Archive for July, 2008

Primary Health Crust

July 30, 2008

I just called my local surgery to book an appointment, predictably they can’t see me today but what does get on my nerves is that they won’t take an appointment for tomorrow either.
I was told that I can book an appointment for next week but if I want it sooner than that then I’ll have to call on the day at 8:00 am and if you have already been subjected to this particular kind of torture you know that by 8:15 all appointments have been booked. This is when the redial button comes into its own, saying that the telephone was busy won’t get you anywhere.
The fiddling with numbers goes on. Statistically they will have dealt with a large number of requests within the day, I just hope that the Chair of Primary Care Trust doesn’t get a bonus for this.


Sailing by

July 18, 2008

Do all sailors listen to Radio4?

Let’s challenge indiscriminate incineration in Lewisham

July 16, 2008

The following points are from the website of the SELCHP, our local incinerator:

  • Energy is recovered from the waste, supplying
    enough power for 48,000 homes.
  • One tonne of municipal solid waste is equivalent to
    1⁄3 tonne of coal, so the facility has a significant role
    to play in reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Waste is diverted from landfill, helping the residents
    of the London boroughs to meet Government and
    European Directive targets.
  • The SELCHP Energy Recovery Facility was built to serve
    the community where it is located; taking into
    consideration the public’s needs, not only in terms of
    waste disposal, but also through strict control of noise,
    traffic and odour.

    Please notice that this is done to divert waste from landfills in order to help “London boroughs to meet Government and European Directive targets” .

    Let’s repeat these last few words:

    …to meet Government and European Directive targets.

    Unfortunately those Government and European directive targets have also managed to divert from the landfills into the incinerators a few materials that would be much better treated in other ways.

    What do we do now? Do we need to wait for better Government and European Directive targets to improve our practices?

    We currently pay vast sums for huge fleets of lorries that constantly crawl our streets collecting our rubbish for incineration. Arguably they carry about one third of excess baggage. It’s all the kitchen waste that should be composted instead of incinerated.

    Kitchen waste being a very wet material slows down combustion, the result is that much of the very precious by-product of combustion, energy, is lost.

    If you take the kitchen refuse out of the incinerator you produce more energy and that makes more money. Those money can be invested in better treatment of kitchen waste.

    And that is also a thing that should be done as near as possible to where it’s been produced in order to minimize transporting it that’s also an activity that’s intrinsically polluting.

    It’s not meant to sound as a pun but composting can be done at grassroots level. Many people do it in their back gardens and Lewisham is a very green borough with many pockets of land that could be put to good use to compost the waste of those residents that don’t have access to a back garden or are not inclined to compost for any other reason.
    A whole new economy of small operators could flourish. All paid by the savings on incineration.
    It could be as small as somebody composting a few of their neighbour’s kitchen waste in their own back garden, or a community group funding some of their activities by taking charge of a block of flats.

    Maybe I’m going too far, but surely an alternative is possible. I see that in Taiwan they are indeed working in this direction, here’s a paper that makes it very clear and in 2006 Sweden introduced a tax on incineration to encourage recycling and biological treatment. This is a step further than encouraging incineration to reduce landfills.

    Is it possible to fund an alternative through this route here in the London Borough of Lewisham? I don’t know the answer to that question now, but there are ways to find out.

    Lewisham Council is one of the partners of SELCHP and I’m thinking of submitting a series of questions around this issue that they should be able to answer.

    Here’s a first draft of possible questions for the next Full Council meeting (we’re now within deadline to submit for the 29th September meeting so there’s quite some time) and I’d be grateful for any comment that would help define them better (I’d recommend you read about my previous question on kitchen waste in case you haven’t done so already).

  • What is the amount of electricity generated by SELCHP using only waste produced by Lewisham residents and businesses (please specify data for both residential and business use)? Can you also translate this into homes powered so to make an easy comparison with the data advertised by SELCHP that it powers 48,000 homes?
  • How much money does this bring in?
  • What is the efficiency gain that could be achieved if that kitchen waste was not included among the incinerated waste and how would that translate into additional homes powered?
  • Is the SELCHP currently working at full capacity?
  • If part of the load currently incinerated would be diverted towards composting would it be easy to replace it with new customs?
  • On top of the economic issue there is also an holistic one, kitchen waste is alive, it looks just wrong to burn it into ashes when it can regenerate itself into more life, but I believe that if we want to change how things are done the economic argument gives a better guarantee of success. Anyway, to finish this post here’s some basics of composting.


    July 14, 2008

    We’re 2 days away from next Council meeting and the Council’s website still hasn’t got the questions from the public and the members of last Council meeting held on 30th June. Here’s the link to the page where they should be, on 7th July I even wrote to the web communication team of the Council asking them to put them up and within a fraction of a second I had an automatic thank you reply, still no sign of them though.

    In the meantime if you’re interested you can download a copy of the members’ questions from me, here, I post them here just to put them on the spot.

    I had three questions, two on pools and I will write on them separately, one on waste. It may look like an unusual subject for a question at Council from me, the fact is that I was genuinely interested in how the Council deals with waste and also to know something about the recent Brown Bins initiative. Maybe my curiosity was solicited by the fact that quite a lot of those brown bins were assigned to people that have gardens and can therefore compost their own kitchen waste without the help of the Council.


    What is the cost of incineration of waste produced annually in Lewisham that could be potentially turned into compost instead?

    Can you also provide me with a detailed breakdown of this cost to be able to understand how much each household of Lewisham as well as commercial activities contribute to this cost?

    I would also like to have the data broken down between houses with use of a garden and those without. Can you also provide some data about the pilot brown bins initiative? I’m interested in its cost and the volume collected and how it has been disposed. I would also like to know how many households with brown bins have a garden.


    Lewisham is in the process of undertaking a waste compositional analysis of its waste and from the reports that have been received to date approximately 35% of domestic refuse could potentially be composted at home. This includes kitchen waste and garden waste.

    In terms of tonnage, Lewisham incinerated 76,093.37 tonnes of domestic waste in 2007/8. Based on the waste compositional analysis 35% or 26,633 tonnes of this could be home composted. Lewisham pays a set price per tonne (gate fee) to the SELCHP incinerator and the cost of the gate fee for 35% of waste was £1,211,268 for 2007/8.

    Lewisham Council has to report on the costs of waste collection and waste disposal. The cost to the Council for waste collection per household is £51.31 and the costs for waste disposal are calculated per tonne at £47.01.

    However, it must be noted that this is not the cost that householders pay through their Council Tax. The Council Tax only contributes a small percentage of waste costs, the rest of which comes from Central Government through the Revenue Support Grant. The data for this is not broken down for households with gardens and those without.

    Businesses on the other hand do pay for their waste collection and disposal services and this amount depends on the amount of waste that they produce a week.

    The trial garden waste service took place from July to October 2007 across approximately 5,000 properties. The areas that the trial took place in were chosen as they had a high proportion of properties with gardens.

    The costs for running the garden waste pilot were approximately £180,000. The green waste that was collected from the properties on the green waste pilot was taken to Country Style Group via Veolia Environmental Services. This was then composted using a windrow composting system and the resulting compost used in agriculture and landscaping.

    During the four months of the trial 219,960kg of garden waste was collected. A participation rate was also conducted towards the end of the trial, which showed that 51% of households took part in the scheme

    What I find most of interest is that the incinerator charges a flat fee, no matter if it is a ton of dry wood or a ton of soggy rotten potato peels. Obviously a ton of dry wood will produce energy that the incinerator then sells on as electricity, the ton of soggy rotten potato peels will instead require additional energy into the system to be burnt.

    Soggy rotten potato peels make wonderful compost at no cost but another interesting point that one evinces from this answer is that it’s so dirty cheap for Lewisham Council to incinerate that economic reasons will never be a push towards composting. With those figures I pay for collection and disposal of all my rubbish with less than 3 weeks of Council tax a year. A bargain.

    The Brown Bin trial came at a cost of £108 per household per year and that’s only for the collection, the total for collection and disposal of the same stuff plus all the other non recyclable rubbish comes at £98.31.

    What we don’t know from this answer is if the Council disposes of the compostable at any cost or if it even makes some money out of it but even if that would be the case I think that it would be a rather small sum given the extremely low grade nature of the traded.

    Last year the Council paid £1,211,268 for the incineration of the potentially compostable material. I think that there are about 110,000 households in Lewisham, that makes it about £11 per houshold. That’s about two days of my Council tax. But as they say it’s not even paid by the Council tax, it’s mostly out of grants that the Council receives so they have even less of an economic reason to shift.

    It may be that unless the incinerator starts charging according to combustibility there won’t be any significant shift towards mass composting and we’ll keep on burning soggy rotten potato peels at huge environmental cost for another while.

    Council profiteering

    July 10, 2008

    An update on the previous post. Thanks to a tip by the ever well informed Biccy on the Hither Green Forum I realized that the increase on CPZ tariffs was decided by none other than the Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock in a very clear bogus budget savings exercise.

    We were always told that the CPZ tariff pays for the cost of its management, not that it is supposed to fund other Council’s expenditures, this is in effect a Council tax increase.

    We are always told that services like these are outsourced to external contractors because they can keep the operational costs down and deliver better value for money. We have never been told that the local authority would then intervene with some good old poaching by raising the tariffs and pocketing the difference.

    And how fair is it that people living within CPZ areas pay in effect a bigger Council tax than those living outside CPZ areas. I have no objection to paying for its running, I quite like the result, what I object to is the profiteering and very sadly this time it doesn’t come from the private partners but from the Council itself.

    Here’s some relevant passages from the Mayor and Cabinet papers of 5th March 2008, item 8 that show the utter hypocrisy behind this increase:

    The purpose of this report is to provide the Mayor with the detail of increased parking charges. The additional income was proposed as part of the Revenue Budget Savings Proposal Report 08/09 that was considered by Mayor & Cabinet in December 2007. The proposed increases put forward will generate £500k total income, £273k to be used as part of the budget savings exercise and £250k to fund highways prudential borrowing as set out in the Highways Best Value Review…

    The Revenue Budget Savings Proposal report gave a broad brush indication on how the increased income could be achieved. This income generation was to be applied in three ways. Firstly, £192k via an increase to the resident permit charge. Secondly, through an increase to the resident visitor permit charge and thirdly by applying a 15% increase to the pay & display tariff charges both on and off street.

    In the light of this new element I am now stopping the petition, this is the message that I sent to the two other people that signed it during the handful of hours it was active:

    Thank you for your support, I closed the petition so suddenly because I learned something I didn’t know yesterday, that the rise in tariff came out of a decision of the Mayor in what is a bogus budget saving exercise, In effect an increase of Council Tax dressed as something else. Details of this are available in the Mayor and Cabinet Papers of 5th March 2008, item 8. I still think to start a petition to introduce transparency for Council contracts but that will have to be independent from the CPZ issue.

    Stop profiteering! (petition)

    July 10, 2008

    A yearly resident parking permit for my “controlled parking zone”(CPZ) road has just risen to £60, that’s a 41.6% increase from last year’s £35.

    The fact that this unjustifiable squeeze of the public comes at a very tight economic time for all makes it all the more loathsome.

    But this is not even the bitterest point, the real issue is that we can’t even know the content of the contract between the London Borough of Lewisham and the contractor because it is of course “commercially sensitive”. We can’t know why we’re being asked so much more than last year or whether they can actually impose such an increase. And if they can, why was the contract drafted so badly that there aren’t any guarantees against such arbitrary and exorbitant price increases?

    I do think that we’ve been badly served and that there’s a need for something to be done about it, and this is all the more important as we know that a large and increasing number of public services are being outsourced.

    It’s all very good to contain Council tax increase but that’s only relatively good news if other public services contracted out by the Council see price increases of 41.6%, an amount that can only be described as obscene.

    Let’s ask Lewisham Council to re-tender the contract for CPZ in Lewisham at once and  let’s make this an opportunity for introducing a simple and transparent guarantee against this particular brand of profiteering in public services.

    Let’s make it a rule that when a contractor wants to apply a higher than reasonable price increase then he also has to re-apply for the contract.

    Council departments running out of money within a financial year need to ask for extra funding and following the same principle the contractor wishing to extract more money out of the public in between contracts should need to justify this as a need, not greed, with the local administration.

    Let’s ask that such clause be included in future contracts!

    That’s why I’m now asking you to sign this petition:

    We the undersigned ask Lewisham Council to rescind the contract with the current CPZ operator because of the sudden and unreasonable 40% price increase imposed to the public in this historical moment when prices of public services ought to be more then ever under control.

    We also ask that any future contract between the Council and its contractors include a clause stating that contractors wishing to increase their prices above a certain reasonable amount (amount to be made known to the public) need to re-apply for the contract.

    Clic here to sign this petition.