When a decision is made that seems so utterly mind-numbingly wrong, it’s always good to ask – as dispassionately as possible – why it was made. After all, if it was that wrong, why couldn’t everyone have seen it?
I find myself in this position over the fact that the incinerator in Newhaven that will soon burn much of the county’s rubbish has finally got the go-ahead. This is a quite appalling decision, which is no better for the fact that we have had several months to steel ourselves for it.
Although Newhaven is not in Wealden, Wealden is most assuredly affected by the incinerator. This is both in environmental terms (lorries thundering through carrying hazardous waste, airborne pollutants being blown north, etc) and through the cost that will affect every council tax payer in East Sussex (the latest estimate for the incinerator is £145 million – more than double the original figure).
The list of reasons against it runs to much more than I can write here. There is a better and more environmental option proposed and costed by the Liberal Democrats for dealing with the county’s waste, the county council’s contract with its waste management company seems likely to limit the incentives for recycling just when we need them most, the incinerator will be run on mains water despite being by the Ouse estuary, the waste will be brought in – and hazardous ‘bottom ash’ shipped out – by lorry, despite a railway line being right there ... the list is endless.
So why is it happening? The answer appears to be an old-fashioned belief among the county council officials who devised the incinerator scheme in the mid-1990s that a single waste contract with a high level of incineration offered a better way of getting rid of waste than a series of smaller-scale solutions. Add to that a handful of lead county councillors who never grew up with the environmental threat and thus saw waste disposal purely as ‘the right mechanics for the right price’ and it’s easy to see why incineration seemed attractive. If you then put several years’ work into a project and fear it coming to nothing just as we’re threatened with punitive fines for missing landfill reduction targets, it is understandable you should want to salvage it.
That’s why I don’t condemn the Conservatives who run County Hall for incompetence. But they can be legitimately attacked on two fronts:
Firstly, they were anti-democratic over the whole planning and consultation process by riding roughshod over 16,000 legitimate objections (yes, 16,000!). Secondly, they have been gutless in the face of changing realities that should have told them to seek other options for waste disposal – even the Tory-controlled West Sussex County Council has now abandoned incineration, so it’s hardly an issue of political ideology.
We need a shake-up at County Hall! And that shake-up can happen on 4 June when elections to the county council take place. Even those in the Conservative heartlands of north Wealden and much of Rother should be as alarmed about the incinerator as the poor souls of Newhaven, albeit for different reasons. We all need to send a warning shot across the bows of the county Tories that we need to face down the environmental threat, not add to it.