It is interesting what readers get told in different newspapers, and what the papers sometimes never tell us at all. The other day in the Waltham Forest Guardian we were given a glimpse of a cock-up involving the North London Waste Authority (NLWA). This august body is chaired by Clyde Loakes, a councillor who used to be the leader of Waltham Forest council but who still has ambitions to be a big fish in our local political pond - he currently serves as a cabinet member to Chris Robbins. The waste authority which Clyde Loakes also chairs has a grand plan to build a new waste plant in Pinkham Way, New Southgate and an important planning inquiry was supposed to get started to get that plan put into practice in a professional and legally acceptable way. Vast sums of money are involved, (suspiciously round numbers like £100million get bandied about) not least in fees to be enjoyed by the legal profession as the plan is also contraversial.

Hat-tip to beckburns1

In the Guardian, we were told how a planning inquiry had to be adjourned after a mere two hours of the 6 days scheduled for its hearing. This was because 'the inspector adjourned the hearing indefinitely to hear further objections from other local authorities which claim they were not properly consulted.' I assumed that they must be some parish council somewhere who'd been left off a mailing list, which is embarrassing enough for Mr Loakes, as the man who is responsible, but easily enough sorted out after the formal papers were sent and, after a suitable delay, they'd formally replied with their agreement. But because it is Clyde Loakes, you can never be entirely certain, so I thought I had better have a little bit more of a look into what had exactly gone wrong.

I should not have been surprised when I read that this was not a minor, merely procedural or technical slight that had put some lone and insignificant bureaucrat's nose out of joint. In fact the scale of the problem is far grander, more far-reaching and possibly* even worse than anything Mr Loakes has managed so far in his hitherto wholly undistinguished political career. (*I say possibly by the way because you never can tell: there are many facets to former council leader Loakes which may have yet to reach the cold light of day, and arguably the failure to deal with the London City Airport issue properly might rank alongside this and other fiascos for some affected folk).

The Edgeware and Mill Hill Express gave its readers more of an inkling of the trouble than the Waltham Forest Guardian. Far from some small parish council, they revealed that the objecting body at the inquiry are the "East Of England Waste Technical Advisory Body". I hadn't heard of it either, but it turns out that this innocuous little board represents several entire counties to the north and east of London and without their help in disposing of it we would literally be up to our necks in trash. Not people to ignore.

A spokesman for Hertfordshire County Council, which is one of the important counties on this body, was quoted in the Mill Hill Express saying that it 'was concerned' that the NLWP’s proposals to send waste materials to the county were 'incompatible with its own plans for receiving waste'. In the sedate world of local authority committee-speak, when a neighbouring county council says it is 'concerned' about something in public, you can be pretty sure that behind closed doors the Anglo-Saxon C Word is being used liberally about Councillor Loakes and the committee he chairs.

So, to get back to the nature of the adjournment, this is not just a question of someone unimportant being aggrieved about being forgotten from a mailing list and a slight delay being caused while the paperwork is allowed to catch up. These people actually have objections of substance.

Bad enough, you might think, for Clyde Loakes' authority to piss off Hertfordshire County Council. But there is more. The East of England Waste Technical Advisory Body ( EEWTAB ), representing all the waste planning authorities of the East of England, was joined in umbrage by the South East Waste Planning Authority Advisory Group (SEWPAG). They went to the trouble of talking to each other and have submitted a joint written statement prior to the hearing. They have, and through them, the many waste-receiving and processing counties they represent, jointly and formally complained that the NLWP had failed to cooperate with them.

(There are legal duties to co-operate, by the way. Co-operation is not simply self-evidently a matter of common sense which is in everyone's best interest. Moreover, as well as Hertfordshire specifically moaning, Oxfordshire County Council, has also written to the NLWP and received no reply. Why am I reminded of something here?)

Why is this row important? Because the boroughs in the north of London, including Waltham Forest, generate much more waste than they can currently cope with. There is a system of “apportionment” where waste authorities are allocated the amount of waste that they must manage. Most of the landfill of London’s waste that goes outside London is accepted under this apportionment system. In fact, nearly a million tonnes of waste per year from North London is supposed to be managed on our behalf by these counties.

Although the NLWP envisages gradually reducing North London’s reliance on such landfill by 2031, the East and South-East waste authorities would prefer this to be sooner. They are reportedly already doubtful of the accuracy of the NLWP’s landfill reduction figures, and would, anyway, prefer smaller apportionments.

This system of taking the waste away from Waltham Forest to places which then dispose of it for us is not supposed to be a fly-tip-by-night dump-and-run operation. It is supposed to be professionally managed with all due diligence, safeguards, checks and financial arrangements in place and working seemlessly well. But the system requires co-ordination and communication to work, and the co-operation and agreement in particular of the counties being asked to accept London's waste, even if there will inevitably be a few niggles and arguments from time to time. Clyde Loakes is supposed to be the man providing the leadership to make sure that co-ordination and communication happens. The story here is not just that a planning hearing has been adjourned. The story is that it has been adjourned because Clyde Loakes has failed to chair his authority in a manner that would have meant that things like that didn't have to happen.

Rather than accept responsibility for apparently pissing off every county outside London that helps dispose of our mountains and mountains of waste, Cllr Loakes is spinning a line in the local paper which entirely ignores his political responsibility for this farce. (He has form where denying things is concerned). In fact, he doesn't even admit to the scale or nature of the communications and planning breakdown which he has presided over at the Waste Authority he chairs:

"The simple fact is that we have to find additional sites for new, modern waste management facilities within the north London boundaries - and Pinkham Way is the most suitable site in our area.

"We understand that local people will have concerns about the impact of the facilities proposed for Pinkham Way, and I can assure residents that all these issues and concerns will be addressed as part of the design of the facilities and in the planning process."

Hat-tip to Jane66ethan

What can I say? Regular readers here know what I think of Clyde Loakes. I had been pleased that by losing in Northampton we'd been spared the disaster which letting him loose in Parliament could have caused this great nation of ours. And I even relaxed because he's no longer leader of the council. I thought: he's only chairing a waste disposal authority. What could possibly go wrong?

See also:

Update 7 September 2012:

Andrew Mead has found that the north London boroughs had not engaged with planning authorities outside of the capital.

The local authorities in the North London Waste Authority area will now have to consult with authorities to which their residual waste is sent for treatement and/or disposal
In particular two organisations, the South East Waste Planning Advisory Group (SEWPAG) and East of England Waste Technical Advisory Body (EoEWTAB ), should have been consulted. See: waste strategy is thrown out by officials