The Socialist 17 June 2008 |
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Beckton biofuels power station
Stop big business polluting our environment
THE CAMPAIGN against a planned bio-fuel power station in east London is gaining momentum, bringing together residents and environmental activists against health risks to local people, climate change and land misuse.
If Blue-NG, the company behind it, and New Labour Newham council get their way, this will be the first such power station in Britain - with others in the pipeline. It is designed to burn vegetable oil from rapeseed, palm and jatropha, sourced from Europe, the US, Malaysia and India.
The company claims these will come from sustainable sources but campaigners, including Socialist Party east London branch, reject this. First up is the fundamental objection to using valuable land which could feed people worldwide, for power stations in western Europe - leaving aside the environmental costs of transporting the oil. Secondly, 'the market' will dictate the cheapest source - currently Malaysian palm oil. Demand for palm oil is threatening to destroy 98% of forests in Malaysia and Indonesia by 2022.
Blue-NG would be eligible for government hand-outs under its 'renewables obligation'. In reality, this is a subsidy for climate change, deforestation and displacement of indigenous peoples, as well as worsening health in the working-class district of Beckton in Newham borough.
Undoubtedly, the misguided backing by Greenpeace - which opposes biofuels for vehicles but supports this type of 'decentralised' power generation - and qualified backing by Jonathan Porritt, persuaded last week's meeting of London Thames Gateway Corporation (LTGC). LTGC is a public body funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the strategic planning authority for this part of London.
Yet the potential hazards to local people are ignored. At the LTGC meeting it emerged that an air-quality impact assessment was skewed to favour the project. The written evidence submitted included only one of the two combustion plants, halving the projected emissions.
Evidence from Germany, where 1,800 similar biofuel power stations are in use, points to emissions of nitrogen oxides, associated with asthma and other lung diseases, and of fine particulates, in particular PM2.5 linked with heart and lung disease.
The proposed site is 200 metres from a dense residential area including Gallions primary school and the University of East London. Hundreds of local residents have already signed petitions against the plan. Now, concern is turning to anger.
Beckton already has more than its fair share of environmental problems, including noise and air pollution from London City airport. Residents feel that they are being dumped on yet again - to fuel local councillors' egos and the prestige of the New Labour council under arch-Blairite, Sir Robin Wales.
The councillors' spineless acquiescence to the Blue-NG suits has to be answered. The main task is to intensify the local community campaign to cut across the misinformation of Blue-NG and the council. Leafleting, public meetings and rallies will be required to build up the mass pressure needed to scrap this dangerous development.