April 27th, 2012

Do votes grow on trees?

5 minute read

by  Rob Gillies


The biggest job in UK local government is up for grabs on May 3rd, as voters hit the polls for the London Mayoral election. Whilst it may not quite match the razzmatazz of the US democratic process, it has thrown up one or two highlights. You may have seen Peter Jones’s comparison of the green policies of the would-be Republican nominees – in the same spirit, what do the mayoral candidates have to offer an environmentally minded Londoner?

For the most unusual proposal, you need look no further than the BNP’s Carlos Cortiglia, who claims that ‘killing drug traffickers will help save the planet by reducing pollution’. However, let’s focus on the manifestos of the four front-runners: Johnson, Livingstone, Paddick and Jones. Livingstone, Jones and Paddick variously propose to address energy efficiency, waste, transport emissions and small-scale energy generation. Boris has six manifesto documents, but despite finding room to devote a whole one to the Olympics, gives environmental issues a wide berth in favour of discussing the economy, crime, transport, council tax and older people.

Boris and Brian seem to have decided that the environmental problem upper-most in Londoner’s minds is not waste or energy but a shortage of trees. Johnson’s ‘9 point plan for London’ contains a promise to plant a generous 20,000 (perhaps to offset the 172 pages needed to print out his manifesto). But he is thoroughly outdone by Paddick’s pledge of an extra 2 million by 2025 to ‘reduce the urban heat island effect’. Jenny Jones isn’t joining in the tree top trumps game, but would protect the existing ones from over-zealous pruning. Meanwhile Ken eschews the dendrophile vote and is instead backing wild flower corridors and measures to help London’s bee population. Sadly, he offers no news on newts.


Is waste a vote-winner?

LetsRecycle has helpfully summarised the would-be mayors’ proposals on waste and recycling from which a few points jumped out at me. Three candidates think waste sufficiently important to merit a section in their manifesto. Jenny Jones pledges to make London a ‘zero waste city’ by 2030; Paddick offers a ‘long term goal of zero waste’ but hedges his bets on the timescale; and Ken sets his sights on 2025, but only offers zero waste to landfill, matching the target Boris included in his  Municipal Waste Strategy.

Mayor of London's office - geograph.org.uk - 1498593

London’s City Hall. Photo by Graham Horn, via Wikimedia Commons

Where will London’s waste go if not to landfill? There’s a consensus behind increasing Anaerobic Digestion (AD) capacity, with Ken taking the role of head cheerleader and offering at least one AD plant in every borough by 2020. Views differ on how new infrastructure might be delivered: whilst Brian Paddick would work with the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), Ken doesn’t seem so keen, claiming LWARB has ‘failed to deliver’ the treatment facilities required. But while he has stated his opposition to new incineration capacity in London, he hasn’t set out much detail on how he would refocus spending.


Who will have local authority?

No matter how they are built, these hungry new AD facilities will want feeding. But as things stand, the Mayor has limited powers to affect how waste is collected in different boroughs. A number of the candidates want this to change, making the well-worn argument that, despite the effort local authorities put into explaining what can be recycled, the differences between boroughs are confusing for residents.

Livingstone no doubt still bears the scars from his attempts to set up a single London Waste Authority back in 2006, which were not in the end supported by his party colleagues in Whitehall. This time, with the coalition in power, he hasn’t proposed to wrest control of collection systems from the boroughs. Instead he advocates a pan-London minimum standard for recycling, ensuring commonality on ‘at least the basic paper, cans, bottles and plastics’, leaving authorities free to exceed this if they wish. However, he seems to have forgotten about the food waste he needs to keep all those new AD plants operating.

Jenny Jones boldly proposes to advance food waste collection by pledging to ‘lobby the Government to give the Mayor power to roll out a consistent set of recycling services across London boroughs’. Recognising that councillors might raise just a smidgeon of opposition to this power grab, she adds that in the meantime she’ll ‘push’ boroughs to ensure that ‘as a minimum’ every home has a weekly separated recyclables and food waste collection. It’s probably wise that she has a plan B, since the coalition, wedded as it is to the idea of localism, may not be eager to strip London boroughs of their powers to choose their own collection systems.

Brian Paddick also wants to influence what boroughs collect, by getting each to introduce a weekly food waste service and to improve the service offered to those living in flats. For him, this is a step towards his rather intriguing sounding ‘comprehensive system of separate wet and dry collections’.

What of Boris? The fact that you have to look at his Municipal Waste Management Strategy rather than his manifesto suggests that if Londoners re-elect him they shouldn’t expect a raft of new initiatives. It suggests that whilst Livingstone, Paddick and Jones think there might be a few votes in expanding recycling, when it comes to his waste policies Boris prefers re-use.


Rob Gillies


Eunomia staff 2011


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Peter Jones

I lived in London until a year ago, and I can’t say that I found the issue of consistency much of an issue. That said, I lived in Hackney the entire time – so moving boroughs wasn’t so much of an issue as was keeping up with changes to the service offered locally. For a long while I used to have to walk or cycle to neighbouring Islington to recycle plastic, and so I was a beneficiary of having access to a borough whose bring bank offer was a little ahead of the game. I suspect the issue of consistency… Read more »

Rob Gillies
Rob Gillies

Thanks for the comment Phillip, I agree with your point regarding the waste disposal authorities and its disppointing that the candidates don’t acknowledge their role. I did some work earlier this year in Manchester and its interesting to see how the GMWDA has been working for some time now with the Councils to give residents a more consistent collection service across the region whilst still recognising local needs. The (new?) Mayor will have quite a job to do to reconcile the drive for more consistency in collection with the localism agenda. Although I suspect its the politicians who are more… Read more »

Phillip Ward

Thanks for a useful summary of the manifestos. Leaving aside the trees with the issues of where they would be put and how the Mayor would overcome the Borough’s resistance to planting along streets, it is disappointing that there is so little on waste and resources. The Mayor’s strategy had some good elements to it but there is so much more that could be done to improve London’s relatively poor performance. Variation in services is a problem when so many Londoners live and work in different boroughs and have friends and relatives living in many others. The capacity for confusion… Read more »