to pause the expansion, to review it, and to try to figure out whether there is a better way to achieve the requirements made by both the Government and the local authorities, in order to achieve a better environment for all of us.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the potential environmental and health impacts of the proposed expansion at Edmonton EcoPark.

Sitting adjourned.