UK ordered to cut NO2 Air Pollution – will Surrey play its part?

On Thursday, the UK’s highest court ruled that the government must take immediate action to cut air pollution. Campaigners had started the legal action because the UK is breaching EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air. NO2 is produced mainly by emissions from diesel vehicles and is linked to a range of respiratory illnesses. It’s also caused by burning waste.

Unfortunately, Surrey County Council is making air quality worse rather than better. It is pushing ahead with a new polluting waste incinerator rather than improving recycling, and is cutting funding for public transport. The way in which Surrey will reduce its support for bus travel by £2million a year is not due to be revealed until after the election.

Surrey County Council this last week gave the Shepperton incinerator – in effect the county’s biggest exhaust pipe, at 49m high – financial go-ahead. Taxpayers have subsidised Surrey’s 25 year contract with SITA to build two incinerators. The first of these will produce twice the carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated as burning coal. Even as the IMF has highlighted the ridiculous position that while the UK talks up its climate credentials it still spends 0.5% of its GDP subsidising fossil fuels. But it is hidden in an ‘eco-park’ that also treats food waste and has solar panels – so Surrey can claim that it’s a green project.

Surrey’s own value-for-money assessment showed that the incinerator is unlikely to benefit the council financially – which raises the question of who benefits from the taxpayer’s money it’s been given.

My analysis shows this pet project will waste somewhere between £85 million and £160 million of taxpayer’s money, which could be invested in improving reuse and recycling (see also

Air pollution already exceeds legal limits across the whole of Spelthorne Borough, where the planned incinerator will be located – as it does in parts of our Borough too. The High Court ruling means that the government must act to cut air pollution. It remains to be seen whether Surrey County Council will play their part by binning the plans for the incinerator.