The news that Devon County Council had thrown out plans by Viridor to build a massive incinerator near Lee Mill and Ivybridge is fantastic news. Congratulations should go to the community campaigners, local residents, environmental groups and all those who put aside differences to work together against Viridor’s plans. It shows that unlike in Plymouth where the Tories refused to work cross-party, working together can achieve results.
This has been a long campaign. You only need to look at how young I looked in my first campaign video against the incinerator to see how long this campaign has been going on. But it has been a fight worth fighting.
Waste is a political issue. We all make too much of it, we need new ways of dealing with our waste and we need to do this in the most environmentally friendly way. But let’s be clear jumping to a ‘burn it first’ strategy is the wrong answer. Mass-burn incinerators that take little notice of the huge advancements in alternative waste treatments should be a thing of the past. Building one on the doorstep of a small community with hundreds of lorry movements a week only compounds a bad policy decision.
The campaign against Viridor’s incinerator was a good one. Wide and varied but always, always determined and passionate. Big companies naturally have more resources and more money, but the community had more passion and with their backs against the wall, a reason to fight on. And they did. A huge congratulations to all those who stood up against Viridor. From the marches through Ivybridge, the band playing at the front, and the passionate speeches to the consultations responses, the letters and the meetings you all did a great job – well done.
But it would be a mistake to think that this is all over. It is not.
Viridor needs to think carefully about what they do next. EcoIvy has told the company to ‘move on’, but I fear they haven’t given up hope about this site and incineration. The company, its executives and its advisors need to know that the communities around New England Quarry will be ready the next time they propose something like this.
Ongoing community opposition is, of course, the reason why there is a whole raft of PR companies and issue management firms who can advise on how to divide opposition or “address the valid concerns of the community”. They can advise on a more favorable approach to winning around the community and they can seek to chip away at the foundations of the opposition that defeated them this time. Having worked in PR I know a few of them and these folks are good, talented people, but if they’re pointed towards New England Quarry in Devon they’re on the wrong side of the argument.
In Plymouth, construction work on the incinerator in the Dockyard has already begun. This rubbish-burning furnace will stand as a testament to how the Conservative Party in Plymouth ignored local opinion, community opposition and the very real concerns of residents.
It took the Tories in Ivybridge a while to properly understand that they too needed not to be working to build an incinerator on their doorstep but to join Labour, the Greens and many others in opposing the New England Quarry scheme. But to their credit, they did. To the Tories in Plymouth’s shame, they did not.
I’m proud that Labour helped organize some of the initial opposition to Viridor’s incinerator proposals near Lee Mill. I’m proud that we focused political, media and community attention on Ivybridge’s local councillor, Roger Croad, and his role with the group looking at incineration in the area and I’m proud too that Labour made the case forcefully and directly that alternatives to incineration need to be considered before we accept the logic of large-scale mass-burn incineration on our doorsteps.
Viridor have sophisticated monitoring and so someone there will no doubt read this and to that person I say this: it is tempting to wait a few years, do some groundwork in the community, perhaps sponsor a local sports team in an attempt to rebuild your image locally. You may even be tempted to take on additional support to chip away at the community campaign against your incinerator. As the months pass, the passion and organization of your opponents will naturally dull a little. It will become easier for you, and tempting, to dust off your plans, perhaps change the access junction, or look again at the visual impact – but don’t.
Know this: those who opposed you this time will oppose your incinerator again. The campaign will be reformed, regrouped and renewed against you. As EcoIvy so directly put it, it is time for you to ‘move on’. I agree.
Luke Pollard was Labour’s Candidate for South West Devon at the last General Election and helped start the campaign against Viridor’s incinerator and landfill at New England Quarry.