What is the north London incinerator that councils continue to back?

Designs for the new energy recovery facility

Designs for the new energy recovery facility - Credit: NLWA

Councils in Camden, Barnet, Islington and Hackney have reiterated their support for a new north London incinerator, after Haringey asked for the controversial project to be “paused and reviewed” amid environmental concerns. 

Local authorities are facing growing pressure from campaigners and politicians across the chamber to reconsider their backing for the redevelopment of a £1.2bn waste facility in Edmonton. 

It follows a letter from Haringey Council leader Peray Ahmet to the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) calling for greater scrutiny of the impact on pollution and emissions.  

The move made the local authority the first of the seven north London boroughs funding the new incinerator to ask for a review.   

The NLWA, which is set to meet on December 16 to tender the construction contract, said it is “working through the issues” raised in Cllr Ahmet’s letter. 

However it insisted the existing plant needs replacing “urgently”. 

The Mayor of London’s office said Sadiq Khan “opposes any new incinerators”, but that it is not within his power to pause or legally challenge the scheme.

Protesters march to Edmonton Incinerator in protest at plans to build a new bigger incinerator

Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter Enfield, Unite and local communities march to Edmonton Incinerator in protest at plans to build a new bigger incinerator - Credit: Andrea Domeniconi/Alamy Live News

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What is the incinerator?   

The Edmonton incinerator, referred to as an energy recovery facility by the NLWA, is part of the Ecopark in Enfield.  

It dates back 50 years and is coming towards the end of its operational life. The facility burns rubbish from Hackney, Islington, Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Waltham Forest to generate electricity.  

In 2017 the government granted permission for the north London heat and power project, including a major rebuild of the incinerator. Initially the project was priced at £650m before costs spiralled to £1.2bn, which also covers a community centre and a recovery facility for recycled waste. 

The NLWA says the new development will generate around 70 megawatts of electricity, enough to power around 127,000 homes – with a capacity of 700,000 tonnes of residual waste.  

The authority claims it will cut carbon emissions compared to the current plant, and divert waste from landfill.   

However campaigners claim the planned incinerator is far bigger than will be necessary given north London’s targets for boosting recycling.   

Critics have called on the NLWA to consider greener alternatives, estimating the new plant will release 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.  

Campaigners have held a number of protests against the scheme in recent months, including a march along the North Circular that brought traffic to a standstill.  

A small group of residents from the host boroughs are holding a council tax strike. 

What do councils say? 

Haringey 

Council leader Peray Ahmet said: “Before members of the NLWA take a decision on the procurement it is vital that the authority is absolutely clear that the proposal is the best way to dispose of waste in north London and the environmental concerns of residents have been properly and fully taken into account.”

Haringey Council's new leader Cllr Peray Ahmet

Haringey Council's new leader Cllr Peray Ahmet - Credit: Rachel Kiki

Cllr Ahmet’s call followed pressure from the town hall’s Liberal Democrat opposition. Cllr Scott Emery, the party’s spokesperson for the environment, said: “Though I cautiously welcome this letter from Cllr Ahmet, we must be clear that this is only a first step.  

“Actions speak louder than words, so I hope all Labour councillors will join my colleagues and me in formally committing the council to a position against this polluting incinerator.” 

Camden  

Local Green leader Cllr Sian Berry said: “There has never been any sense in these proposals.  

“When London already has the highest rate of burning waste in the UK and more incinerator capacity than our health and the climate can bear, there is no question this costly scheme should be paused.

Sian Berry of Camden Council

Sian Berry of Camden Council - Credit: PA

“Cancelling it and reducing waste instead across London would save local residents billions in construction costs and could pave the way for far better policies to cut our consumption and waste in future.” 

Conservative opposition leader Cllr Oliver Cooper said: “The new Edmonton plant is a gigantic outlay of Camden residents’ money.

Cllr Oliver Cooper

Cllr Oliver Cooper - Credit: Polly Hancock

He added: “If the Edmonton plant is good for the environment and good for taxpayers, Camden should welcome additional scrutiny that might come from any delay caused by Haringey’s decision. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Camden Council’s environment lead, Cllr Adam Harrison, said: “The project is already under way, and the current facility that disposes of the waste generated in Camden – on the same site – is on its last legs.

“If we do not replace it soon, Camden’s waste would end up being exported around the country, shipped abroad, or dumped into landfill – all of which would be quite wrong.  

“Via the NLWA we are constantly reviewing the project and its progress. The case for a ‘pause’ has not been made.”

Cllr Adam Harrison. Picture: Polly Hancock

Cllr Adam Harrison. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Barnet

Cllr Peter Zinkin, vice-chair of Barnet Council's environment committee, said: “Across north London the waste that must be collected by councils continues to grow.

"While a large and ever-increasing amount of this is recycled, there remains waste products that cannot be and a decision must be made as to what to do with these.

"Our best option to avoid the harmful environmental impact of sending waste to landfill is to work with the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) to dispose of it."

Islington 

The council’s environment lead, Cllr Rowena Champion, 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.”

Islington Council's transport and environment chief Cllr Rowena Champion. Picture: Em Fitzgerald

Islington Council's transport and environment chief Cllr Rowena Champion. Picture: Em Fitzgerald - Credit: Archant

She added: “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.” 

Hackney 

Environment lead Cllr 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.”

Mete Coban of Hackney Council

Mete Coban of Hackney Council - Credit: PA

He added: “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.” 

Waltham Forest

A spokesperson for the local authority said: "The existing energy from waste plant in Edmonton has been treating north London’s unrecyclable waste for 50 years. It is increasingly unreliable, prone to shutdowns, and needs replacing.  

"Waltham Forest supports the proposals for a replacement energy recovery facility, which was granted government permission in 2017, alongside the increased recycling and reuse infrastructure already being built, at the Edmonton Ecopark."

Enfield 

Enfield declined to comment.

What do MPs think?  

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said: “I welcome Cllr Peray Ahmet’s letter and hope the NLWA will listen.  

“The plans for the Edmonton incinerator were put forward a long time ago, back when Boris Johnson was mayor of London, and things have moved on since then.

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green - Credit: Chris McAndrew

“We’re in a climate emergency and it’s right that the NLWA pause and look at whether this model is still the greenest, best way of dealing with London’s waste – if it isn’t let’s make changes before it’s too late.” 

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, said: “The new incinerator will provide much needed capacity and will reduce emissions.

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green - Credit: PA

"Recycling won't be diminished by the new incinerator as it will not operate in isolation from other measures from the government to drive up recycling rates.”   

He added: “Less emissions, cleaner energy with potential for carbon capture should be welcomed not delayed.” 

The mayor of London's take

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan - Credit: PA

A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan said: “It is not within the mayor’s power to pause this scheme or bring any further legal challenge to the decision.  

“The mayor is focussed on working with NLWA and other stakeholders to make sure that this facility minimises the local environmental impact. The mayor has been clear that he opposes any new incinerators in London.” 

What about environmental campaigners?

Highgate climate activist Sydney Charles said: “As the UK continues to be the president of COP26 these changes are likely to be clear in the next few months.  

“They will affect the need for a large incinerator and the business case so significantly it is baffling to understand why north London councils would make a decision for 2027-2050 on such a high-carbon solution based on out-of-date data.”

Protesters march to Edmonton Incinerator in protest at plans to build a new bigger incinerator

Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter Enfield, Unite and local communities march to Edmonton Incinerator in protest at plans to build a new bigger incinerator - Credit: Andrea Domeniconi/Alamy Live News

Jane Leggett from Extinction Rebellion Highgate said: “To commit seven north London boroughs to such an enormous investment, paid for by residents – with the likely added air pollution factor of importing waste to feed the increased capacity – without a pause and review is both negligent and foolhardy.” 

NLWA: New facility is 'urgent'

Cllr Clyde Loakes (Waltham Forest Council), NLWA chair, said: “I would like to reiterate that the existing plant is the oldest in Europe and needs to be replaced urgently.  

“The project is an important part of all our boroughs’ drive to cut carbon emissions and we’re accelerating our plan for carbon capture and storage as part of the NLHPP.  

“We have designed the facility flexibly to encourage people to recycle more so it will not compete with higher recycling rates or create demand for rubbish.

An artist's impression of what the new energy recovery facility could look like. Picture: Grimshaw A

An artist's impression of what the new energy recovery facility could look like. Picture: Grimshaw Architects - Credit: Grimshaw Architects

“It will also improve air quality by using the most advanced pollution controls, available. We have ensured that all evidence and information has been thoroughly reviewed by experts, and the issues raised by residents and councillors are being continually considered by our members and addressed.  

“Any delay would jeopardise the environmentally responsible service we provide for all north London boroughs and inevitably make waste management services much more expensive for the environment, councils and council taxpayers.”